Theresa May sparked a fierce backlash over the government’s handling of knife crime after denying police cuts are linked to the latest wave of fatal stabbings.
Senior police officers and politicians have spoken out to warn that Britons are losing faith in the government’s ability to put an end to the violence.
The backlash comes after two 17-year-olds were stabbed to death in separate incidents in London and Greater Manchester at the weekend.
Mrs May had said there “was no direct correlation between certain crimes and police numbers”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Monday that Mrs May “must start listening” to police chiefs over the impact of cutting 21,000 officers, adding: “You cannot keep people safe on the cheap.”
His comments came as Richard Cooke, the chairman of the West Midlands Police Federation, accused the Government of “responsibility dodging” and called for more staff with greater stop and search powers.
“How can they ignore what is obvious to most of us – that the violence is out of control partly because there are simply not enough bobbies on the beat?” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.
Nazir Afzal, the former chief prosecutor in Greater Manchester whose 17-year-old relative was recently stabbed to death in Birmingham, also criticised Mrs May for claiming there “was no direct correlation between certain crimes and police numbers”.
© Provided by Local News RSS EN-GB Jodie Chesney was stabbed to death in a park in east London”I am aghast at what the Prime Minister had to say about police numbers – that there is no correlation between the number of police and the amount of crime. Of course there is otherwise why would we have police at all,” he told BBC2’s Newsnight.
“When you reduce police numbers by 21,000 – hundreds in pretty much every city – there isn’t the intelligence any more, there isn’t the neighbourhood policing any more, people don’t know where to go.”
Former Metropolitan Police commissioner Lord Hogan-Howe called for policing numbers to return to their former figure as he demanded that ministers “get a grip on the crisis”.
Scotland Yard Deputy Assistant Commissioner Graham McNulty also indicated that extra officers did make a difference in tackling the problem.
The body that represents rank-and-file officers said the Prime Minister was “delusional”.
© Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Forensic officers near the scene of the fatal stabbing in east London (REUTERS)John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “Policing has been stripped to the bone and the consequences are clear, splashed across newspaper front pages and TV news bulletins – children being murdered on our streets.
“This is the true cost of austerity that we warned of, but were ridiculed for doing so.”
Mark Burns-Williamson, chairman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said cuts to police numbers nationwide and cuts to youth services have created “a toxic mix”.
Speaking to the Guardian, Mr Burns-Williamson said: “If we had more police officers and resources, which have been cut over the last eight to nine years, we would be in a better position.
“I wouldn’t put it all down to police numbers, but police forces across the country are struggling to meet the demands of this kind of violent crime.”
© Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Yousef Ghaleb Makki, 17, was stabbed to death in Hale Barns on Saturday (PA)It comes after Prime Minister Mrs May pledged a cross-government response to knife crime focusing on its causes and insisted there was “no direct correlation between certain crimes and police numbers”.
“The increased police presence has made a difference, with officers conducting more than 2,500 stop and searches in the last three days alone.”
Mrs May’s home secretary Sajid Javid also referenced plans to raise police funding by almost £1 billion to “combat serious violence”.
But Mrs May, a former home secretary herself, insisted the main focus should be the issues “underpinning” knife crime.
The Prime Minister said: “What matters is how we ensure that police are responding to these criminal acts when they take place, that people are brought to justice.
“But what also matters is, as a government, that we look at the issues which underpin, that underlie, this use of knives and that we act on those.
“That’s a cross-government approach, it’s not just about the police, it’s about the whole of government and it’s the whole of government that’s responding.”
She said “a lot of this is gang-related, some of it will be drugs-related, there are a wide variety of issues that need to be addressed here and that’s what the government is doing”.
© Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Home Secretary Sajid Javid (Getty Images)
Police forces across the nation have been cut, with officer numbers in London at the lowest level per head – 3.3 per 1,000 – in 20 years.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: “Over 20,000 police officers have been axed by Tory governments since 2010. All of these have contributed to the rise in violent crime, and undermined the police’s ability to tackle it.”
And John Sutherland, a retired Met chief, said of Mrs May’s comments: “I take no pleasure in saying it, but this is simply not correct. To suggest that there is no correlation between police numbers and crime numbers is to deny both common sense and the professional experience of thousands of police officers, my own included.”
Mr Javid, meanwhile, will chair a meeting of police chiefs on Wednesday, including chief constables from the areas most affected by knife crime.
Responding to an urgent question in the Commons on Monday, he said: “We must ensure police have resources to combat serious violence.
“I am raising police funding to record levels next year: up to £970 million including council tax.”
It comes after the fatal stabbing of 17-year-old Jodie Chesney in Harold Hill, east London, on Friday night in what her family branded a “totally random and unprovoked attack”.
On Saturday night, 17-year-old Yousef Ghaleb Makki was stabbed to death in Hale Barns, Greater Manchester.