Keir Starmer promises to halve violence against women as part of crime ‘mission’

Keir Starmer has vowed to halve violence against women and girls within a decade, with measures including dedicated “rape courts” and domestic violence experts taking 999 calls.

Setting out one of Labour’s core missions on crime, Starmer said it was the “unfinished business in my life’s work to deliver justice” and said Tory attacks on him for being a human rights lawyer “only shows how far they’ve fallen, and how little they understand working people”.

Starmer’s speech in Stoke-on-Trent launching the second of his five “missions” said he wanted to “imagine a society where violence against women is stamped out everywhere”.

He said his government would also never dismiss crime as “low-level” – suggesting that even apparently minor issues like repeatedly smoking cannabis near children’s windows had a devastating effect on people’s lives.

The Labour leader said complacency and austerity had led to plunging confidence in the police, saying “crime becomes decriminalised” when there is no one to follow up reports.

He said he would set out four key targets on crime for Labour in government, which were to:

  • Restore public confidence in the police and criminal justice system to its highest level.

  • Halve knife crime incidents, including with an enhanced police presence outside schools.

  • Drastically improve statistics for the proportion of crimes solved by the police.

  • Drive down violence against women and improve conviction rates.

Starmer’s speech was followed by a roundtable with current and senior former police officers and victims’ representatives, including Mina Smallman, whose daughters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman were murdered, after which pictures of their bodies were shared on a police WhatsApp group.

Smallman said it was urgent that the targets on halving violence and standards for policing were put into new law, so that it was the responsibility of whichever party was in government.

But she also criticised Starmer and Rishi Sunak’s conduct during prime minister’s questions, discussing the report by Louise Casey into the Metropolitan police failings.

“Yesterday, if I’d been the speaker, I would have taken you all into the naughty room, you and the prime minister, and said, ‘Look, this is not about point-scoring. This is about people’s lives.’”

Throughout the sessions, senior police officers urged Starmer to press the case for prevention of violence against women, with one former police chief saying it should be treated as seriously as stopping terrorism.

In his earlier speech, Starmer said it was “working people who pay the heaviest price” when antisocial behaviour was rife and that there was complacency from the government because “their kids don’t go to the same schools, nobody fly-tips on their streets. The threat of violence doesn’t stalk their communities.”

Starmer said there were clear and stark inequalities at play when it came to tackling crime, which he saw first hand as director of public prosecutions. “As chief prosecutor, the more and more case files I read, the more and more I could see those ugly inequalities at work,” he said.

“Yes, it’s Labour’s plan to tackle the crime wave gnawing away at our collective sense of security – of course it is. But it’s also unfinished business in my life’s work to deliver justice for working people.”

Starmer said that across the country there were plummeting levels of confidence in the police. “Nearly every person I meet has at least one story, an interaction with the police where something just wasn’t followed up … People give up. They stop bothering.”

The Labour leader said there would be specialist taskforces in every police force on rape and violence against women, including specialist domestic abuse workers in the control rooms of every police force responding to 999 calls, supporting victims of abuse.

He promised that Labour would set up dedicated rape courts, saying: “The current prosecution rates are a disgrace.”

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He said suppressing knife crime was a mission that began with more action on prevention. It was “about pulling young boys back before they get in too deep. It’s about good youth work, neighbourhood policing, mental health support – in every school. We’ll do all that.”

He said Labour would make the criminal exploitation of children a specific offence and use that to target the county lines gangs.

Starmer said the other key priority would be antisocial behaviour, which he said was often wrongly dismissed as low-level crime. “We need reform to get more police on the beat, fighting the virus that is antisocial behaviour.

“Fly-tipping, off-road biking in rural communities, drugs … There’s a family in my constituency, every night cannabis smoke creeps in from the street outside into their children’s bedroom – aged four and six. That’s not low-level, it’s ruining their lives.”

In his speech, Starmer cited the example of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which replaced the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Starmer, who served as an adviser to the Northern Ireland Policing Board, said there were parallels with the collapse of trust in the Metropolitan police, but said he did not believe the answer was to completely abolish and rebuild the service.

“I think that something on the scale of what happened in Northern Ireland with the Police Service of Northern Ireland is now what’s needed in the Met,” he said.

“I resist the sort of structural, break-it-up, heads-must-roll model, because I’ve seen that too often before where something goes wrong, there is a tendency to say, ‘Well as long as one person goes, then the problem is solved.’ I’ve never really believed that that actually solved the problem.”