Home Secretary afraid to walk streets of London at night

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Indy Politics

Jacqui Smith, the woman with ultimate responsibility for reducing fear of crime in Britain's most troubled areas, has admitted that she would not feel safe walking the streets of London late at night.

The Home Secretary insisted that streets were safer at night after a decade of Labour rule – but, in an interview with The Sunday Times, said she would not be happy putting her rhetoric to the test.

"Well, no," she replied when asked if she would feel safe walking alone after midnight in Hackney, "but I don't think I ever have done. I would never have done that at any point in my life."

Asked why not, she said: "Well, I just don't think that's a thing that people do, is it, really?"

Questioned on whether she would feel more comfortable on the streets of Kensington and Chelsea, Ms Smith said: "I wouldn't walk around at midnight and I'm fortunate that I don't have to do that."

The admission provoked a furious reaction from opposition politicians, who claimed it exposed Labour's failings on crime, despite the Government's claim that Britain is safer compared to the 1990s when the Conservatives were in power.

The Lib Dems Home Affairs spokesman, Chris Huhne, said: "It's astonishing that the Home Secretary admits, after 10 years of Labour government, our capital city is a no-go area for women at night."

Ms Smith's personal verdict on the safety of the capital's streets came as it emerged that violent crime carried out by children and teenagers has gone up by a third in only three years. The number of under-18s convicted or cautioned over violent offences rose from 17,590 to 24,102 – an increase of 37 per cent.

But a Home Office spokesman claimed the increase was a result of improved performance in the criminal justice system. "The rise in cautions and convictions represents better enforcement and an improved criminal justice response to violent crime."

In the face of the continuing controversy over the Government's policies on crime, The Sunday Times claimed, the Home Office hurried to clarify Ms Smith's remarks. The paper said it was subsequently contacted by "a worried aide" ,who said that the Home Secretary's words had not come out as she had intended.

The aide said Ms Smith had recently "bought a kebab in Peckham", a deprived area of south London.