Criminals are not victims of society

From a speech by William Hague, the Leader of the Opposition, to the Police Federation Conference in Brighton

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Let me start by utterly rejecting the defeatist nonsense that says crime is just a function of economic and social trends. This liberal thinking on crime, which has pervaded our criminal justice system for 40 years, has comprehensively failed Britain. In that period the murder rate has doubled, violent crime has risen from 24,000 cases a year to 664,000, and burglaries have gone from 75,000 to nearly one million.

Let me start by utterly rejecting the defeatist nonsense that says crime is just a function of economic and social trends. This liberal thinking on crime, which has pervaded our criminal justice system for 40 years, has comprehensively failed Britain. In that period the murder rate has doubled, violent crime has risen from 24,000 cases a year to 664,000, and burglaries have gone from 75,000 to nearly one million.

We shall only turn the tide of rising disorder and lawlessness if we stop treating crime as an abstract problem and criminals as the victims of society. As every police officer who has ever had to confront an armed robber, or help a weeping victim of a mugging, knows - crime isn't an abstract problem. Crime is something people choose to do to other people.

I want the law-abiding millions in our country to feel free from fear in their homes and on the streets. I want a police force that gets the backing and resources from politicians it deserves. I also want a police force that is trusted across our society.

I, like you, want to see many more black or Asian police officers, just as I want to see more black and Asian MPs. I hope and expect that within my lifetime we will see a British black or British Asian Chief Constable or Chairman of the Police Federation or, indeed, Home Secretary.

And because I know that so many of you share that hope and expectation too, I well understand your resentment at the charge of "institutional racism". No one, and I suspect least of all you, would deny that there are many things we need to improve in our police service, and many things we need to improve in society at large - but the slogan of "institutional racism" has been lifted out of context from the Macpherson Report and used by some to brand tens of thousands of decent, unprejudiced police officers as racists.

That is a travesty of the truth. It is also wrong to allow a genuine concern about the treatment of ethnic minorities to lead to yet more unnecessary bureaucracy and regulation. We need more police officers and less political correctness: more PCs and less PC.

I regret to say that public confidence in our courts system is on the verge of collapse. No wonder. Look at the examples in the last few days. There was the 16-year-old boy finally put behind bars after terrorising his community for over four years. In that time he attacked women, old people, assaulted police officers, stole cars, damaged property, committed burglary and blackmail yet was repeatedly given bail and a conditional discharge.

And, of course, there was Tony Martin. The fact is that the law-abiding majority is fed up with a system that allowed the three burglars who broke into Mr Martin's home to collect 114 convictions between them without any of them serving more than a few months in prison and a couple of dozen hours' community service.

The next Conservative government will introduce honesty in sentencing. We will abolish automatic early release on licence. We will make criminals serve the full term ordered by the judge in open court. Discounts from a sentence will only be earned by good behaviour in prison.

I'm all for sensible efforts to rehabilitate offenders, but sometimes we deal with criminals who have spat in the face of the law, who have rejected every chance to go straight. A career in crime shouldn't be an option for these parasites on society. A lifetime in prison should.

We believe that where new and compelling evidence of guilt comes to light - evidence which could not reasonably have been uncovered during the original investigation - the prosecution should be able to ask the Court of Appeal to order a second trial. It is just as much a miscarriage of justice when a guilty man escapes justice as when an innocent man goes to jail.

Honest sentences. Putting victims first. These are Conservative policies. We can cut crime.

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