Five crime hot-spots are named by Blunkett

Home Secretary heckled during tour of crime-ridden estate after he announces changes to stop-and-search
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The Home Secretary was heckled and abused yesterday when he tried to highlight government crime policies in an inner-city neighbourhood troubled by drug-dealing and prostitution.

David Blunkett was accused of engaging in a "publicity stunt" and making "empty promises" as he toured the Stapleton Road area of Bristol, among five districts identified by the Government as crime hot-spots.

Mr Blunkett was escorted on his 10-minute walkabout by about a dozen police officers and led by his guide dog, Lucy. The hostile reception by residents followed widespread criticism yesterday of the Home Secretary's plans to improve the system of police stop- and-search.

Police leaders claimed Mr Blunkett's plans to give officers machines to issue paper records to people who were stopped would further burden the system with bureaucracy.

Marion Fitzgerald, of the London School of Economics, a former Home Office guru on stop-and-search, said the idea made "no sense whatsoever".

The Home Office issued figures showing that the disproportionate use of stop-and-search on black people had increased last year, from five times to seven times more likely than on white people. The National Black Police Association said it was concerned that the system was being abused by police stereotypes of black people and criminality.

Figures showed stop-and-search of black people had risen by 4 per cent in the year to last April, but stops of white people fell by 18.5 per cent. The statistics appear to disprove police claims that officers were afraid to stop black people for fear of being branded racist.

Home Office figures recorded that last year police in England and Wales stopped and searched 853,188 people. Some officers believe 10 times as many people are stopped, which would mean 8.5 million new bits of paperwork.

In Bristol yesterday, Mr Blunkett named five communities with high crime levels which are to become the first policing priority areas. In the first initiative led by the Home Office's police standards unit, plans will be drawn up to tackle problems with crime and anti-social behaviour that officers have so far been unable to crack.

The five areas are Camberwell Green in Southwark, south-London; Stapleton Road, in Easton, Bristol; the Grange Estate in Stoke-on-Trent; Little Horton and Canterbury in Bradford; the West Ward in Rhyl, Clwyd.

Mr Blunkett was heckled by a group of local residents as he arrived at the Easton Christian family centre in Bristol to announce details of new anti-crime measures.

Miriam Henry, a resident of the troubled Easton district, where drug dealing, prostitution and crime are rife, said: "We are living in a nightmare day in, day out. If the Government is so committed to doing something then why is it getting worse? It's just the same old empty promises. All these people will disappear tomorrow and things will be back to how they always were."

Simon Mitchell, another resident, said: "The police have known about the crime situation and the drug dealing for years and they have chosen to do nothing about it. They are containing the problem rather than dealing with it.

"He [David Blunkett] thinks he can use our community as a political football. He should be addressing the community, not dressing up some stage-managed PR stunt."

The words "Easton doesn't need another Home Office stunt" had been plastered on a nearby advertising hoarding.

But Tony Locke, chairman of the Eastville Tenants and Residents' Association, who was among those invited to meet the Home Secretary, said he was encouraged by what Mr Blunkett had to say.

"Mr Blunkett came across very positively and I think he is sincere when he says he wants to help," Mr Locke said. "I know how difficult it is getting anything done."