Tackle street crime not Twitter jokes, Rishi Sunak tells police forces

Rishi Sunak - John Sibley/Reuters
Rishi Sunak - John Sibley/Reuters

Policemen should tackle street crime not Twitter jokes, Rishi Sunak said as he put a crackdown on sexual exploitation at the centre of his law and order approach.

The Tory leadership contender and former chancellor promised to create a new criminal offence for belonging to or facilitating grooming gangs, leading to tougher sentences.

Mr Sunak also called for criminals to spend longer in prison if they do not attend sentencing hearings and backed ministers getting a veto over parole board decisions.

The measures offer the first glimpse of what Mr Sunak’s approach to crime would be if he wins the Tory leadership contest and is named the next prime minister on Sep 5.

It is his latest campaign policy intervention, coming a few days after doubling down on plans to repeal laws brought in during the UK’s membership of the European Union.

The move is an attempt to spell out Mr Sunak’s policy thinking away from the Treasury, where he has spent most of his ministerial career, which began in 2018.

He said: “As prime minister, I will do everything possible to make sure victims have the chance to look their perpetrator in the eye and witness justice being served. We must not allow criminals to continue to take the coward’s way out and not face up to their crimes.

“I will also legislate to ensure that the atrocious crimes in Rochdale that we were all so appalled by will never be repeated. Our police forces must be fully focused on fighting actual crime in people’s neighbourhoods and not policing bad jokes on Twitter.

“It will be my top priority in government to keep the British public safe – and I will do whatever it takes to make that happen.”

There are four elements to Mr Sunak’s proposals. One is described as taking a “tougher response to child sexual exploitation” and outlines moves to crack down on so-called “grooming gangs”.

Under the plans, a new criminal offence would be created for belonging to or facilitating a grooming gang. A database of such groups would also be created to help investigators.

Mr Sunak would also “ring fence” from any future spending cuts for police forces’ child sexual exploitation teams.

A second element is changing the Victims Bill, a proposed piece of legislation that he would rename the Victims and Sentencing Bill.

A new criminal offence would be made for “downblousing” – photographs taken down a woman’s top without consent.

Criminals who fail to appear for sentencing would also be committing a statutory aggravating offence under legal changes Mr Sunak wants to make, possibly leading to longer sentences.

A third area is handing the justice secretary the power to have the final say on the parole of dangerous offenders, such as murderers, rapists and terrorists. Boris Johnson has been pushing a similar reform in recent months.

Finally, Mr Sunak would aim to oversee a “crackdown on prolific career criminals who commit a disproportionate amount of crime”, according to a campaign press release.

It mentioned achieving this through “a range of interventions, including longer sentences, GPS tagging and targeted reintegration into society through work”, although how exactly remains unclear.

A teenage Mr Sunak backed New Labour and condemned "Tory party" propaganda, The Sun reported on Monday night. Mr Sunak, then 18, attacked the Conservatives for selling public assets "too cheaply" in the 1997 Winchester College magazine.

The future chancellor defended Gordon Brown for slapping a windfall tax on energy firms, writing: "In practice most companies have probably been setting aside money to pay the tax and shareholders will therefore hardly notice the difference."

Victoria Atkins, the Tory MP and former safeguarding and prisons minister, has also announced her support for Mr Sunak.

Ms Atkins said: “I’ve spent the last five years working across the Home Office and Ministry of Justice and I’ve seen first-hand the devastating impact crime has on our communities.

“Driving down crime and strengthening the rights of victims must be the priority of the next prime minister, which is why I’m backing Rishi Sunak and his new package of measures to create a safer Britain.”