Minister: ‘No arrest delays’ after police told to pause non-priority cases

Chris Philp the National Police Chiefs Council’s criminal justice lead confirmed to him that the contingencies were not required.

Concerns were raised in the Commons
Concerns were raised in the Commons (Anthony Devlin/PA)

There have been “no delays to arrests” after police forces in England and Wales were issued guidance to pause non-priority arrests, a Home Office minister told the Commons.

A letter from the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) also urged chief constables to think about pausing “any planned operations where large numbers of arrests may take place” to ease pressures in the criminal justice system, the Times reported.

Chris Philp told MPs he had spoken with the NPCC’s criminal justice lead Rob Nixon “in the last half an hour”, who confirmed to him that the contingencies were not required.

During an urgent question on the contents of the letter and its impact on public safety, Mr Philp said: “(Rob Nixon) has confirmed to me that the contingencies referred to in the letter were not required.

“He said the contingencies were not required because the prison place situation in practice did not merit it.

“He said (there are) no delays to arrests that he is aware of, and he has said that while a small number of people were conveyed to court in police cars and there were a small number of delays to arrival at court, no-one who should have got to court in fact did not do so.

“So, I am delighted to confirm to the House, the contingencies referenced in the letter in fact did not materialise and the short-term fluctuation referenced in the letter will be over tomorrow.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the Government has “catastrophically failed to manage the criminal justice system or build the basic prison places promised”.

Referencing the End of Custody Supervised Licence (ECSL) scheme which allows some prisoners to be freed up to 70 days early, Ms Cooper said: “You’ve got early release massively expanded starting tomorrow, including domestic abusers, and now this serious impact on public safety.

“With Operation Early Dawn telling (the) prisoner escort service just not to collect prisoners from police stations to take them to court because there aren’t enough places, and police forces having to pick up the pieces instead, the NPCC saying in its letter in the strongest terms – this is unsustainable and risks public safety.”

To calls of “stop shouting” from opposition members, Mr Philp said: “Well (Ms Cooper) likes to pontificate in an animated fashion but the fact is, according to the crime survey, crime has halved since the government she was a part of left office.

“She feigns indignation about the (ECSL) – she forgot to mention under the last Labour government it ran for three years.”

Conservative former minister Sir Robert Neill, Chair of the Justice Committee, said “prisons are simply running out of space”, adding: “My committee has long since warned of the dangers of successive Governments ignoring the rise in jail numbers, set against a workforce recruitment and retention crisis and a crumbling Victorian prison estate.”

In the Commons he said: “The most important thing is to ensure that all parties in this House commit to a consistent and sustained investment in all aspects of the criminal justice system, because you cannot decouple policing from courts, from prisons, from the whole of the process.”

Mr Philp replied: “Investment is important, that is why there are record numbers of police officers, it’s why 20,000 prison places are in the course of being constructed.”

Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Labour MP Dame Diana Johnson said: “Obviously public safety is paramount in all of this, and I do want to just say to the minister, the fact that there were contingencies plans being drawn up is in itself worrying.”

She added: “If in the future these contingencies plans are activated, what happens if the police decide not to prioritise an arrest and in the meantime that person goes on to harm someone?

“And I’m thinking particularly around offences of non-contact sexual offending, and also of retail crime in particular.”

Mr Philp said: “At no point would I ever expect, even in the contingency outlined, which in fact never came to pass as I set out already, but even in that contingency offenders of the kind she referenced would have continued to be arrested. That is critically important.”

He added: “As police minister I want to make sure we never see the situation that she describes.”

Labour MP Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) said: “The minister stood in front of us today and said: ‘It would never be any of the kind of crimes you’re talking about here that would ever be done.’

“Yet my inbox is full of victims of domestic violence, rape and sexual violence, child abuse, sending me cases, incidents of multiple perpetrators of multiple women are being release early from prison.”

Mr Philp replied: “The Early Release Scheme the Lord Chancellor has established expressly excludes serious, violent and sexual offenders – which includes rapists.”