Police minister urged to fund Portsmouth's fight to turn children away from crime - as figures show more than three are involved in assaults every day

MORE cash could help protect children from crime, leaders have told a senior minister during his day-long visit to the area.

Friday, 25th May 2018, 7:06 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 8:48 am
Portsmouth Conservative group leader Donna Jones, police minister Nick Hurd, Hampshire police and crime commissioner Michael Lane, Hampshire chief constable Olivia Pinkney and Portsmouth city council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson Picture: Malcolm Wells (180524-0106)

Home Office police minister Nick Hurd met with police bosses, top councillors, MPs and crime-hit businesses yesterday.

‘Really excellent work’ is being done in early intervention with youngsters, Mr Hurd said, as he invited Portsmouth leaders to help shape a scheme offering funding for such activity.

Mr Hurd praised ‘impressive’ work going on to tackle serious violence in part linked to the drug trade, adding he had a ‘very good conversation’ about how agencies in Portsmouth could liaise with his department.

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City council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson and Tory group leader Donna Jones want to bring in cash announced by the Home Office in its Serious Violence Strategy last month.

Speaking to The News at Southsea fire station, which has a police office, Mr Hurd said: ‘I’m hugely impressed with the understanding of the problem and there’s clearly good strong partnership working across the area, which we know is absolutely fundamental. There’s money available in the strategy, particularly to support intervention work.’

Mr Hurd said it was ‘absolutely critical’ for ‘robust’ early intervention work to turn young people away from crime.

Police in Portsmouth have previously confirmed children as young as 12 are being exploited as drug runners for organised criminal gangs.

In a closed-door briefing, Mr Hurd was told there were 1,283 assaults involving children aged 10 to 17 as either victim or suspect in 2016/17 in the city, with Portsmouth also having a higher rate of first time entrants and children in the youth justice system than nationally in 2016.

Police say a ‘significant’ number of county lines drug networks run in the city, with about 1,427 heroin and crack cocaine addicts according to estimates published in 2017.

After speaking with councillors, the council’s head of public health and children’s services, together with chief constable Olivia Pinkney and crime commissioner Michael Lane, Mr Hurd said the area was working to ‘bear down’ on violent crime.

‘The focus of the conversation is the serious violence strategy the government has published, its common determination to end this terrible cycle of violence.

‘I’ve had a good conversation with police and political leadership, who clearly have got a very good understanding of the problem in the area.

‘There’s a determination of partnership working here and determination to do more and to work with central government to bear down on the problem.

‘I had a good conversation about how Portsmouth and this area could work together with the Home Office in the future.’

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘There’s really clear evidence that work we can do with youngsters around the city is really of benefit, getting them to go in the right direction, diverting them away from crime and exploitation and skilling them up.’

Cllr Jones said: ‘We’ve been able to demonstrate to the minister Portsmouth is able to deliver on reducing youth offending.’

Mr Hurd visited Havant and Hayling Island, meeting with Active Communities Network, which works with young people.

He also met with Southsea businesses that suffered a crime wave of burglaries that peaked at around 22-25 a month last year.

Simon Docker, from Huis in Elm Grove, met with the minister and Portsmouth South Labour MP Stephen Morgan. Mr Docker said Mr Hurd had listened to their concerns, while the city MP said government ‘can’t do safety on the cheap’ by cutting police.

Mr Hurd said he accepted police could not be ‘complacent’ about a drop in burglaries as they are fighting other problems.