Wellingborough: Calls for action on gangs at by-election debate

Calls for more visible policing and new initiatives to draw young people away from gangs have been heard in a BBC East Wellingborough by-election discussion.

The town, facing a by-election on Thursday, is still haunted by the death of teenager Dylan Holliday, who was stabbed 13 times.

The BBC held the panel discussion at St Mark's Church on the Queensway estate where Dylan lived.

Candidates taking part in the debate included Ana Savage Gunn (Lib Dem), Ben Habib (Reform), Helen Harrison (Conservative), Gen Kitchen (Labour), Will Morris (Green Party) and Marion Turner-Hawes (Independent).

There are a total of 11 candidates listed on the BBC website.

The by-election will be held in Wellingborough on Thursday following a recall petition in the Northamptonshire constituency.

The petition was prompted by Peter Bone's suspension from the House of Commons for six weeks for breaching the code of conduct for MPs.

The presenter of the discussion Amelia Reynolds, of BBC Politics East, asked the panel how they would deal with making the area safer.

Conservative candidate Helen Harrison said: "We all remember the awful death of Dylan and what I think was so shocking was the ferocity of what happened to him. It was absolutely awful.

"The community were reeling after that and I know that we all came together. We marched in solidarity against knife crime."

Ms Harrison said there were now "more police in Northamptonshire than any time in our history", even bearing in mind the drop in police numbers during the Conservative/Liberal Democrats government's austerity measures.

She added: "That's really important because what people tell me on the doorstep is they want to see visible policing on the streets."

Labour candidate Gen Kitchen said: "People across the constituency don't feel safe.

"Crime, in particular youth crime, doesn't just have one solution. You can't just say 'more police', you have to look at it with a range of [measures]: More youth provision, better lighting, better safety measures."

Ms Kitchen said her main aims were: "First making sure there are police and they are visible police. But then secondly it's making sure our third sector (voluntary) feels supported and able to go out and get grants.

"That's my background. That's what I've done before and that's a practical way an MP can support the work."

Lib Dem candidate and former Northamptonshire Police inspector Ana Savage Gunn said: "Helen talked about how many police officers we have got that are extra.

"Well when you take into account that the population of Northamptonshire has grown by 25%, we're actually 400 officers short of what we should have per capita.

"That's 100 officers on duty every single hour of the day that we are short."

Ms Savage Gunn said if she was elected MP she would bring together the "church, the schools, youth groups, voluntary groups and sporting groups".

Reform Party candidate Ben Habib said the rise in knife crime in Northamptonshire was not different to other parts of the country.

"We've an economy that is not growing. What we need to understand are the holistic causes of the increase in knife crime," he said.

St Mark's church in Queensway
St Mark's church holds weekly services, as well as a nursery, youth club and community events

"We need more police officers particularly because we've had so much immigration over the last few years which we must cut back."

He said another issue was the "almost legitimisation of criminality by police who won't pursue what they call petty crime [such as shoplifting]."

Will Morris, the Green Party candidate, said: "There's a saying in German that the fish stinks from the head downwards.

"We have to look at how we conduct ourselves in public. We have to look at the example we set. We need to look at why young men are attracted to what seems an easy life of gangs and drugs and cash.

"It's about credibility, visibility and investment. Part of that is giving them a path that they can develop through to proper apprenticeships."

Independent candidate Marion Turner-Hawes said: "Our safety is a partnership between the police and the community."

She said over the past 10 years she had been building partnerships.

"We can't blame the police for not performing if they don't have enough resources to perform," she said.

"I have worked closely with the police across the communities in the whole of Wellingborough and beyond through Street Watch and the Safer Street projects.

"It is a partnership with the police and it is not expecting them to do everything."

The BBC Politics East by-election special is available on BBC iPlayer.

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