Theresa May – 2016 Speech on Crime Prevention Strategy


Below is the text of the speech made by Theresa May, the Home Secretary, on 23 March 2016.

Before I turn to why we are all here today I just wanted to say a few words about the terrible attacks that took place in Brussels yesterday and I am sure that the thoughts of everyone in this room are with the families of the victims and the injured and all those who were caught up in yesterday’s events.

The Prime Minister has spoken to Prime Minister Michel. I have spoken to the Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon and our message was simple: we stand together against the terrorists and they will not win.

We already work closely with the Belgian authorities on security matters. We share intelligence routinely and after the November attacks in Paris we deployed police and intelligence service resources to Belgium in support of the investigation into the attackers, which last week resulted in the arrest of Salah Abdul Salam.

And we will continue to work together with our partners, not just in Belgium and other European countries, across the Five Eyes alliance and with our allies across the world to share intelligence, to cooperate on security, and to defeat those who wish to use terror to try to intimidate us.

That spirit of co-operation, working together to keep citizens safe, is what brings us all together at this conference today.

This is the second International Crime and Policing Conference we have hosted, bringing together scholars, experts and law enforcement leaders from around the world to better understand how known crimes are changing, where new crimes are emerging, and how we can best respond together. Because even though crime has fallen here and in many other countries over the last 20 years, the threat is changing and crime is still too high.

I want to begin by talking about a very modern type of crime problem. Like more traditional forms of criminality, those behind this crime wreak havoc in other people’s lives. They subvert security measures; they unscrupulously gain the trust of their victims; and they create untold misery to thousands of families, businesses and people every single year.

But unlike burglary, vehicle crime or street theft, the criminals who commit these crimes do not have to meet their victims or physically enter their homes. They break in using a keyboard, often while sitting in their back room or their bedroom hundreds and thousands of miles away, sometimes in another criminal jurisdiction entirely. And instead of creating a single victim, they can create thousands, some of whom do not realise what is missing for weeks or months.

I am talking about the type of industrial scale fraud we now see committed over the internet. In just one case last year, 1 single teenager hacked 50,000 individual computers and corrupted 1,400 servers with malware. The valuables stolen included emails, personal data and credit card details which were used to make purchases online. A money-laundering scheme was established to fund a trip to Mexico – and a family in the US was targeted, harassed and threatened.

Some of you may know of someone who has experienced something similar. You may yourselves have had your own computer hacked, money taken out of your bank account, or your data hijacked and held to ransom – or perhaps you know of someone who has received a bogus call from their bank, the police, a claims management company, an online seller or a loan company – only to find out it was a scam to fleece them of their money and their savings.

This then is the reality of a great deal of crime today: faceless, contactless and conducted from a distance. It is changing the nature of victimhood, changing the nature of crime, and changing the nature of police investigations – and if we are to keep pace, if we are to stop these crimes, our response to crime prevention must change too.

Today, in many countries crime has fallen dramatically compared to 20 or 30 years ago.

Since I became Home Secretary in 2010, overall crime in England and Wales is down by more than a quarter, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales – compiled by the Office for National Statistics. Burglary is down by 21%. Car theft is down by 26%. Violent crime is down by 25%.

If we go back even further, the reduction is all the more astonishing. Since the mid-1990s, when crime in this country peaked, the number of crimes in England and Wales has fallen from 19 million a year to 6.6 million last year – a drop of 66%.

In 1995, if you owned a car you had a 1 in 5 chance each year of having it broken into or stolen. Now, that chance has dropped to 1 in 25. That same year, the risk of your home being broken into and burgled was close to 1 in 10. Now it’s 1 in 40. And the risk of being a victim of violence was 1 in 20. Last year, it was 1 in 50. This is excellent news, not only for those people who might otherwise have suffered car crime, been robbed, or been on the receiving end of a violent attack, but it is good news for communities and society as a whole.

But this reduction has not happened by accident. There was a time when people thought there was nothing you could do to end crime. When my predecessor Michael Howard arrived at the Home Office in 1993, he was shown a graph with crime on an upwards trajectory rising year on year. ‘Home Secretary’ officials said to him:

The first thing you must understand is that there is nothing you can do about this. Your job is to manage public expectations in the face of this inevitable and inexorable increase.

Thankfully, Michael Howard did not listen to those hollow warnings, and instead took tough measures to bring crime down.

This reduction has happened as a result of concerted, wide-ranging action by governments, law enforcement, industry and the public. What has brought about the dramatic drop in vehicle theft and burglary is not just down to the tremendous work of the police – although improvements in forensics and tactics may have played an important part. But it is thanks to a combination of other factors too: developments by manufacturers, such as immobilisers in cars and more secure door and window locks; improvements in the local environment, such as CCTV in car parks and better layout of housing estates; treatment for potential offenders such as heroin and crack users; better information and incentives, such as the Home Office’s Car Theft Index and insurance companies giving people an incentive to improve their home security; and greater awareness by the public, such as more people locking their car doors and the establishment of local neighbourhood watch schemes.

This combined approach has worked. Crime is now at historically low levels. And thanks to the experience of the last 20 years, we now know more about how to stop crime from happening, and prevent people from becoming victims, than we have ever done before. And we must apply that logic to the present.

Because while crime is down, it is changing and we cannot afford to become complacent. As I have just said, today technology is allowing criminals to operate on a much bigger scale, with greater speed and anonymity, and a far-wider reach than ever before.

At the same time, we are uncovering the scale of many previously hidden or neglected crimes. We are seeing more people coming forward to report appalling crimes such as child sexual abuse, domestic abuse and modern slavery. That more people have the confidence to do so is to be welcomed, because too often in the past people feared repercussions or not being believed. And we should also welcome the fact that recent high profile cases involving TV presenters and premiership footballers are exploding the myth that some perpetrators are too famous, rich or powerful to face justice.

These shifts are already radically changing the law enforcement response. Now, virtually every physical crime requires some form of digital investigation. Digital evidence is increasingly being used to support prosecution. And the police, prosecutors and judges will testify to the sheer scale of abuse cases currently being taken through the courts, resulting in more charges, convictions, and prison sentences for offenders than ever before.

But as crime changes, so too must our approach to crime prevention. We need to stem the flow of emerging crimes, not just change our response after the fact. We need to understand what has worked effectively in the past, and how we can have the most impact in the future. We need to view crime prevention as an issue for all of us, and not just focus purely on a law enforcement response. And we need to do all this vigorously, energetically, intelligently and with the confidence that if we pull together we can drive all kinds of crime down.

Because if we apply the lessons of the past, at the same time as using the best new techniques and technology, I believe we can solve the problems of the present. That’s why today we are setting out a new approach to crime prevention, based on what has worked in the past and with a clear and evidence-based understanding of what we need to do now.

Two years ago, I established a unit in the Home Office called the Crime and Policing Knowledge Hub. Its purpose is to generate first rate knowledge of crime trends and the drivers of crime, in order to inform our response.

As I told this conference last year, in this country, we believe that there are 6 main drivers of crime: alcohol, drugs, opportunity, the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, character and profit. They are not the only influences over criminal behaviour and they do not explain all crime, but by thinking about crime in this way, and understanding the interplay of different factors behind a particular crime problem, we can devise an effective response.

First, there is strong evidence linking alcohol and violent crime and disorder. The facts are well-known but no less shocking for it. Over the last decade, in around half of all violent incidents, the victim believed the offender or offenders to be under the influence of alcohol at the time of the offence.

So we need to ensure that the night time economy is safe, and that town centres are places of enjoyment. Building on our previous reforms to the Licensing Act 2003 we will make sure licensing authorities have the right powers and information to prevent alcohol crime and disorder. We will improve the late night levy and give police and crime commissioners the right to request that local authorities consult on introducing that levy. We will ensure that licensing authorities have much better intelligence when they are making decisions about the management of the night time economy. We will publish information about alcohol-related crime and disorder on Police.uk. And we will encourage local areas to share details about individuals and premises that have had their licences revoked in other areas.

The second driver is drugs – one of the biggest factors behind the rise and fall in acquisitive crime in this country between the early 1980s and now. Previous Home Office research has shown how the growth of heroin and crack users between 1982 and 1995 accounted for around half of the rise in burglaries, robberies and theft of vehicles over that period. Today, heroin and crack use is still a threat, but we face new challenges from so-called legal highs.

That is why we introduced the Psychoactive Substances Act, to ban the sale of psychoactive substances and to end the absurd situation where new drugs were being created more quickly than law enforcement, and the law, were able to take them off the market.

Later today, Karen Bradley, the Minister for Preventing Abuse, Exploitation and Crime, will talk more about our work to tackle drug misuse. And we are refreshing our drugs strategy which will set out new action to prevent drug use, restrict its supply, and go further to help those dependent on drugs to recover and live a life free from harmful substances.

The third driver is character. An important finding from criminology is that the vast majority of crimes are committed by a small minority of people. The evidence tells us that there is nothing inevitable about criminality – no one is doomed to be a criminal by their upbringing. But there are some circumstances, like low levels of self-control, which are associated with a higher likelihood of offending. And we know that those characteristics can be influenced by what children experience growing up. So if we are to reduce the likelihood of future criminal behaviour, we need to build positive characteristics and resilience, particularly in young people at risk of harm or offending. That’s why we are expanding our Troubled Families Programme, which helps families where there are difficult, entrenched and multiple problems, and extending funding to the National Citizen Service so that 60% of all 16 and 17 year olds are given the chance of taking part.

We must also address damaging social and environmental factors such as abuse, so we will introduce a professional development programme for teachers on core concepts of consent and healthy relationships. In addition, we have just launched a new teenage relationship abuse campaign, ‘Disrespect NoBody’, which encourages 12-18 year olds to re-think their views of violence, abuse, controlling behaviour and what consent means within relationships.

Next, we know that criminals thrive on opportunity – it seems obvious but the easier it is to commit a crime, the more crimes they will commit. If we can remove that opportunity and make crimes harder to commit, the evidence suggests that many criminals just won’t commit them.

Today, the equivalent of open windows and insecure car locks are weak online passwords, insecure mobile phone technology and forgetting to keep security features up to date. In fact, GCHQ estimates that 80% of cyber crime could be prevented by better passwords, security software and remembering to download all software updates, which generally fix bugs that hackers can otherwise use to gain access.

Most of us have little idea how easy it can be for cyber criminals to get hold of our personal details online, or how much of our personal information is shared by the various apps we have downloaded onto our phones and tablets. So the Home Office has developed a new risk assessment tool to help people understand, on the basis of their online and offline behaviours, how vulnerable they are to fraud, cyber and financial crime, and what steps they can take to prevent themselves from becoming a victim.

We are publishing today an updated picture about how mobile phones are stolen and who is most at risk. This includes the latest findings from the Behavioural Insights Team’s mobile phone theft ratio about specific models targeted by thieves. We are also publishing updated information that signposts the public to the various anti-theft security features on offer from a number of mobile phone manufacturers. And we are publishing a buyer’s guide for mobile devices setting out the cyber security features to look out for when purchasing or using smartphones and tablets.

And we will also reduce opportunities by restricting access to items which contribute to certain crime types. So today I am pleased to announce a voluntary agreement with major retailers on a set of principles to prevent the underage sale of knives in their stores and through their websites. The agreement means that the retailers will have committed to requiring proof of age at point of purchase, collection or delivery, that knives will be displayed safely and packaged securely, and that staff will receive regular training. I am delighted to say Tesco, Lidl UK, Amazon UK, Wilko, Argos, Asda, Poundland, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, John Lewis and Waitrose have all made this commitment, and ebay UK supports it as well. We will work closely with the British Retail Consortium to get other retailers to commit to these principles.

And where voluntary action can only go so far, we will use legislation – to ban the sale, manufacture and importation of so-called ‘zombie-killer knives’, which glamorise violence and are clearly targeted at young people. These are dangerous weapons and have absolutely no place on our streets. Under the secondary legislation, which will be introduced through powers in the Criminal Justice Act 1988, offenders would face up to 4 years in prison.

The fifth driver is the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. There is good evidence that would-be criminals can be deterred from crime or re-offending if they perceive the system, including policing, as being effective. That is why policing known crime hotspots and taking a local problem-solving approach to address what is causing local concentrations of crime can be so effective, especially when aided by new techniques like data analytics and predictive policing.

Our criminal justice system must therefore act as a powerful deterrent. As crime changes, the police, prosecutors, courts, prisons and probation must have the capacity to stay ahead. That is why we are providing funding, through the Police Transformation Fund, to develop digital investigation and intelligence capability in policing, and ensure that officers have the skills required to tackle new forms of crime such as online fraud. And we will use new technology to transform punishment too, by using satellite tracking of offenders.

The final driver of crime is profit. Most acquisitive crime is financially motivated and many serious and organised crimes, from organised immigration crime to online fraud, are built on sophisticated business models generating vast illicit gains. These criminals trade in illegal substances, services, and in people. They generate income from others’ misery and exploitation. And they launder their proceeds through legitimate financial systems, facilitated – unwittingly or otherwise – by lawyers, accountants and financial advisers. Organised criminals don’t commit crime because they need to feed a habit. They commit crime, for the most part, because they can turn a profit doing so.

Since 2010, we have confiscated almost £1 billion in proceeds of crime, and the Serious Crime Act 2015 closed many of the loopholes used by criminals to get around confiscation and asset freezing. We are working with the professional sector to deter solicitors and accountants from becoming involved in money laundering. But we need to go further to break the criminals’ business models and make it harder for organised criminals in particular to benefit from their crimes.

We will implement a new Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Action Plan. Because if criminals know they can’t convert their ill-gotten gains into legitimate income, it should deter them from committing the crime in the first place.

A few weeks ago, I launched the Joint Fraud Taskforce with over 40 major banks and financial organisations to strengthen the collective response of the government, the financial sector and law enforcement. And for the worst offenders, we are introducing a new top 10 most wanted fraudsters to focus effort and resources – and ensure that those coordinating the most activity find it more difficult to operate.

And, as you will hear later on today, we are working with businesses to prevent modern slavery in their global supply chains, to help put a stop to the appalling abuse of people that most of us thought had been abolished over a century ago.

I have outlined the approach in our new modern crime prevention strategy and the action we are taking to address the different drivers of crime. But of course most crimes will have more than one driver, and it is when we take a range of actions covering those many drivers that we can most successfully address a particular crime type.

Take metal theft. In 2010, metal theft starting rising exponentially in line with the high global price in copper and lead. Churches, road signs and even civic statues were targeted, and in 2011 Network Rail reported a 50% rise in the number of metal thefts from their lines that resulted in more than 6,000 hours of delays to people’s train journeys.

Yet once we understood the drivers behind this metal theft, it was clear what needed to be done. So we took action to address profit, opportunity and the criminal justice system by banning cash payments for scrap metal to make sales traceable, creating a joint intelligence hub to better monitor metal infrastructure, and introducing larger fines, tougher sanctions and a new licensing scheme for scrap dealers.

The result was a fall in metal theft by 30%. And railway delays due to metal theft fell by 80% in the 3 years after 2010/11.

So today we need to apply the same approach to all types of crime. And most importantly, we all need to play our part in making life harder for criminals.

Because as I said earlier, the one thing we can learn from the last 20 years is that neither government nor the police can prevent crime on their own. Everyone with an interest in making our lives and communities safer needs to take responsibility.

The police need to develop the right capabilities and ensure they are effectively deployed. Academics can help to fill the gaps in our evidence base on changing crime. Manufacturers and retailers should work with us to identify new ways to design out crime from products and services. Voluntary sector organisations – like Neighbourhood Watch and Crimestoppers – can support the police and provide advice to the public. And the public must play their part in protecting themselves, their possessions and their data from modern crime.

At the opening of my speech, I spoke about online fraud and the new types of crime we are seeing. Crime is changing. But that doesn’t mean we should think they can’t be stopped.

Time and again, we have proven that if we take the right steps, if we work together, and if we invest in the right capabilities, there is nothing inevitable about crime and nothing inexorable about its rise.

We must prevent crime, not just respond to it. And if we do so, we can make our country safer, reduce crime in our communities, and reduce the harm done to vulnerable people.

Crime is not inevitable. Together, let’s deliver the same reductions in the next twenty years, and we have seen in the last.