Democratic freedoms 'threatened by crime'

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The Independent Online
YOUNG criminals are threatening to destroy democratic freedoms, Labour will argue in an autumn campaign attacking the Government over rising levels of crime.

But Tony Blair, the shadow Home Secretary, will make it clear that while social deprivation is a contributory cause, there can be no excuses for crime, marking a shift in Labour's approach to the law and order issue.

He will aim to direct Labour's campaign at the victims of crime, and others who are prevented by fear of personal attacks from using public transport or walking alone at night.

Labour leaders believe the high incidence of crime on council estates means the victims of crime are often Labour supporters, but they associate the Conservative Party with the remedies.

Minor crimes are also becoming a headache for the authorities. Recent figures obtained by Mr Blair show that in the West Midlands there has been a 20 per cent increase in false alarms and malicious calls to the fire brigades. Cars being burned out by children is becoming a common offence.

His attack will come at a time when Tory concern about crime, particularly among the young, is rising. Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, is expected to be on the defensive over law and order at the Conservative Party conference.

Tory party grass roots supporters have tabled more resolutions on law and order for debate at the conference than on any other issue, according to party sources. There is widespread concern about the incidence of serious crime among the very young, highlighted by the recent case of a judge who was unable to sentence an offender involved in torture to a custodial term because the child, aged 13, was too young.

Police are also becoming dispirited over the arrests of children who have to be freed, but then offend again.

The Conservative Party election manifesto promised that young people on probation or serving community sentences for shop- lifting, vandalism, or 'petty thuggery' would be shown inside prisons as a warning of what a prison sentence could be like. A drive against school truancy with a task force to find the best ways of co- ordinating the work of local agencies to stop young people becoming offenders was also promised.

Parts of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 will be brought into operation in October, making parents more responsible for their children's offences. Parents will be liable to be bound over by the courts to stop further offences and they will be made to appear in the court for the hearing.

But the Act also raises the age at which young offenders may be sent to prison from 14 to 15. The aim was to reduce the number of children in prisons, but pressure within the Tory party may be running in the opposite direction.