2012 articles

Thousands of 999 police axed as spending cuts hit frontline numbers
Figures reveal emergency staff have been hit despite pledge by David Cameron to defend them from spending cuts
Toby Helm and Mark Townsend, Saturday 10 March 2012 21.31 GMT
The number of police dealing with 999 emergencies has fallen by more than 5,000 since the last general election, according to new figures that seriously undermine David Cameron's pledge to be defending "frontline" forces from spending cuts.

The figures, compiled from responses to freedom of information requests from all 43 forces in England and Wales, are a severe embarrassment to the government, which has insisted that its 20% funding cuts will not compromise public safety or the fight against crime.

Labour described the job losses among so-called "first responders" – those following up on 999 calls – as "shocking" and said they raised new questions about whether the public could trust the government.

Only last month Cameron told the Commons that the percentage of frontline officers was actually increasing. Ministers have claimed more officers are being switched to the "sharp end" as back office jobs go and police bureaucracy is reduced. But the new data, supplied by the forces themselves and verified independently by the House of Commons library, shows a fall of 5,261 in the number of officers defined as "first responders" between March 2010 and December last year.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary defines "first responders" as those responding to 999 calls, attending traffic accidents and being first at the scenes of crime and other incidents such as public disturbances.

Of the 43 forces, 23 have so far only submitted figures up to March last year in their FOI responses, meaning that, when all the figures are in, the total is likely to be significantly higher.

Among forces that have suffered the biggest culls of 999 officers are Devon and Cornwall, which lost 540 "first responders" (25% of its total), and West Midlands, which lost 1,023 (19%).

Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation, which represents 135,000 officers, said the impact of the cuts would raise questions about the police's ability to contain events such as last summer's riots. "It puts more pressure on those who are left. In particular, those involved in responding are stretched and it puts their safety on the line," he said.

"It also impinges on the public's safety. We keep getting the same mantra from government, that it wants to concentrate on crime, that it's a core responsibility, and that's sending one message to the public. The message is that they expect us to do everything, which cannot be right. We have to acknowledge that, with cuts of between 20% and 32%, we cannot do more with that much less."

Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary, whose office made the freedom of information requests, said: "Time and again the government has promised us the frontline will not be cut but now we see very clear proof that the very officers that need to respond to 999 calls, that need to respond to emergency incidents, are disappearing. To lose thousands of the very officers that you need in an emergency will be deeply worrying for people right across the country. People need to know that the police will be there when they need them."

A Home Office spokesman said: "These are not official figures and we don't recognise them. The reality is independent reports have shown police can reduce costs while protecting the frontline and, according to official statistics and police plans, the proportion of officers on the frontline is rising.

CCTV at petrol stations will automatically stop uninsured cars being filled with fuel
Downing Street officials hope the hi-tech system will crack down on the 1.4million motorists who drive without insurance
Daily Mirror, 12th March, 2012
Cameras at petrol stations will automatically stop uninsured or untaxed vehicles from being filled with fuel, under new government plans.

Downing Street officials hope the hi-tech system will crack down on the 1.4million motorists who drive without insurance.

Automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras are already fitted in thousands of petrol station forecourts.

Drivers can only fill their cars with fuel once the camera has captured and logged the vehicle’s number plate.

Currently the system is designed to deter motorists from driving off without paying for petrol.

But under the new plans, the cameras will automatically cross-refererence with the DVLA’s huge database.

When a car is flagged as being uninsured or untaxed, the system will prevent the fuel pump being used on that vehicle.

The proposals will have a huge impact - forcing drivers to insure and tax their car if they want to drive.

One in 25 drivers in the UK do not have insurance - one of the worst records in western Europe.

According to recent figures, around 160 people are killed and 23,000 injured by uninsured and untraced drivers every year.

Downing Street officials are due to meet representatives from the major fuel companies in the next few weeks to discuss the idea.

But some petrol retailers said the proposals were a “step too far” - claiming they put cashiers at risk.

Brian Madderson, from RMI Petrol, which represents independent petrol stations, said: “Staff are already getting stick from motorists for high fuel prices.

“This proposal will increase the potential for conflict. Our cashiers are not law enforcers.”

By Tom Whitehead, Home Affairs Editor, 10:00PM GMT 02 Feb 2012
The periods after which convicted criminals no longer have to declare their past offending are to be significantly cut in plans outlined by Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary yesterday.

It will mean some rapists and killers who would normally have had a permanent record will now have it cleared after seven years at the most and possibly as low as two years.
Thousands of burglars and muggers will have their records cleared after as little as a year.

The changes centre on the 1974 Rehabilitation of Offenders Act which dictates when a conviction is “spent” and has a sliding timescale depending on the seriousness of the crime.

A “spent” conviction is when the offender no longer has to declare it on occasions such as a job application, insurance forms or visa requests.

Some periods have been cut by four fifths while others that would never have been spent now will be.

The reform means some serious sex and violent offenders could get jobs with the public without having to declare their past or a burglar could work as a plumber or gardener just a year after being punished and not own up.

However, the rules do not apply to those working with children, vulnerable adults or in other sensitive positions which require a formal background check from the Criminal Records Bureau.

Those disclosures reveal all past convictions regardless of whether they are spent or not.

Anti-crime groups last night warned the move puts the public at risk.

Jim Maddan, chairman of the Neighbourhood & Home Watch Network and a retired police inspector, said there is a concern for householders who trust people around their home such as gardeners or window cleaners.

“We do not want to put too many restrictions on those who want to go straight but at the same time we need to make sure the community is safe,” he said.

“If there is an opportunity for people not to declare convictions when they are going for employment then it can make the situation more difficult.”

Lyn Costello, of Mothers Against Murder and Aggression, said: “We are all for rehabilitation and if a 17-year-old steals a bike and then does nothing else it is only fair they are given another chance.

“But making sweeping statements like this is also going to affect serious offenders and it is not putting the safety of the public first.

“If someone attacks a woman and then keeps clean for just a few years they will not have to declare it and that is not protecting the public.”

Ministers are keen to reform the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act because it is now almost 40 years old.

They want to make it easier for offenders who are determined to go straight to get an “honest job”.

Currently, anyone sentenced to more than 2.5 years never has their conviction spent but that will now be raised to those who are jailed for more than four years.

Offenders sentenced to between 2.5 and four years will have the conviction cleared after seven years.

In 2010 alone, some 350 killers and rapists were handed sentences of four years or less.

Those sentenced to six to 30 months will see their period before it becomes spent fall from 10 to four years, while those jailed for less than six months will be in the clear after two years instead of the current seven.

Offenders given fines or community orders will see the period fall from five years to one.

The changes will also be retrospective meaning hundreds of thousands of offenders will see their records cleared overnight when the new rules come in to effect.

There are a series of corresponding lower time periods if the offender is a juvenile while anyone given an indeterminate sentence such as a life term will never have their conviction spent.

The planned changes have now been added to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which is currently going through parliament.

Lord McNally, the Justice minister, said: "First and foremost, criminals must be suitably punished for their crimes.

"But it is no good for anyone if they go to jail and come out and then can't get an honest job and so turn back to crime again.

"That is why we are bringing forward reforms which will give offenders who have served their sentence a fair chance of getting back on the straight and narrow, while ensuring safeguards are in place to protect the public."

However, Paul McDowell, chief executive of the crime reduction charity Nacro, called for the Government to go further.

"These long overdue reforms will significantly help those people who have offended in the past and are now living law-abiding lives," he said.

"Despite the proposed changes, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act will still present barriers to people who have put their offending behind them, particularly those who have served four or more years in prison.

"We will therefore continue to work with the Government and our partners to secure lasting change."

The changes were revealed as Mr Clarke risked the anger of grass roots Tories after declaring that long prison terms do not cut reoffending.

In a debate in the House of Commons he said: "Some people have held the belief, which is quite understandable, for years, that in order to cut reoffending you've got to deter people by sending more and more people to prison for longer and longer sentences.

"It is my opinion that the evidence completely refutes that – that does not work, particularly if it makes the prisons overcrowded, unresponsive places where they toughen up and meet some rougher friends

Father attacks celebrities who 'glorify' drug taking
A public school master whose teenage son died after taking ecstasy powder for the second time in his life has attacked celebrities who “glorify and trivialise” drug taking.

By Matthew Holehouse, 7:00AM GMT 03 Feb 2012

Joe Simons, 16, who got nine A* grades at GCSE and hoped to study at Oxbridge died in May last year of multiple organ failure after taking drugs at a night club in bristol.

His father, Tom Simons, 51, the deputy headmaster of £25,000 a year Prior Park College in Bath, Somerset, attacked Britain’s “complacent” attitude towards recreational drug use, which he said is “spreading like a cancer.”

In a statement to a coroners’ inquest yesterday he said: “Joe is in many ways an indictment of our failure as a society to tackle the scourge of drugs.

"There are no easy answers, of course, and we are daily beset by the views and advice of the well-meaning and the misguided, urging us to legalise drugs or build more jails.

"Experts' in the field are legion, as sadly are the lives touched by the drug culture that seems to have spread like a cancer across the globe.

"It is complacency that is the greatest challenge to us all. We never think it will happen to us or our loved ones. We trust that it will not be our child who will be tempted.

"After all, we teach our children the dangers of taking drugs and that is enough. Well sadly not, as poor souls like Joe and countless others will attest to.”

“Until society as a whole stands up and says no to the dealers and no to those in the media and entertainments industry who glorify and trivialise the taking of drugs, we will continue to count the cost in lives lost and families left bereft.”

The inquest heard Joe had bought 1.5g of MDMA, the powder from which ecstasy pills are manufactured, at the Tribe of Frogs dance night at Lakota, a club in Bristol. He split the drug between four friends and washed it down with water.

Gabriel Wheatcroft, his best friend, said in a statement he saw Joe sometime later being supported.

“He looked grey and was staring into the distance. They came outside the club and laid him on the floor.

“I heard one of the door staff saying that if they were asked, they would say he bought [the drug] earlier from another club."

Joe, a keen sportsman, was taken to Bristol Royal Infirmary in the early hours of May 1 with multiple organ failure and a temperature of 42 degrees celsius. He died the following day.

He was found to have 0.98 micrograms of the drug in his blood. The normal recreational level for the drug would be around 0.2 micrograms, pathologist Dr Edward Sheffield told the inquest.

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