Boris Johnson: The bearers of this epidemic were mainly young people – and the phenomenon was the county lines drug network
Long before Covid we had a different type of plague in this country. It was a contagion that spread from the ports to the big cities, and then out along the road and the rail networks to sleepy county towns and coastal communities.
The bearers of this epidemic were mainly young people – and the phenomenon was the county lines drug network.
Everywhere they have gone, the county lines drug gangs have brought misery – drugs-fuelled robbery, drugs-fuelled burglary, and the tragic deaths of young kids on the street, sacrificed in the gang war for territory.
When I stood on the steps of Downing Street, I vowed to do whatever it took to roll up those county lines networks and to defeat the gangsters – because crime hits the poorest hardest, and it wrecks the lives of the most vulnerable.
If we are to succeed in levelling up across the UK, we must give everyone the security and confidence that comes from having a safe street and a safe home.
This year crime overall is trending down, and it is one of the few consolations of the appalling Covid pandemic that it has helped us in the fight.
Criminals, like everyone else, have had their movements restricted. Burglary is down. Robbery is down. The murder rate is at last showing signs of turning down, and because lockdown has helped to make criminals conspicuous we have been using this period to round up the gangsters – the peddlers of death – and to attack the whole foundation of the county lines model.
Of course that means tackling the miserable problems of the 300,000 who have become addicted to crack and heroin. It is their drug abuse that is overwhelmingly fuelling the crime wave – and so we have invested massively in treating addiction, with the biggest uplift in funding for rehabilitation for 15 years.
But you can’t just solve the problem with rehab, let alone by recycling the same people in and out of prison, at huge taxpayer expense.
We need to bring the hammer down hard on the gangs – at every stage.
When I stood on the steps of Downing Street, I vowed to do whatever it took to roll up those county lines networks and to defeat the gangsters – because crime hits the poorest hardest, and it wrecks the lives of the most vulnerable (STOCK IMAGE)
So when the drug mules take the trains, they have to contend with British Transport Police who are now equipped with drug-sniffing dogs. Nine hundred people have been arrested in the last year.
When they go by car, their number plates are monitored with automatic recognition systems, and we are punching holes in the organised crime groups by cracking their secret chats – exposing operations like the lab in Kent that was making 27 million street benzo pills that were intended for Scotland.
In the last 16 months, the police believe that they have rolled up about 90 per cent of the county lines drugs gangs in Norfolk. Towns such as Bangor in Wales and Swale in Kent have been declared county lines-free.
Overall, it looks as though there is about a 20 per cent reduction in the prevalence of these gangs.
But we are only just at the beginning of this fight; we must do more. And so we are not only putting more police out on the streets, with 8,771 of the 20,000 already recruited.
We are also backing the police in the fight, with new powers to tackle street violence (consistently opposed by Labour).
And we are supporting their efforts with tougher sentences for serious sexual and violent offenders – measures to protect the public that Labour, incredibly, voted against on a three-line whip. On crime, voters have a clear choice in PCC and council elections this week.
It is not just a question of coming down hard on violent and dangerous criminals. I believe strongly in the broken windows theory – that if you want to stop serious crime, then you must also be ruthless in dealing with offences that might seem second order to some, but which in reality cause huge pain and grief to the victims.
One crime type that has risen in prominence during the pandemic is, oddly, pet theft – mainly the stealing of dogs. At present this crime is far too often dismissed as relatively trivial – on a par, say, with shoplifting.
I don’t agree. That is why the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland has set up the Pet Theft Task Force, to make sure that the criminal justice system is dealing properly with anyone who is so malicious as to steal a dog.
One crime type that has risen in prominence during the pandemic is, oddly, pet theft – mainly the stealing of dogs. At present this crime is far too often dismissed as relatively trivial – on a par, say, with shoplifting (stock image)
Since the start of the year, police operations in Hertfordshire have recovered 27 dogs and made three arrests; 26 dogs in Surrey, and three arrests; 83 dogs in Suffolk, six arrests; 80 dogs in Carmarthenshire, two arrests.
I can imagine that there may be the lips of some non-dog-owners that may curl in amusement at these statistics, and think that the police might be better employed doing other things.
That is to miss the point. If you are cynical and nasty enough to steal a dog, in an organised gang, then you will almost certainly be party to other types of crime as well.
This is a fight that can be won.
When I was running London, for eight years, we backed the police all the way – and they brought crime down by 23 per cent, and the murder rate down by 50 per cent.
And you can’t back the police properly if, like the Labour Party, your first instinct is to blame them and to criticise when things go wrong.
This country is moving forwards cautiously but I hope irreversibly through the steps of the roadmap. Week after week we are seeing how the vaccine rollout is helping to restore our freedoms – and with those freedoms I have absolutely no doubt that our economy will bounce back strongly.
We will make use of our Brexit freedoms to turbo-charge that recovery, with the flexibility that has enabled us already to perform the speedy vaccine rollout, to deal with the prospect of the European Super League, and to launch the freeports in Teesside and elsewhere.
I don’t know whether Jes Staley of Barclays is right to say that it will be the most dramatic recovery since the end of the last war. What I do know is that safety and security on our streets is absolutely critical for sustained investment and economic growth.
That is why we must continue to use this moment to drive home our advantage – take out the gangsters and the misery they cause – and make our streets safe from Covid, and safe from crime.