The Liberal Democrat candidate for London Mayor has accused two of her rivals of “ambulance-chasing” and trying to “score political points” by visiting the scene of a fight in Seven Kings which resulted in three men being stabbed to death.
Explaining why she had not gone to the area following the incident on Sunday evening, Siobhan Benita said in a video message on Twitter that she does not consider it “useful and helpful for candidates to pile in” after such events and that a lot of what had been said by her two fellow mayoral contestants was “not helpful or relevant” to the case.
Both Independent candidate Rory Stewart and the Conservative contender Shaun Bailey had previously been to the crime scene to comment on the incident, with Stewart posting two video messages, including one from Seven Kings which went live on Monday lunchtime, and Bailey posting one on Monday evening which also featured a fellow Tory, local London Assembly Member Keith Prince, in front of what appears to be the location of the fatal confrontation.
Benita’s criticism seems to be directed not at the response of the current Mayor, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, who is seeking a second term and whose mayoral Twitter account carried a photograph of him at Seven Kings meeting a police officer and Redbridge Council leader Jas Athwal, but at Stewart and Bailey, though neither is mentioned by name.
She said that a lot of the serious violence in the capital at present is connected to the illegal drugs market” and organised crime or gang violence, though this particular incident seems not to have been. “I won’t be ambulance-chasing in this campaign,” she said. “I think that in these types of incidents the police need to be able to do their job, communities need to be allowed to grieve”.
However, she would be continuing her work with cross-party bodies examining the causes of youth violence and presenting “an evidence-based plan with solutions that I know will work”. Benita has argued that cannabis should be decriminalised in London as a way of taking that section of the drug trade out of criminal hands as one element of a five-part anti-knife crime plan.
Reducing violent crime, particularly involving knives, has been the principal theme of Bailey’s campaign since his selection as the Tory candidate in September 2018. The former youth worker has sought to highlight his past experience with young people and claimed that he would be more active than Khan in dealing with the problem. In his video message he said the crime “signifies just how dangerous things have become in London,” and that he had urged residents to consider “how they can get involved, how they can support the people around them”.
In video from Seven Kings, Stewart said: “Someone needs to sort this out and the person is the Mayor.” He listed three priorities: more uniformed police on the street; a supply of data to alert them to hotspots in advance; the necessary training and support. In his second video, posted on Monday evening, Stewart said “I’ve spoken to a bereaved mother, I’ve spoken to police officers” as well as to the local Sikh gurdwara. Praising officers’ professionalism, he said that “above all” it was necessary to “make sure that everything is directed towards reducing violent crime in our communities”.
As Mayor, Khan has introduced a Violence Reduction Unit with the aim of pooling specialist advice about addressing the causes of violent crime, and one year ago he announced an extra £234 million towards reducing violent crime, about half of which was derived from business rates. There was a total of 149 murders in London in 2019, the highest since 2008, though deputy Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Stephen House recently told a London Assembly committee that violent crime as a whole has been on a downward trend for the past two years.
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