Blunkett's new 'blitz' on crime widens gulf with Executive
DAVID Blunkett, the Home Secretary, yesterday announced Labour’s new blitz on crime - a move that threatens to open yet another policy gulf with the Scottish Executive.
In an agenda for England and Wales aimed at winning the next Westminster election, Mr Blunkett promised Big Brother-style surveillance of child-abusers and a hard core of persistent troublemakers.
The crackdown means crime will join health and education as areas where radical reforms are promised by Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, south of the Border - but rejected by the Executive, whose next elections are three years away.
After being given a generous budget settlement in the Chancellor’s spending review last week, Mr Blunkett yesterday laid out the agenda which will become part of Labour’s manifesto for England and Wales.
The Home Secretary moved to put some substance on Mr Blair’s denunciation of the liberal criminal justice doctrines of the 1960s - and announced a raft of measures aimed at cutting crime rates by 15 per cent over the next four years.
In a statement to the Commons, he pledged to double the number of offenders who are electronically tagged to 18,000.
Most tagging systems simply compel offenders to turn up for regular check-ins but otherwise allow them to roam freely. However, a new state-of-the-art surveillance system will mean paedophiles, persistent criminals and those found guilty of domestic violence being fitted with devices that are constantly monitored by satellites, meaning their every movement will be tracked by the authorities.
Mr Blunkett said he wanted a new "blitz" on repeat offenders - the Home Office estimates that 5,000 people are responsible for 10 per cent of all reported crime south of the Border.
Police will be told to concentrate their surveillance efforts on this hard core, and Mr Blunkett promised new measures to compel them to change their behaviour.
"If prison had worked with these prolific offenders, they wouldn’t be prolific - because they have been in and out sometimes dozens of times," the Home Secretary said.
Satellite tracking could ultimately allow the police to enforce curfew orders on repeat offenders remotely, Mr Blunkett said. In Scotland, this policy is being pioneered on asylum seekers, an area where Westminster retains direct control, as revealed in The Scotsman earlier this month.
Civil-liberties campaigners, whose opinions Mr Blunkett takes delight in ignoring, warned that the new measures strayed dangerously close to allowing law-enforcement authorities to take pre-emptive action against people who had not committed crimes.
The existing criminal law was sufficient to deal with persistent offenders, Liberty said. A spokesman criticised Mr Blunkett’s plans to target a small number of "usual suspects". "The danger is that it becomes action against anyone young, anyone black," he said.
Still, in a bleak echo of Mr Blair’s doctrine of choice in public services, a government spokesman said more criminals would be allowed to choose between a custodial sentence and electronic tagging, and drug offenders would be allowed to decide between jail and clinical treatment for their addiction.
Mr Blunkett’s officials also confirmed that, as Liberty and other campaigners had warned, the planned national identity-card system would form the foundation of a central data collecting and monitoring system.
Once the database for the biometric data stored on the cards is established, it will be linked to the likes of the Police National Computer, Interpol and the security services’ "warnings index" of those believed to be a threat to national security.
Once the nationwide database is established, facial recognition scanners at airports, sea ports and elsewhere will let police and customs officials immediately check on someone’s identity and legal status.
Mr Blunkett insisted that his plans were intended to preserve the freedom of law-abiding people. "Our task is to renew the relationship between the citizen and government, putting the interests of the law-abiding citizen first," he said.
Local communities, too, will be given greater freedom to monitor the work of their police. If enough people sign a petition expressing concern about the performance of their local force, the Home Office will undertake unscheduled inspections of the police.
"We are talking about snap inspections that would have to be made where there is widespread disaffection," Mr Blunkett said.
Other measures announced in the Home Office’s five-year plan yesterday included extending on-the-spot fines to a range of offences, including theft, under-age drinking, selling alcohol to minors, low-level damage to property and misusing fireworks.
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