Blair: We'll control street crime by September

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair pledged yesterday that he would bring under control the number of muggings in Britain's big cities by September – a comment that took even his own officials by surprise.

Street crime in London has risen by 40 per cent since 1997. It has begun to fall in the capital in recent weeks, but his promise to extend that trend across the country leaves him a hostage to fortune, the Opposition said.

The Prime Minister said: "As a result of the additional measures being taken, we are confident that by the end of September, we will have brought this problem under control."

He set his Government the target after chairing a meeting of Cobra, the Cabinet's crisis committee, to discuss the remorseless rise in violent crime.

The scale of the challenge was underlined yesterday as figures showed crime in Avon and Somerset had leapt by almost 20 per cent in the past year. Steve Pilkington, the Chief Constable, warned that Britain faced a crime epidemic fuelled by crack use.

Ian Blair, the Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said he feared London was in danger of being broken up into American-style security ghettos with rich boroughs setting up their own police forces.

During Prime Minister's Question Time, Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leader, condemned the increase in street crime in London since 1997. Mr Blair replied: "You are absolutely right to say we need more measures to deal with street crime. That is why this Government is now making greater provision for restrictions on bail, making sure persistent juvenile offenders are brought to court more quickly, making sure we have specialist courts to deal with street robbery and getting more police on the beat."

Downing Street said his comments applied to other metropolitan areas as well as the capital.

His official spokesman said: "What the Prime Minister was emphasising was that we can bring together different agencies and departments in the Government to bear on the problem."

Officials said the target was intended to keep the pressure on the police to deliver results.