Sadiq Khan has called for better resourcing of prison and probation services and greater sentencing powers for judges following the Islamist-inspired stabbing of two people on Streatham High Road, and two of those seeking to replace him as London Mayor have also joined the debate about preventing further such attacks.
The Mayor told Sky News he had “lots of questions for the government” including about what measures are being taken to ensure the “70-odd people” released after serving terror-related sentences aren’t a threat to the public and what is being done with the roughly 200 currently in jail to see that they are “punished and reformed” instead of radicalised.
Khan said that powers to impose sentences of indeterminate length taken from judges in 2012 should be restored and that prison and probation staff are “struggling” because resources are insufficient. He claimed the perpetrator of Sunday’s attacked, 20-year-old Sudesh Amman, who was shot dead by police on the scene, should not have been released from prison a week before because what happened had been “both foreseeable and preventable”, with the police sufficiently concerned about Amman to have had an armed team monitoring him, which is “not usual”.
Broadcasters have also sought the views of Independent candidate Rory Stewart, a former Conservative minister with responsibility for prisons, who recently published proposals for increasing the number of neighbourhood police officers in London. Stewart told Talk Radio that “this guy [Amman] was clearly an enormous danger,” and that “the real questions” raised are “whether we can increase the maximum sentences” and “what we can do with people when they are in prison and when they leave to make sure that we keep people safe and try to turn them around”. Stressing that reforming such offenders is “very difficult”, Stewart said “I don’t think we’ve got the approach right, we don’t have enough specialists working on that”.
Stewart told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire progamme that new requirement introduced at the end of last year would have meant Amman going through a “parole process” prior to release had he been sentenced prior to the change. He added: “Someone who poses an imminent danger or threat to the public, they need to be put back into prison. There’s no doubt about that at all.” Stewart said consideration should be given to “how we get the link up to police, prison, probation”, with “a single case officer tracking individuals through the whole system” and advocated a “proper lay down of police in the communities”, because recent attacks have been by lone individuals unconnected with large terror networks that are known to the security services.
In a press statement, Liberal Democrat candidate Siobhan Benita said, “It can’t be right that an individual with a previous conviction for terror-related activities is allowed back onto our streets when he still poses a threat to the public”. She called for “a review of terror legislation and, especially, the powers that judges have to keep our communities secure” and “an urgent return to community policing, which has been so starved of funds under the Conservatives”.
Benita has pledged to re-open local police stations, which have closed under Khan and his predecessor Boris Johnson in order to make savings as the Metropolitan Police budget has been cut since 2010. She also wants to increase the number of police in each London neighbourhood and “attach officers to schools to build trust from an early age. Prevention must be given the same urgency as enforcement”.
Much of the early mayoral campaign debate has been about violent street crime unrelated to terrorism, though Khan’s contributions to that and his reaction to the Streatham attack have had the common thread of criticising Conservative-led national governments over funding cuts. Stewart, who was a Tory MP and minister, concentrated in his remarks on making the current systems function more effectively.
In his 2016 manifesto, Khan pledged to “lead a renewed push to tackle extremism and radicalisation in London”. In December 2016, following a critical report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation, he promised to “continue to make the case to the government that responsibility for probation services should be devolved to City Hall”, though he has not yet been successful. Amman’s victims are not in life threatening conditions.
Update 4 February, 2020: Green Party London Mayor candidate Sian Berry has told told On London: “We cannot let the terror attack in Streatham divides our communities. Questions need to be asked about the attacker’s early release from prison as well as the on the debilitating effects privatisation has had on the prison and probation services, and the quality of rehabilitation offered to prisoners. We must look at the evidence-based solutions that will help us reduce the chances of something similar happening again in the future.” On London has been unable to make contact with the campaign of Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey.
Image: BBC News.
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