This week I’ve written about the pressing need for pet theft reform and how this campaign has become even more important during the Covid-19 lockdown. Cases of pet theft have increased significantly since lockdown begun, robbing people of their pets just when their companionship is needed most.
This cruel crime causes great distress to victims which can stay with them for years but the theft of a pet is currently treated under the law in the same way as the theft of an inanimate object like a mobile phone. This means that pet thieves, if caught, often only receive pitiful fines of no more than £250. We must make pet theft a specific offence under the Theft Act so prison sentences of up to 2 years become more readily available to judges. The current punishments clearly don’t represent justice for victims or a sufficient deterrent to stop pet theft from continuing to rise.
Following my virtual discussion with campaigners behind the pet theft reform petition last month, we have now received a written response from the Government which says that they have no plans to change the law. This is disappointing but it’s no means the end of the campaign. I’ve asked Ministers to meet with me directly to discuss this issue and I’ll be calling for a debate on pet theft reform in Parliament at the earliest opportunity. The status quo doesn’t reflect how important our pets are to us and needs to change.
Another appalling case of social media use in prison came to light earlier this month from one of the men convicted in connection with the brutal killing of Tavis Spencer-Aitkens in Ipswich. The latest was a Snapchat post by Kyreis Davies who clearly should never have had is sentence reduced earlier this year for Tavis’s murder. I understand that all 5 of the men responsible for Tavis’s death have now posted on social media since being locked up. And yesterday I raised in Parliament how this persistent criminal activity must be brought to an end during a general debate before the summer recess.
In these debates, MPs can raise any issues they want. And I felt this one couldn’t be left unmentioned, particularly given the unimaginable additional hurt these posts will have caused to Tavis’s family.
Social media posts from prison often feel like taunts to victims and their families. And they should not have to live with the fear and anxiety that perpetrators who did them harm may show up on social media on any given day.
During my speech I also detailed some of the other despicable cases of social media use by Tavis’s killers which have been brought to my attention since I was elected. Each time I have taken action, including by securing a meeting with the Prisons Minister to bring them to her attention directly. But this cannot be an issue where we play whack-a-mole every time these posts come to light. The current system of punishment for social media use in prison clearly isn’t robust enough to deter further cases. And I called on the Government yesterday to make the punishments much tougher to provide a strong and effective deterrent.
I hope the Government looks at this issue very closely over the coming months and I won’t stop raising it until we see an end to these disgraceful social media posts.
Yesterday I made a speech on the Counter Terrorism and Sentencing Bill which will see the most dangerous terrorist offenders spend longer in prison. This is a crucial piece of legislation which will punish those who would try to spill blood on our streets out of their hatred of this country and its people. And it will also provide a strong deterrent others who might be thinking about doing the same.
After I raised the case of terrorist Shamima Begum last week on the news, I again raised it in Parliament yesterday to underline just how angry many people are in the country at the Court of Appeal’s recent decision to allow her to return to the UK. The out of touch decisions which continue to come out of our courts must be addressed as we continue to build on the work of this Bill and look to put the public interest first. And I was glad to secure reassurances from Government during the debate that they will be appealing the Begum decision with everything they have.
I also used the speech to argue against amendments Labour were seeking to make that would limit the impact of this Bill on young adult terrorist offenders between the ages of 18 and 21 because of their immaturity. At 18 for all intents and purposes you are an adult with the same rights and responsibilities as every other adult. And you’re certainly old enough to know the difference between right and wrong and that actions which could result in the deaths of many people are inexcusable. I’ve frequently heard Labour politicians make the case that 16 year olds are mature enough to vote and it seems they change their view on where adulthood starts depending on what suits them.
I’ll continue to do everything I can as Ipswich’s MP to make sure we are as robust as possible in the fight against terrorism.
I’ve written again to the Prisons Minister after another one of the men responsible for the death of Tavis Spencer-Aitkens was found using social media behind bars. It’s now my understanding that all of those convicted in relation to Tavis’s death have posted on social media from prison in some form. This is a completely unacceptable state of affairs and cannot be allowed to continue. I’ve raised it before, including in a meeting with the Prisons Minister earlier this year and in the House of Commons. But despite the steps the Government is taking, this crime continues to happen.
The latest case involves Kyreis Davies who posed for a Snapchat post alongside another inmate. As well as asking the Prisons Minister to investigate this latest post and bring Davies to book, I’ve also written to senior management at Snapchat to call on them to act to take this account down immediately.
I said in the House of Commons last month that I shared the anger of many that Davies’s sentence was reduced from a minimum of 21 years to just 16 years on appeal. The decision was completely out of touch with what the majority of the public consider justice to be. I think many will feel that posting on social media behind bars will add yet more weight to the argument that Davies should not have had his sentence reduced at all.
I will not stop raising this issue until social media is out of our prisons, and victims, their families and our community don’t have to go through the anguish these posts cause.
Our town centre is at the heart of life in our town but it faces many challenges which have only been made far greater by Covid-19. That’s why I used a question in Parliament today to call on the Government to release the £25 million Town Deal Funding allocated to Ipswich in the October funding round, in line with our local strategy for the regeneration of our town centre.
A lot of work has gone into developing a clear strategy for our town centre under the Ipswich Vision Partnership, and I hope the Government will recognise that come October.
Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State of Housing, Communities and Local Government who responded to my question today came to Ipswich during the General Election where I gave him a tour of the town centre and made the case for Ipswich to be included in the Fund. Now we’re in the Fund, I’ll continue to do everything I can to make sure Ipswich town centre can benefit as much as possible from it.
Clearly the future of our town centre is far from certain and this money will not be a magic bullet. But it’s a positive step which we must make the most of.