Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
I rise to support the motion on the Order Paper and to thank the Government for the extra money going into local policing. I thank the Minister for his endeavours; he has been a superb Minister of State for Crime and Policing. I also wish to highlight the excellent work done by Chief Constable Nick Adderley in Northamptonshire, Chief Fire Officer Darren Dovey and our superb police, fire and crime commissioner, Stephen Mold and to thank all the police and fire officers in Northamptonshire for the superb work they do.
It is not enough to talk about how much extra money is going into policing this year. The important thing is to highlight what the police do with that money. I am pleased that, as a result of the funding that has been announced, there are 57 new officers so far in Northamptonshire, taking the total police headcount to 1,300, sending us well on our way to our ultimate target of about 1,500 in 2023. It is worth reminding residents in Northamptonshire that they pay on average, on a band D council tax, £5 a week for their policing. In return for a fiver a week, they get a tremendous range of police resources.
Madam Deputy Speaker, with your permission, I will concentrate on four particular issues that affect Northamptonshire: first, county lines drug gangs; secondly, automatic number plate recognition technology; thirdly, assaults on police officers; and fourthly, Tasers.
Northamptonshire police should be congratulated on the efforts they have undertaken—over the past two years especially—in busting county lines drug gangs. It was only last week that the national press reported that Northamptonshire was responsible for the biggest ever takedown of a UK narcotics network when, as a result of an extensive investigation over a long period of time, it managed ultimately to jail 72 gangsters who had been described as untouchable, with a total sentencing of 220 years. As a result of this drugs bust, 18 county lines and 12 local drug lines were busted and £1.3 million of drugs taken from our streets. Disgracefully, Northamptonshire police found these gangs exploiting vulnerable children as young as 14 to sell crack cocaine and heroin on local streets. The four big players of the operation were jailed for a total of 36 years for conspiracy to supply drugs.
It is an immense source of pride for Northamptonshire police that they should be responsible for this biggest ever county lines bust and I congratulate Chief Constable Nick Adderley on the operation. It began at the beginning of 2019 and involved investigations in the east midlands, the west midlands, London and elsewhere. In fact, contacts were in London, Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Northampton. Warrants were made for multiple arrests at the end of 2019, taking that amount of drugs off our streets.
It is an immense source of pride for the local force that it is the biggest conviction of its kind by a single UK police force to date. I can do no better than quote Detective Chief Inspector Adam Pendlebury of Northamptonshire police, who said that drug dealers like these
“truly think they are untouchable.
They exploit vulnerable people like children and adults suffering with addiction, and make them take all the risks, while they sit at home counting their money. There is no honour in this.
Over the past two years we have warned them and their associates directly that one day, we would get them, one day we would come through their door, and one day they would be looking at the inside of a prison cell.
Today is that day and I could not be prouder of the exceptional work that has gone into this investigation by a group of detectives, uniformed officers and experienced criminal analysts, who have made this operation their lives for the past two years.”
For breaking the biggest-ever narcotics operation, Northamptonshire police deserves the praise of the whole House.
I now wish to move on to automatic number plate recognition technology, which I think we should be doing far more about across the country. The good news in Northamptonshire is that work is beginning to install 150 new ANPR cameras, which will more than double the size of the network in Northamptonshire. They will increase coverage across rural areas, as well as in the larger towns and on the county borders. That is a £1.3 million investment in ANPR technology by Northamptonshire police. Importantly, if used appropriately and on a wide scale, it can deny criminals the use of our roads. Most crime has a vehicle involved in it at some point. Criminals use vehicles to get around the country, and if their vehicles can be spotted and intercepted, crime can be reduced.
The new camera sites were chosen following analysis of where they will be most effective in supporting the investigation of crime, and have been subject to public consultation. For Members who do not know, ANPR reads the registration of passing vehicles and checks it across several databases, raising the alert if a vehicle is stolen, linked to crime or uninsured. I have had the privilege to sit in a Northamptonshire police vehicle and see ANPR in action. When a suspect vehicle goes past, a ping goes off in the police vehicle. They can quickly check the police national database, and with their new interceptor vehicles they can set off in pursuit. I think that the success of Northamptonshire police in focusing resources on that issue should be rolled out across the country. If we can deny criminals the use of our roads, we will see the footprint of crime reduce.
I now wish to turn to the very grave issue of assaults, which I raised at the beginning of the debate in an intervention to the Minister. In Northamptonshire over the past year, 609 officers out of a force of 1,300 were assaulted, which included being headbutted, being punched and kicked in the face, being attacked with weapons, having boiling water thrown at them, and being hit by cars. As Chief Constable Nick Adderley said,
“This list is distressing and disturbing.”
In November, two police officers were injured, one needing surgery, after boiling water was poured over them during a shocking incident in Northampton. One officer suffered second degree burns, which meant that he required plastic surgery, and his colleague received minor injuries to his hands. Both had to be taken to hospital. A 15-year-old girl was arrested at the scene and charged with grievous bodily harm and assaulting an emergency worker. Despite boiling water having been thrown over the officers, in December the 15-year-old girl got community service and a token £250 fine. We have passed legislation in this House to increase the sentencing for assaults on emergency workers. It seems, however, that some of the courts are simply not listening.
In another case, in October 2019, paramedics were trying to treat a 22-year-old in Kettering when he had a head injury but was refusing treatment. Police were called to assist by East Midlands Ambulance Service, but when the officers arrived, he kicked out at the female officer, bending her knee sideways. It left her with pain, weakness and mobility issues, added to the emotional toll of being assaulted at work. He was sentenced in February this year to rehabilitation activities, unpaid work in the community and a fine of £300. A Northamptonshire police spokesman said:
“Assaults against our officers are disgraceful and we will always pursue action against those who commit them. Being assaulted is not part of the job and never will be. Our officers go to work to protect the public and do not deserve to be assaulted in the line of duty.”
We have passed legislation in this House for those who assault police officers to go to jail. If a judge had boiling water poured over him or her, I very much doubt that the offender would be let off with community service and a £300 fine. If a magistrate had their knee kicked sideways so that they were unable to walk properly, I very much doubt that the offender would avoid a custodial sentence. So in his role in the Justice Department, will the Minister emphasise to those who issue these sentences that anyone who assaults a police officer should go to jail?
I support the calls of John Apter, the national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, who has said that attacks on police officers during the pandemic are
“a serious issue for us all”.
He went on to say:
“Those who attack emergency workers have a complete lack of respect for anything or anybody. Without doubt, we are living in a more violent society which needs to take a long hard look at itself. We need officers to have the very best protection, and there must be a strong deterrent—that deterrent should be time in prison, no ifs, no buts. Time and time again we see officers who have been badly assaulted, and they see their attacker being let off with little more than just a slap on the wrist. This is offensive and fails to give that deterrent which is so desperately needed.”
Overall, attacks against police officers in Northamptonshire have increased, with 507 recorded from February to November last year, up from 440 in the same period in 2019. As I said, in the year as a whole, 609 officers have been assaulted.
Finally, I wish to draw the Minister’s attention to the roll-out of Tasers in Northamptonshire. Because police officers are not being properly protected by the courts, and because there is not a sufficient deterrent for people not to assault police officers, Chief Constable Nick Adderley has made the brave decision to roll out Tasers to any frontline officer who chooses to use them. This makes Northamptonshire the first police force in the whole country to arm all its frontline officers with Tasers, if that is what they wish to do. The move means that over 300 officers have the option to be trained and equipped with Tasers, and the latest numbers show that 328 officers locally routinely carry Tasers.
Chief Constable Adderley says:
“Enough is enough. Every week, I am made aware of more and more sickening attacks on my officers—they are spat at, assaulted on a daily basis, and are being exposed to increasing levels of violence when they are deployed to incidents.
No-one comes to work to be assaulted and I want to make it crystal clear that my officers certainly don’t. It’s time to give all frontline officers the ability to defend themselves and defend members of the public, which involves equipping them with more than a baton, handcuffs and a can of pepper spray.”
Some people may think that if officers are armed with Tasers, Tasers are being deployed too often and the barbs that come out of them are regularly being fired. That is not how Tasers work in the vast majority of cases. Home Office figures show that Tasers were used in just over 17,000 incidents across the country in the year to March 2018—the Minister will have more up-to-date figures than I do—and that was up from 11,500 the year before. However, in 85% of cases where a Taser is deployed —where an officer takes the Taser out of its holster and points it at the suspect—it is not discharged. That is because when an officer draws, aims and places the Taser red dot on the suspect, and the suspect can see the red dot on their chest, their arm or their leg, the weapon is officially used but not actually discharged. All too often, the red dot is enough to quell the threat, meaning that the officer rarely has to discharge the weapon.
I believe, as the chief constable does, that Taser works. Just last week, according to the chief constable, a police officer used a Taser locally in Northamptonshire to stop a man strangling a colleague and saved that colleague’s life. Two weekends ago, a Northamptonshire officer was forced to the ground and strangled to the point where he nearly lost consciousness. Due to the size of the offender, strikes proved ineffective. PAVA spray was also ineffective. Thank goodness, the officer’s colleague had a Taser, which saved the officer’s life. The man who was assaulting the officer was heavily intoxicated. When the officers tried to arrest him, he set upon them and pinned one of them to the ground. He was a large individual and was strangling the officer to the point that the accompanying officer could not get him off his colleague. The only thing that prevented the officer from being more seriously injured or potentially killed was the discharge of the Taser.
Can we have more county lines drugs busts? Can we have more ANPR technology? Can we have a wider roll-out of Tasers? And can we have fewer assaults on police officers?