CRIME,and the fear of crime, are never far from people’s thoughts – whether it’s locking the front door in the morning, or reading about the murder of Cowcliffe shopkeeper Gurmail Singh. It’s no surprise then that policing will be a key issue in the general election campaign. BARRY GIBSON asks Huddersfield’s candidates what they would do to make the town safer.
LABOUR MP Barry Sheerman is adamant: “Huddersfield isn’t a dangerous place.”
The veteran backbencher believes people’s perception of the level of danger on the streets is very different from the reality.
“Most types of crime are down quite substantially in Huddersfield,” he said.
“But people’s awareness goes up when there’s a tragedy like the recent murder of Gurmail Singh or when one of their friends is mugged.
“You can never compensate people for the suffering which crime causes, but the general trend is that crime is coming down.”
Mr Sheerman added that Labour had given courts more sentencing powers. He said: “My wife has been a magistrate for a long time, and the sentences available to them have risen. Because of that we have more people in prison.”
But the Huddersfield MP admitted that too few prisoners were being reformed.
“We haven’t done nearly enough to give people who have served their time the chance to rehabilitate their lives,” he said.
Huddersfield Lib Dem candidate James Blanchard said his party would make sure there are more police officers on the street.
He said: “We would fund 3,000 extra officers nationally by scrapping the identity card database. This would allow an extra 109 officers in West Yorkshire, of whom around 10 would be based in Huddersfield.”
Mr Blanchard added that the police had to become more democratic.
“I want people to have faith in the police because so many crimes are going unrecorded,” he said.
“I want people to be able to elect their police authorities.”
Karen Tweed, who is running for the Conservatives in Huddersfield, knows first-hand that victims sometimes don’t report crime.
She said: “A couple of years ago my dog was attacked by someone else’s. The police informed me that it would take roughly two hours to complete the paperwork. As many other have done, I let the matter drop.”
Mrs Tweed added: “We have ended up having a police force who are form-fillers not crime-fighters. Only 14% of police officers’ time is spent on patrol compared with 22% of their time spent on paperwork.
“The Conservatives want to cut the red tape and paperwork which ties officers to their desks and help them get out onto the streets to police.”
Clr Andrew Cooper is contesting the Huddersfield seat for the Green Party.
He believes tackling the drugs trade is the key to cutting crime in the town.
“Half of all crime is associated with Class A drugs,” he said. “We need to concentrate on stopping the importation rather than dealing with the petty dealing.”
Clr Cooper added that his party would spend more on activities for teenagers.
He said: “A lot of crime is committed by young men so we would fund 2,000 young people’s centres to provide diversionary activities.”
Rachel Firth , of the BNP, takes a rather different line.
She said: “The criminals are getting far too much protection, sentencing is far too lenient. We need to get more bobbies on the beat and crack down on the criminals.”
Mrs Firth added that her party wanted to bring back the death penalty. She said: “We’re in favour of capital punishment for child killers. If they are found guilty by DNA they should definitely be executed.”
The BNP woman added: “Some people have told me they are scared to go out after dark to walk their dogs. It shouldn’t be like that.”
Paul Cooney , of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, said his party would tackle the root causes of crime.
He said: “I firmly believe that crime is anti-social and selfish, but we should be reducing the social problems that create criminality.”
Mr Cooney added that the criminal justice system needed to improve its record on rehabilitation.
“It isn’t a good idea to take people with mental health problems and put them in a confined situation with hardened criminals.
“The main focus has to be on bringing people back into the community. We should properly fund rehabilitation rather than privatising the prisons.”