Fast track to tackle street criminals

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The Independent Online

Young offenders will be arrested and taken to special detention centres instead of police stations, under new plans to tackle street crime. Police, probation officers and lawyers will staff the centres, enabling officials to pool details about an offender's background and increase chances of successful prosecution.

The plans are outlined in an unpublished report by Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, the highest ranking non-white officer in Britain, who is in charge of reforming the Metropolitan Police's criminal justice policy.

Persistent offenders were growing in confidence because the criminal justice system was in "a spiral of disaster," he told the Independent on Sunday.

"The system has not understood the changes taking place. The majority of the criminal justice system is white but the people who are coming in are from minorities. If there are three Oxbridge barristers cross-examining someone from a ghetto, that person can't cope. The police are just as bad: we don't put evidence together properly."

The Solicitor General, Harriet Harman, is also considering a proposal from Mr Ghaffur to appoint an independent "minister for justice" whose sole responsibility would be to oversee the criminal justice process from arrest to prosecution.

The criminal justice system would also be "branded" like the Post Office with its own chief executive to ensure that young offenders in particular were dealt with swiftly and effectively.

These proposals are the latest in a range of measures announced by the police and the Government to reduce street crime. The rise in muggings, mobile-phone robberies and car theft has been blamed on teenage gangs.

The Met revealed last week that muggings and bag snatches in London had leapt by nearly 40 per cent to a record 70,000 in a year.

Mr Ghaffur believes special detention centres will help to prevent young offenders evading justice. They are used in the US so that criminal justice workers can act together to fast-track offenders through the courts.

The Met is conducting a special investigation of cases where prosecutions against young criminals have failed. "Operation Justice" will also provide better training for officers in presenting evidence in court and in putting together cases for the Crown Prosecution Service.

But Mr Ghaffur warned that there was inadequate protection to meet the needs of ethnic communities in co-operating with the police.

"The networks in ethnic communities are such that they [intimidators] will find you," said Mr Ghaffur. "If you are going to protect someone you have to protect the whole family."

He believesthe "gentrification" of London, with luxury housing built in deprived areas, has partly contributed to the rise in street crime. "On one hand you have very rich neighbourhoods and then almost ghettoes. This creates a very rich crime environment."