On Monday evening Nansen Road Baptist Church Hall was completely full. Hundreds of people from what many still call the Racecourse estate were sitting, or standing around the walls, or even standing outside listening through the doors and windows. For almost three hours local residents, one after another, spoke about their loss, their pain, their fears for their children and yes, their anger following the death of Tavis Spencer-Aitkens.
The local Councillors, the Police & Crime Commissioner, the County Council Cabinet Member for Ipswich, the Principal of Ipswich Academy, the Assistant Chief Constable and myself all stood and listened. We did speak, to answer questions and challenges from the residents, because that is what the residents wanted us to do. But we were mainly there to listen to what people were saying.
Overwhelmingly, local residents felt that the authorities had not paid any attention to them. They wondered why it took the murder of a 17-year-old boy in a residential street in broad daylight before anything would be done. I can understand why they felt that way.
I know that I, and local councillors, have met with the Police and the Commissioner to urge more police resources for dealing with violent crime in Ipswich. I know that the Police have put further resources into violent crime, with some success, although I would argue that more focus on Ipswich is still needed. I know that the Commissioner has argued with the Government behind the scenes that more money is needed for Suffolk Police, as I have done in Parliament.
But none of that alters the fact that this terrible murder should never have happened, and all of us must resolve to do whatever it takes to stop it happening again.
On Wednesday, I challenged the Prime Minister to meet with me and the Commissioner, and while she declined to do so, I am hopeful that the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, will. I will do what I can to secure more financial resources for our Police, and I know that Tim Passmore will do the same. This is not a time for party-political rivalry – we need to work together to get the Government to see the severity of the need in our town. With more officers available in Ipswich, and more support staff able to communicate with the public and process intelligence, we could have a Police force that responds quicker and more effectively and deters a lot of crime before it takes place.
It’s not just about money for the Police, vitally important though that is. Parents were furious that community facilities and activities for young people in the area had been cut. They were worried that too many of their youngsters did not have a sense of self-worth and respect for others. And far too many had stories about how their children had left school without qualifications, couldn’t find work, couldn’t afford anywhere to live, and had no prospects for the future.
Unemployment and poverty are not excuses for criminality. Knife crime and other violent crimes must be stamped out and their perpetrators must feel the full force of the law. If someone goes armed with a knife to rob or intimidate or attack someone else, they need to know that they could end up committing murder and facing a life sentence.
But how much better if we could prevent people from falling into criminality in the first place. We are failing our young people in this country – not just unemployed youngsters on the Racecourse estate, but young people at school doing their A-levels, students at university, trainee nurses, and people in their first job earning less than the adult minimum wage. Young people deserve a country where they can get the education and training they need without incurring enormous debts, where they can find a job and be paid properly for it, and where everyone has a realistic prospect of renting – and eventually owning – their own home.
After the meeting on Monday, I paid my respects to Tavis’s Grandmother. Her courage in attending the meeting moved us all. I promised her that Tavis would not be forgotten, that the authorities and the local residents would work together to create something life-affirming in his name. Every single one of us counts as a human being. Every one of us loses something of ourselves when one of us is lost. Ipswich will work together to heal these scars, and we WILL act, determined that no more young men in our town should die the way that Tavis Spencer-Aitkens died.