Sunak to vow ‘immediate justice’ as parties battle over antisocial crime

Prime minister Rishi Sunak will on Monday unveil plans to step up “hotspot” policing of high-crime areas and pilot “immediate justice” programmes to impose rapid punishments as both main political parties focus on crime ahead of the looming general election.

Under the Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, ministers will also outlaw the sale of nitrous oxide, the “laughing gas” that has become a popular mild narcotic.

The government is pressing ahead with its plan only days after the opposition Labour party published its proposals to tackle nuisance public behaviour in a speech by leader Keir Starmer on March 23. Both parties expect antisocial behaviour to be an important issue in the general election due by January 2025.

Over the weekend, Labour’s shadow justice secretary Steve Reed accused the Conservatives of stealing ideas from the opposition with its programme.

The government’s plans will be piloted in 16 police areas in England and Wales, according to an advance announcement on Sunday evening. Six of the areas will host trials of a technique known as “hotspot policing” in which uniformed police or other authority figures are posted to the areas known to feature the highest levels of antisocial behaviour at the times when problems are worst.

Another six areas will host trials of an approach known as “immediate justice”, under which those responsible for damage such as vandalism will be made to repair the damage they caused or make other highly visible reparation. Ministers will seek to have offenders start on such work within as little as 48 hours of the original offence.

Another four police areas — Northumbria, Cleveland, Derbyshire and Durham — will host trials for both approaches simultaneously.

Nitrous oxide capsules © PA

Sunak said on Sunday that antisocial behaviour undermined the “basic right” of people to feel safe in the place they called home.

“The public have rightly had enough, which is why I am determined to restore people’s confidence that those responsible will be quickly and visibly punished,” Sunak added.

Starmer told his audience in Stoke-on-Trent on Thursday that anyone who committed vandalism or dumped rubbish on the streets should be prepared to clear up their “own mess”.

Reed said that, during 13 years of Conservative government, the number of community sentences such as unpaid work had “plummeted” by two-thirds. Magistrates had grown wary, she said, of issuing community sentences during the shortlived privatisation of parts of the probation service.

“Now they have finally realised how angry local people are, so are once again following where Labour has led by trying to copy our plan on tough community payback,” Reed said.

The nitrous oxide ban goes against the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which earlier this month ruled in a report that control of the substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act was “not warranted”.

During broadcast interviews on Sunday, levelling-up secretary Michael Gove defended plans to outlaw the substance on the basis of the litter created by discarded gas canisters.

On Sky News on Sunday, Labour’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said her party also supported a ban because of the substance’s contribution to litter, disruption and antisocial behaviour.

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