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The Minister, above all people, must be aware that someone cannot involve the police until a crime has been committed. The police will not act on the theory that someone may be about to commit a crime.
I am deeply grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who keeps explaining to the Houseand, I hope, the wider publicthe merits of the leaflet and the extensive advice that it offers. He is right: of course, any householder who is sufficiently in fear of someone entering their house, perhaps because they have been burgled before or because they have specific information that leads them to believe that someone will burgle their house, should share that information with the police. The police and the law are on their side. They have every right to expect the police to support them in those circumstances. I am very happy to take any other
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intervention that any hon. Member wants to make that draws out further information from the very helpful leaflet from the CPS and the police.
Mr. Hancock: The Minister suggests that it is not unreasonable for someone to make the police aware of what is happening. Many hon. Members have told us about the failure of the police to respond either quickly enough or positively enough to give confidence. What would the Minister suggest is a reasonable response from the police if a telephone call for help or assistance is made when someone suspects that they are being burgled?
Paul Goggins: I would expect the police to turn up as soon as it was possible for them to do so. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) pointed out that in some remote rural areas the situation may be different from that in the centre of an urban area, but with record numbers of police officers and community support officers provided by the Government, the chances of an officer coming to someone's aid are all the greater than they were or than they would be if police numbers were cut.
We have discussed the leaflet extensively. It is widely available from Citizens Advice and from a number of websites, including the Home Office website. As I said, in addition to the original 100,000 copies, a further 200,000 have been printed, and if more are required, they will be provided.
Tom Levitt: My hon. Friend will be interested to know that I intend to make sure that those of my constituents who have a particular interest or experience in this field receive a copy of the leaflet. It is extremely helpful. We should recognise the professionalism of the police in these circumstances. On the comment from the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), I hope the experience will lead people to use the 999 service better. People can call 999 when they are in fear of a crime or an injury being committed. They do not have to wait until the crime has been committed, but they should not do what one of my constituents, unfortunately, did the other dayring 999 when someone had damaged the wing mirror on his car, thus perhaps stopping the police attending a real emergency where life and limb were at risk.
Paul Goggins: Anybody who uses 999 in such circumstances can only be criticised by any sensible person and by hon. Members across the House. The 999 service is for emergencies. Householders who feel that they are about to be burgled or who are being burgled should immediately dial 999 and should be able to expect the full support of the police.
Mr. Dismore: May I correct a misapprehension that may have been created by the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) when my hon. Friend the Minister was talking about a trap? The leaflet says that if a householder
the householder might be in trouble. That is the important point. If someone knows a crime is going to be committed, that is the time to call the police, rather than set a trap. That is not the impression that was given earlier.
Paul Goggins: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who always speaks with great clarity on these issues. I draw his attention and that of the House to the fact that in circumstances where it may be judged that the householder has acted with excessive force and there may be an investigation and a potential prosecution, infrequent as such cases are, the leaflet makes it clear that those inquiries will always be conducted by senior and experienced members of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service and will be dealt with as quickly as possible. A number of hon. Members have noted that in the past such cases have dragged on for a long time, but there has subsequently been no prosecution or appearance in court. Those matters should be cleared up as quickly as possible. I hope that with the assurance received this week from the CPS and the police, not least in the leaflet, people will have confidence that such matters will be dealt with expertly and quickly.
Harry Cohen: My hon. Friend spoke earlier about a Home Office review. About a year ago the Home Office was considering another telephone number to supplement 999, or perhaps designating 999 for emergencies only and the other line for non-emergencies. Is that subject to review? Has my hon. Friend any information to pass on to the House?
Paul Goggins: I reassure my hon. Friend that the Home Office is looking very carefully at that issue at the moment. Clearly, that is another review that the public and Members of the House will think important. We are conducting it at the moment and many issues will obviously have to be addressed, but the aim is to ensure that members of the public who need the help of the emergency services can expect them to be at hand as quickly as possible.
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend referred to the fact that the police and Crown Prosecution Service would investigate swiftly, which is what the leaflet says. It also says, however, that they will investigate sympathetically. That is an important point, and the leaflet refers to it twice, emphasising that cases will be investigated both as swiftly and as sympathetically as possible. That may correct some of the public's misapprehensions about how they may be treated.
Paul Goggins: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is quite right that the cases will be dealt with sympathetically. Of course, the sympathy will all be on the side of the householder, who will not have invited the intruder in and will be the victim. Even if there are difficult questions to be addressed, there will always be great sympathy as well as great skill in the way in which any such investigations are carried out, few in number as they are.
I referred earlier to the number of burglaries. Of course, we all want fewer burglaries, which has to be an objective for all of us. Domestic burglary is a terrible crime, and it is vital that we do all we can to prevent it
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from occurring. Where it does occur, we want to see the offender caught and prosecuted. The good news is that burglary has fallen by about 31 per cent. since 1999, so that the chances of being burgled now are lower than for about 20 years. Recorded crime figures show that domestic burglary in the 12 months to June 2004 was down by 13 per cent. compared with the same period in 200203. They are gains that we should all celebrate, but none of us should be complacent and no one can guarantee that the unthinkable will not happen. When somebody enters somebody else's house, the householder must be confident that the law is on their side. They have every right to expect that the incident will be investigated quickly and sensitivelysomething that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon mentionedand that all the facts of the case will be taken into account.
Mr. Dismore: A number of suggestions have been made from the Opposition Benches that the police should somehow not investigate such cases where somebody has died. Does my hon. Friend agree that that has to be nonsense, and that cases in which serious injuries occur or people are killed have to be investigated properly, at the very least because there will have to be a coroner's inquest?
Paul Goggins: My hon. Friend is right that there will need to an investigation when somebody is killed and that information will be needed for the coroner. Of course, there will need to be an investigation of any such incident, because there will have been a burglary, which is the crime.
Paul Goggins: Whoever raised the issue of investigation, my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon has made it clear to the House that there should and will always be an investigation, as is completely right.
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