Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



40.  How far are, what are usually referred to as, the Yardies, the gangsters which tend to have that description, given perhaps by the police, certainly by the media, the Yardies, a number one trouble area for you?

  (Sir John Stevens) We have got problems from the Yardies and from what are referred to as Jamaican gun gangs, yes; and also drugs. We also have problems with people who are coming from Eastern bloc countries and from the Turkish aspect of the drug import to this country. So, in terms of where we are with this, it is not just the Yardies, we are talking about gun crime across the board, and most of it is linked with drug turf wars. And we have really got to try to stem that, and we are doing all we can, we have got officers in Jamaica now, and other countries, to make sure that we can assist in blocking it at that end, and we are involved in training some Jamaican police officers now, to assist us in some of these matters.

41.  You say some of these Yardies have no legal right to be in the United Kingdom, they are here illegally?

  (Sir John Stevens) Absolutely.

42.  A small or large percentage?

  (Sir John Stevens) I should think, a fairly large percentage should not be here anyway, and we have to use the immigration laws as well as the criminal laws to ensure they go back to the places where they should be.

43.  Many people would respond to that by saying that very little seems to be done, as far as the immigration aspect is concerned, but, be that as it may, you do not answer for the Home Office, as far as that is concerned. What about "stop and search" powers; the criticism voiced yesterday from Conservative benches was that the police are on the defensive about "stop and search" powers, you just help crime. What is your response to that, Sir John?

  (Sir John Stevens) I think, in all honesty, two years ago, after the Stephen Lawrence report came out, the level of confidence of the police, and we have talked about this openly before, and it has been discussed, was pretty low. However, if we look at the arrest rates now, in terms of our success, in terms of "stop and search', those have risen considerably. I cannot remember the exact figures, I think Ian could give those. But the bottom line is, unless we have "stop and search" and use it effectively and rigorously, in the right circumstances, we will have more trouble on the streets, and we need support from every community to use "stop and search" rightly.

44.  If "stop and search" had been done in the way in which no doubt you would wish it to be carried out, had it been so in the beginning, it would have been easier for the communities concerned to accept what you rightly say now?

  (Sir John Stevens) I think what we have to do is to make sure that when we use "stop and search" we have the agreement of the communities for that "stop and search". And you know we have reorganised London into a borough-based delivery, the types of tactics that we are going to use for "stop and search', and we must make sure that when we use it we are stopping and arresting the right people, that is very, very important. The other thing is that when people are stopped and searched, and if they are not in the category of being arrested, they need to be treated with respect and courtesy.

  David Winnick: Thank you very much.

Mr Malins

45.  Sir John, could I get back to street crime. I think you told us that you had effected 26 per cent more arrests?

  (Sir John Stevens) That is right, Sir, yes, this year from last.

46.  Can we sort of put that into nuts and bolts terms. For every 100 street robberies, how many are being detected and going through to conviction?

  (Sir John Stevens) Our detection rate for street robberies is 25-26 per cent, at the moment.

47.  That is what I thought. Now would you agree with me that that is a very low detection rate, 25 per cent, and could you tell me specifically how you can turn that round in the next three months?

  (Sir John Stevens) I think that you will find that 25, 26 per cent, compared with elsewhere, in some of the detection rates, is reasonably high for street robbery, but we want it higher, make no mistake about that, I would not be satisfied unless it was 100 per cent, quite frankly. And so what we are doing is, we have got a lot of initiatives, and if I could take you through one or two, if I may. We have had these operations running for about a year and a half, two years, called "Crackdown", whereby we push them into boroughs; the real problem is, when we do that, we have to take them away because of lack of resources and put them elsewhere. And if you look at the results they had in Haringey, for the first time in that borough, last year, there was not one street crime in a day in Haringey, as a result of intelligence-led, community-supported police action; and that is the key to it, community support, the police cannot do it on their own. But what we will be doing in the next two to three months, with the explosion we have of street crime, which is totally unacceptable, is that the 500 officers and others will be involved in undercover work, they will be involved in surveillance, covert and overt surveillance, we will be introducing more cameras into Seneca[2], the bus routes, to make sure that we know who is moving around, when and where, because a lot of these street muggers use the transport system in a big way. We will be hot-spotting various areas and making sure that we have the right amount of police officers there, using Q cars[3], which were used in my day, but for some reason we have not used them, we are going back into that. We are going to be using undercover officers to go and get involved, in terms of where the drug comes from, in terms of crack cocaine. And so it goes on. I could go on and on; there is a massive initiative taking place. If we can get the cavalry coming over the horizon, in terms of extra resources and extra police officers, we can do more of that.

48.  The mobile telephone robberies that are taking place; any comment on Lord Justice Wolff's observations about 18 months to five years' custodial sentence inevitable, etc.?

  (Sir John Stevens) One, I welcome that; secondly, the mobile telephone problem is a massive problem, in terms of street crime. We calculate that round about 36 per cent to 40 per cent of the robberies that take place relate solely to mobile telephones.

49.  And what about arrest rate for mobile telephone robberies?

  (Sir John Stevens) That is something which is round about 26 per cent, it is static across the board. But, if I may, what we really do need, and I saw it working in Amsterdam, in Holland, is something that makes sure that the mobile telephone that is stolen is incapacitated; now they do it in Holland, they do it in Amsterdam, and when they introduced it in Amsterdam the robbery rate went down by 40 per cent.

50.  But, Sir John, you and I know that if you make cars difficult to steal they will go on to telephones, if you make telephones difficult they will go on to umbrellas. The real issue, in most people's mind at the moment, is this, that there is a huge wave of mobile telephone robberies on our streets of London, there is a great deal of lawlessness; rightly or wrongly, a lot of people say, if the police blitzed the area, zero tolerance, put literally hundred of officers on the streets, all day, in a borough, that might produce an answer. How do you respond to that?

  (Sir John Stevens) If we had hundreds of officers to do it, I would do it tomorrow.

51.  It is numbers?

  (Sir John Stevens) Absolutely; and you hear about New York, and I spent three or four days actually with Mayor Giuliani and Howard Safir, the Commissioner, working with them for four or five days. And at the end of it, I said to both of them, "How have you achieved this type of reduction?" Although, this reduction has been achieved in other parts of this country, in the North East, in Northumbria, without any additional resources, and maybe I can go to New York to talk to them about that.

52.  What is your answer?

  (Sir John Stevens) But let me tell you, the answer to that is this, political support and an increase in resources.

53.  Are you lacking either of those at the moment?

  (Sir John Stevens) Political support, I think, is really coming, because the Mayor, the Home Secretary, and I believe the House of Commons is supreme in these matters, are giving us support. The resources are coming on. And there is a limit to how much we can pump those resources in quickly, because we can recruit only about 3,500 a year, to get them into the Metropolitan Police; this is where the auxiliaries will help.

54.  Finally, on this topic. If you were to come back to us in six months and the level of arrest and conviction for street robbery was still as low as 26 per cent, would you regard that as a failure?

  (Sir John Stevens) I would regard it as a failure only if street crime continued to rise in the way it is at the moment. I think what you have to look at is not the business of detection rates and the amount of arrests we are having but the preventive side of it. If we can get in upstream, if you like, of where these crimes are being committed and stop them being committed, that is the key to it. Now we know that there are going to be persistent offenders around; the only way they are going to be dealt with, because of their lifestyles and the fact that they make money out of it, is to arrest them, we have got to make sure we arrest them. And, I have to say, they have to be locked away, or assisted, it does not matter how, by the Probation Service, or whoever, but taken out of society so we get a respite from these people.

55.  Last question: drugs. We all know, and I sit judicially, that the link between drugs and crime is tremendous. To what extent are you being successful, in general terms, in breaking up the heavy drugs people, how many are there of these, are there a couple of hundred in London, 800, I am talking about the seriously nasty drugs people; are you at them?

  (Sir John Stevens) We are at them, yes.

56.  Are you going to have any, what you would call, success over the next 12 months in reducing it?

  (Sir John Stevens) We have met and succeeded our targets, in terms of our drug arrests, and we target—

57.  The top end?

  (Sir John Stevens) Yes, at the very top end. What we have got to do is make sure that we block some of the stuff coming into London. But when I talk about gun crime, we talk about Yardies, we talk about the so-called black on black kind of shootings and we are talking about Turkish importation of drugs and some of the Eastern European kind of input, that is all about drugs, and drugs is big money and drugs is linked into shootings and drugs is linked into turf wars; and we have got to get on top of the drug problem, as well as the gun problem.


58.  Do you feel that the CPS and the courts are sufficiently energetic in helping you?

  (Sir John Stevens) I think the CPS have been underfunded. I have a superb relationship with the DPP and the CPS in London, and we meet regularly; and I think, quite frankly, they have been underfunded. I do not think they have got the amount of lawyers that they need, or the quality; this is what they would say themselves. That needs to be rectified. I think, in terms of the courts, we do get enough support; however, I do believe, in terms of robbery, and I have said so publicly and have been supported by others, three strikes and out, or three strikes and in, as I call it, for robbery, needs to take place. We have got to have some respite on the street from some of the people's activities, that we all know about. And, the fact we are arresting more and that there is still this increase in street crime, and the fact that three-quarters of the people whom we are arresting are coming straight at the top of the criminal kind of calendar, as we call it, not murder, which goes above that, of course, I think we really do need to have a proper, structured way of dealing with this; and it is the youth that we have got to tackle.

59.  You mentioned that some people were being bailed eight times; that suggests the courts are not co-operating with you?

  (Mr Blair) I wonder if I can just come in there, Chairman, because that is actually one of the key issues, and it all comes back to the street robbery, mobile telephone issue. What we have got here is an extension of schoolyard bullying, in the sense that lots of the young people involved in this know each other, so they are actually stealing from people that they know; and the constant rebailing of these offenders by the courts, and we have got lots of examples of eight and nine times, means that the young people who would have been the witnesses are completely intimidated. And so actually what is happening is that the people are walking away scot-free. It is a real concern. We cannot go on treating young people as if this is just a set of shoplifters, when they are actually violent robbers; and it is a real, real concern for us, which we express constantly to the courts and to the CPS, but, to some extent, it all depends upon the level of secure accommodation available.
  (Sir John Stevens) If you would like, Chairman, some of these cases are sub judice, otherwise we would have come and given you some examples here, publicly, which we cannot do; we would like, if it is acceptable with you and your Committee, to give you some examples and some real kind of evidence of what we are talking about, at some stage later, if that is possible?

2   See Appendix, Ev 108. Back

3   See Appendix, Ev 108 Back

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