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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Robert Ainsworth.]

12.28 am

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester): While sensible, law-abiding citizens--but not politicians and criminals--are safely tucked up in bed, it is reassuring to know that Crimestoppers is available around the clock in the constant fight to tackle crime.

The title of this debate, as listed on the Order Paper, needs clarifying. It would be more accurate if it read that Government support was needed for Crimestoppers. Astonishingly, Crimestoppers does not receive any financial support from the Government. It is a charity, funded in the main by donations and fund-raising events. Yet its success rate in bringing criminals to justice is such that, if it received supplementary financial backing, even more would be arrested.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is unfortunate that the Conservative Front Bench is vacant during this important debate--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. It is not in order for the Minister to make such an observation. Adjournment debates are the personal property of the hon. Member who is putting forward a subject. These are not general debates involving all Members of the House; they are between the hon. Member moving the motion and the Minister replying.

Mr. Russell: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Crimestoppers Trust, with its national phone number of 0800 555 111, operating 24 hours a day, is the catalyst acting between business, the media, the community and the police to help to reduce crime, and it is doing just that.

Crimestoppers is now in its 12th year and covers the whole country, through 29 regions. Crimestoppers solves crimes that other methods cannot reach. It provides a safe and confidential means of identifying criminals. Intelligence and observation from members of the public, made anonymously, can lead to the apprehension of criminals who might otherwise escape detection. It means that people can report criminal activity without any fear for their own safety.

The statistics behind the Crimestoppers success story are amazing. In a reply to a parliamentary question that I tabled recently, I was told that, last year, as a direct result of people phoning Crimestoppers, a record 5,300 people were arrested and charged. The Crimestoppers organisation tells me that, in a large number of cases, the police had no previous knowledge of the criminal, or, if the person was known, he had not been connected with the crime reported by the caller.

Last year, calls to Crimestoppers led to the conviction of 38 people for murder, 22 for attempted murder, 13 for rape and 18 for sexual assault. Convictions for robbery totalled 202, for assault 181, for burglary 338, for firearms 28, for handling stolen goods 209, for arson 34, for theft 410, for vehicle crime 667, for fraud 141 and for various other offences 691.

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The biggest single category was drugs, with 2,308 convictions. That is a matter to which Crimestoppers has given special attention with its SNAP--"Say no and phone"--campaign. The same number is involved: 0800 555 111. People are encouraged to phone with information about drug dealers. In one case, the Crimestoppers guarantee of anonymity led to the seizure of cocaine worth more than £200,000.

Since Crimestoppers was established, about 34,000 people have been arrested and charged with various crimes, ranging from murder and other serious assaults to drug dealing and theft. More than 300,000 anonymous calls have been made and property worth more than £42 million has been recovered. On average, each week, stolen property worth almost £60,000 is retrieved. In one case, a call to Devon and Cornwall Crimestoppers led to the arrest of three people responsible for several burglaries and to the recovery of 44 firearms.

Following the murder of a man in a midlands pub, one call to Crimestoppers named the two culprits. In the west country, a man was charged with five offences of indecent assault and gross indecency against young children after a call to Crimestoppers gave the only lead. Drug dealing from a Birmingham house was brought to the notice of the police thanks to a call to Crimestoppers. Those examples--and many more--prove the value of Crimestoppers and illustrate how much more could be achieved.

Tackling car theft is another area in which calls to Crimestoppers can lead to criminals being arrested. Vehicles with a combined value in excess of £1 million have been recovered thanks to tip-offs associated with the SMART--stop motor crime and ring today--campaign. Again, the same national freephone number is used: 0800 555 111. In the north of England, one call led to a person who admitted more than 500 offences of stealing cars.

Smuggling of tobacco and alcohol is a growth industry, with millions of pounds of revenue lost every year. The Tobacco Alliance, which represents many of the UK's 26,000 independent retailers of tobacco--mainly corner shops and newsagents--estimates that as much as 80 per cent. of the roll-your-own tobacco consumed in this country has been smuggled. For cigarettes, the figure is put at 25 per cent. and rising every year. As well as threatening small businesses, the illegal trade leads to under-age sales. The same thing happens with smuggled alcohol.

The alliance recommends Crimestoppers as the most effective way of reporting tobacco-related crime. Crimestoppers works in partnership with Customs and Excise in tackling the bootleggers, and its work has resulted in significant recoveries of smuggled tobacco and alcohol. The lost revenue is huge. Investment in Crimestoppers would more than pay for itself with the increase in the number of criminals who would be identified. For example, one tip-off led to five people being arrested. It was estimated that they had evaded some £750,000 in duty. Given the obvious benefits that Crimestoppers has proved it has in bringing the identity of criminals to the police, would not its success be greatly enhanced--with even more criminals being arrested--if the Government provided funds to extend the operation, including greater publicity, which is so vital?

Mr. Tony Colman (Putney): Obviously I am pleased with the hon. Gentleman's paeon of praise for

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Crimestoppers, which is based in my constituency. Will he join me in the hope that, when the Minister visits Crimestoppers on 22 May, he will see for himself its excellent work and consider providing further funding?

Mr. Russell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I am sure that the Minister will be well briefed when he visits the hon. Gentleman's constituency and that Crimestoppers will benefit as a result of that visit.

Backing from the media is crucial to publicising Crimestoppers. Newspapers, radio and television are to be congratulated and thanked for what they do. For example, tonight's issue of the Colchester-based Evening Gazette carries a report of a man who was shot in the face with an air gun. The final paragraph says:

Much more needs to be done to publicise Crimestoppers so that its number becomes as familiar as 999. Advertisement hoardings and more permanent poster displays should feature the number. It could also be included, at minimal cost, in Government publications and other public literature, and on the vast range of forms that people are required to fill in during the course of the year. An excellent example was set by Post Office Counters when it launched a campaign to tell the 28 million people who visit post offices each week about Crimestoppers. That is another reason for retaining the nationwide network of post offices.

Despite what has been achieved so far, research has shown that only a quarter of the population understand Crimestoppers. It is hoped that this will be improved by, for example, developing strategies within crime and disorder partnerships.

Using Crimestoppers is an easy way of talking to the police informally and anonymously. Every day, hundreds of people call Crimestoppers to help the police solve many crimes, not just the most serious ones. It is highly successful and proves that it is possible to do something to make society safer.

A person who phones Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111--from anywhere in the country--will not be asked for their name, address or phone number. The police will not seek to contact the person who has phoned. If people say that they want to phone again, or perhaps claim a reward, they are given a code number.

The director of Crimestoppers, Mr. Digby Carter, told me about a survey in Stockport, Greater Manchester, which revealed that the fear of intimation was so severe that 83 per cent. of residents said that it would prevent them from providing information directly to the police. However, the same survey reported that 76 per cent. said that they would use Crimestoppers.

Research has shown how important Crimestoppers information is in preventing crime as well as solving it. Indeed, research by the Vauxhall centre for the study of crime at the university of Luton shows that more than 40 per cent. of crimes revealed would not even have come to the notice of the police but for Crimestoppers. In nearly two-thirds of cases, offenders disclosed by Crimestoppers callers were previously unknown to the police--or known, but not suspected of the offence in question.

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The Luton survey concluded that information provided anonymously by the public to Crimestoppers solves crimes at a rate likely to be the envy of police officers in general. In 63 per cent. of the cases the information provided to the police by Crimestoppers was crucial to the crime's detection, and in a further 27 per cent. it was useful.

Senior development fellow Mr. Alan Marlow, who conducted the research, commented:

On behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Bill Griffiths of the Metropolitan police said of the survey:

Let me stress again that Crimestoppers is a charity. It has limited resources. The staff to volunteer ratio is 1:20. Each Crimestoppers arrest costs the trust £200, and there are 14 of those every day. Real support from the Government--not just warm words--is necessary if the Crimestoppers success story is to continue to develop.

A reward, paid anonymously, and without police involvement, is available to those who provide information that leads to an arrest and charge, but very few people ask for one. Last year, rewards represented only 2 per cent. of Crimestoppers' expenditure. Only six in every 100 callers who would qualify for a reward from the Crimestoppers Trust seek it.

Crimestoppers is not only of considerable value to the police in solving crime, it is also highly cost-effective so far as the taxpayer is concerned. The need for Crimestoppers has never been greater. Spending cuts in the police service and a reduction in the number of police officers mean that every effort must be made by the community to help in the fight against crime. Crimestoppers is already playing an active role in doing this.

For a relatively modest contribution to supplement the work of Crimestoppers, I urge the Government to meet with officials of the Crimestoppers Trust to see what level of aid is required. I gather that such a meeting is to take place soon. Last year, it cost £1,648,000 to operate Crimestoppers--the equivalent of the salaries of four premier division footballers. A pound for pound matching grant would more than pay for itself in the increase in the number of criminals brought to justice and the effect that it would have on preventing crime.

I hope that this early morning debate will make more people aware of the excellent work that Crimestoppers does. For those who need reminding, the number is freephone 0800 555 111.

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