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Up to 60% of police officers could get Tasers, Priti Patel pledges

Ms Patel also reiterated a tough stance on immigration.

Home Secretary Priti Patel making her keynote speech at the Conservative Party Conference (Danny Lawson/PA)
Home Secretary Priti Patel making her keynote speech at the Conservative Party Conference (Danny Lawson/PA)

By Sam Blewett, Political Correspondent, and Flora Thompson, Home Affairs Correspondent, PA

Up to 60% of police officers could be equipped with Tasers under plans announced by Priti Patel as she outlined proposals aimed at making the Tories appear tough on crime.

The Home Secretary committed funding to tackle county lines gangs that exploit children and other vulnerable people during a speech at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on Tuesday.

Ms Patel, the daughter of Ugandan Asians, also reiterated a tough stance on immigration ahead of an anticipated general election, pledging to “end the free movement of people once and for all”.

Saying law and order is “central to our DNA as Conservatives”, Ms Patel pledged a £10 million ringfenced fund to equip up to 60% of police officers with Tasers.

“It is the job of chief constables to make that operational decision,” she told the conference.

“It is the job of the Home Secretary to empower them to do so. I am giving them that power.”

And Ms Patel – warning criminals “we are coming after you” – promised a £20 million investment to aid in identifying and dismantling county lines drugs gangs.

“The kingpins of these criminal gangs are exploiting children,” she said.

“Forcing them to carry crack cocaine and heroin across rural and coastal communities, threatening them into carrying guns and knives as ‘protection’, manipulating them into killing innocent people.”

A dedicated British Transport Police unit with visible and undercover officers will be tasked with disrupting the movement of drugs and people in gangs at railway stations.

More data will be analysed from automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) readers to help police target vehicles suspected of being used to transport drugs while officers will be able to carry out more cash seizures and arrests for money laundering.

Victims of gangs will receive greater support with the number of specialist caseworkers being expanded, and the national county lines co-ordination centre will also grow to increase intelligence sharing with more staff, while extra resources will be put into regional units.

Mark Russell, the chief executive of the Children’s Society charity, said the funding is “a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed to tackle county lines”.

“While it’s vital that the police focus their efforts on disrupting this exploitation, apprehending the real ring-leaders and protecting communities, it’s also crucial that children get the help they need to stay safe,” he said.

Ms Patel also pledged a £25 million “safer streets fund” for new security measures to tackle Britain’s “worst crime spots”.

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Home Secretary Priti Patel after making her keynote speech (Danny Lawson/PA)

Police and crime commissioners would be able to bid for the fund from April and use the cash with local authorities for schemes to combat crimes like vehicle theft, robbery and burglary as well as help with ways of tightening up home security such as installing more locks, gates and street lighting.

The Liberal Democrats said it took “some gall” for Ms Patel to describe the Conservatives as the party of law and order.

Christine Jardine, the party’s shadow home secretary, pointed towards the Supreme Court ruling that the PM’s prorogation of Parliament was unlawful and his threats not to ask for a Brexit delay if demanded by legislation.

“If the Tories want to talk about law and order, they should start by following the law and ruling out a disastrous no-deal Brexit that their own analysis shows will lead to a rise in public disorder,” she added.

Ms Patel also reiterated a plan to recruit 20,000 new police officers and the commitment to introduce an Australian-style points-based immigration system after Brexit.

She said her role as Home Secretary at this “defining moment” has a particular brief when it “comes to taking back control”.

“It is to end the free movement of people once and for all,” Ms Patel said.

She added: “This daughter of immigrants needs no lectures from the north London metropolitan liberal elite.”

The Police Federation of England and Wales said it “cautiously welcomed” Ms Patel’s pledges to better protect officers, with tougher sentences for those who attacked them and a covenant to enshrine their welfare in law and provide them with priority NHS treatment.

National chairman John Apter said: “It is clear that policing is now back on the political agenda so we must now see the warm words turned into action.

“I will play my part in helping the Government to turn their support into action.

“But the Prime Minister must be aware that broken promises will not be forgiven.”

PA

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