Minister confesses to crime mistakes

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A Home Office minister yesterday confessed that Conservative Government actions had contributed to "a poisonous cocktail" that had fuelled crime.

Tom Sackville, the Home Office minister with special responsibility for drugs, spoke of the "dreadful mistakes" of both Conservatives and Labour in office, and of society in general.

But the political dynamite of Mr Sackville's analysis was the admission that social factors cause crime - something repeatedly and adamantly denied by the Home Secretary, Michael Howard.

For a Home Office minister to echo the sentiment of Labour's law and order slogan - that the Government needed to be tough on crime, tough on the social and other causes of crime - will come as an acute embarrassment to John Major.

The latest Gallup poll, for the Daily Telegraph, shows that over the last five years Labour has successfully used that policy to turn a Tory lead of 25 percentage points on law and order into a 9-point Labour lead.

Addressing crime prevention experts from Britain and abroad at a conference on Tyneside - on the edge of the Meadow Well Estate, the scene of riots five years ago this month - Mr Sackville said: "We have mixed ourselves a poisonous cocktail.

"Governments of both persuasions have ruined whole industries by simply failing to maintain low inflation."

Mr Sackville put some blame on the "television age where children have much freedom, much less parental authority and fewer are brought up in traditional two-parent families".

But he said: "The biggest mistake ... by governments of both parties after the war, was rushing headlong into local authority rented accommodation with tower blocks and housing estates.

"The third generation of that are finding it increasingly difficult to live in the way that most people would like to live," he said.

Against such a background, those in authority - police, teachers and parents - had a more difficult job than before.

"One of my local bobbies said to me in Bolton [his constituency], 'What is the good of one more of us if 100 parents have given up?'"

Mr Sackville will have annoyed his ministerial colleagues - and delighted Labour and Church leaders who have been issuing the same message.

After the 1991 Meadow Well riots, Mr Howard, then Employment Secretary, refused to accept that high unemployment in the area had anything to do with the troubles.