Mark made the following contribution to a debate in Westminster Hall on the Metropolitan Police Service:
Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative)
I congratulate Mr Thomas on securing this important debate.
Ten short days ago, my constituency was home to an appalling tragedy. A 16-year-old boy, Hani El Kheir, was brutally murdered in the street. Walking along Lupus Street, Pimlico, literally a mile or a mile and a half away from here, in the early evening, Hani and his girlfriend were approached by a group of 10 to 20 youths carrying a range of weapons. When he tried to escape, he was tripped and set upon, receiving a number of stab wounds as he was attacked, one of which pierced his heart. Having completed their deed, the pack of killers left Hani bleeding in the street. The emergency services arrived swiftly, taking only five to 10 minutes to get to the scene of the crime. Medical staff worked hard, but Hani eventually died some two hours after the attack.
Hani was the only child of Pauline Hickey. As a father of two young children, I cannot even begin to imagine her anguish. She has lost the most precious gift, a son with whom she had, as she put it, an “unconditional and unbreakable bond.”
Everyone here will have read the newspaper reports of the attack, and I suspect in my constituency such attacks bring more headlines than is perhaps the case in some parts of outer London. I do not wish to repeat those reports other than to say that the witness accounts were chilling and posed questions about how such people operate in our society. I am well aware that comparable brutalities occur on the streets of Harrow, Tottenham, Hackney and Peckham that are no less a tragedy because of their location.
All but one of the constituents who contacted me after Hani’s murder were women, and I suspect that such cases strike a particular chord with mothers, daughters and sisters who sympathise so deeply with Pauline Hickey. One of my correspondents said:
“Hani’s death is a tragic example of the escalating brutality that our young men in the area are being exposed to.”
A number of warrants have been issued across London and local ward resources have been beefed up, with weapons sweeps conducted on local estates in Pimlico and beyond. Police have been working closely with Westminster City Council and information is being shared with local schools and there have been many arrests. A big public meeting is taking place tomorrow to bring all of us together—police, council, residents and elected representatives—to discuss how we might prevent similar tragedies in future.
I have mentioned this in the House several times, but it is worth repeating that Westminster City Council, under the energetic leadership of Councillor Nickie Aiken, who is a cabinet member, has pioneered innovative work with gangs in this city. Under the “Your Choice” programme led by the integrated gangs unit, gang members are given real choices. If they wish to leave their gang, they are helped with employment, mentoring and support. If they choose not to, serious enforcement action will be taken, including clamping down on those living in social housing who create misery for their neighbours through antisocial behaviour. I am glad to see that the Mayor of London is committed to rolling such measures out.
Many criticisms are made of the Metropolitan police, particularly in these difficult financial times. In the aftermath of Hani’s murder, I received some relating to the fact that there seemed to be a visible police presence only after the tragedy. Where had those bobbies on the beat been before? If they had been more visible, could they have prevented Hani’s murder? Those are the sorts of question coming through.
This is an important debate, and rest assured that Conservative MPs have had various meetings on these matters with Stephen Greenhalgh, deputy Mayor of London.
The new local policing model reflects the financial constraints that any Mayor, of whatever colour, would have experienced. Part of it involves making police more accountable to local people. One reason for closing down our local police stations is that we are trying to put more money into bobbies on the beat rather than necessarily into bricks-and-mortar institutions. There will be an extra 2,600 officers in the safer neighbourhoods scheme as the role of safer neighbourhoods teams changes to cover reassurance and enforcement. Neighbourhood officers will be available for far longer hours, and neighbourhood inspectors will be a key point of accountability. That is good news, and I hope that the Met starts connecting with local people so that communities can work together to protect our youngsters.
I fear that the voice of young people is often being lost in this debate. That is why Westminster city council is working in partnership with the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion to deliver the youth secure streets programme, in which young people and community representatives develop a local strategy for dealing with some of these issues. In my constituency, particularly in the Ebury Bridge and Churchill Gardens estates, a lot of effort has gone into reassuring residents—in many months gone by, not just in the last 10 days—and encouraging them to come forward. That has often been something of a missing link.
There is so much more I should like to have said, and I am sure that many other Members will say those things. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say, and I recognise that these are deep concerns across the political divide. As London MPs, we feel that they are our particular concerns and problems, and I hope that he will give us some reassurance when he sums up the debate.