Conservative Parliamentary candidate Tom Hunt has today called on the Government to ensure that sentencing for serious knife crime is toughened up. Tom Hunt’s comments come following a meeting with representatives from Ipswich Against Gangs and Stop the Killing of Our Youth. Both Ipswich based grass roots organisations that have come into being following the recent increase in violence relating to knife crime in the Town.
Following the tragic death of Tavis Spencer-Aitkens in June last year Ipswich based Terry Charles, who established the Stop the Killing of Our Youth group, wrote an open letter to the Government calling for a serious of measures to be introduced increase the penalties for carrying out knife crime. One of the key asks was for those found guilty of murder to spend at least 25 years in jail. In other words, to serve the entirety of a life sentence with no exceptions.
In a response to the letter from Mr Charles, which came through local Ipswich MP Sandy Martin, the Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, Victoria Atkins MP stated that in the majority of cases those found guilty of murder are automatically released after 12 and a half years (the half-way point of a life sentence).
The letter states: Regarding Mr Charles’ suggestion for a minimum 25-year sentence for murder; all murder convictions must result in a life sentence, as per schedule 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. In the majority of cases the courts impose a standard determinant custodial sentence. This means that, in accordance with the provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, offenders must by law be released automatically at the half-way point in the sentence. However, these offenders will be released conditionally on licence and continue to serve the remainder of their sentence in the community under probation supervision.
During their meetings Mr Charles shared a copy of the letter with Conservative Parliamentary candidate Tom Hunt, commenting upon the letter Tom Hunt said:
Tackling knife crime is not straight forward and there is not one single thing that will address it. It needs to be confronted from a number of different angles. However, it’s also clear to me that there needs to be strong and meaningful deterrents to knife crime. In short, this must mean, in the case of murder, you spend the rest of your life in prison, there should be no exceptions in my view, life must mean life.
I’m concerned about the letter that has been sent by the Minister responding to the concerns raised by Mr Charles. If my reading of it is correct, it states that in the majority of cases, those who are found guilty of murder are released after little more than a decade behind bars. This is very wrong. It doesn’t even seem to be the case that the early release is dependent on good behaviour, the letter states they are released automatically.
I appreciate that this isn’t simply a matter for Government and that sentencing is largely in the hands of the courts. But something needs to happen. Life needs to mean life. In my view the current system, as outlined in this letter, does not provide an adequate deterrent to serious knife crime.
Last week I visited a number of key areas across the Town where there have been numerous instances of crime and anti-social behaviour. It’s clear to me that a large proportion of the residents in these areas have had enough. Tackling the problems won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight but with regard to the residents that I spoke to this week, they deserve better.
Part of this needs to be a fairer funding settlement for Suffolk Police so police presence across the Town is boosted, part of this is linked to our education system and the need to increase opportunities for all young people. However, it’s also my view that the punishment needs to fit the crime, and that at the moment with regard to serious knife crime, it doesn’t. If you murder someone, life needs to mean life.
I will be writing to the Home Secretary over the coming weeks to make clear my views.