Home Secretary Jacqui Smith: 'I'm too scared to go out on my own at night'


Last updated at 16:15 20 January 2008

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has admitted she does not feel safe walking the streets of London late at night.

Ms Smith said she would not feel comfortable out alone after dark in even affluent areas of the capital, let alone more deprived ones.

Her admission, days after three teenagers were convicted of the murder of Garry Newlove, who was kicked to death when he confronted rowdy youths outside his Warrington home, undermines Labour's claims to be tackling violent crime on Britain's streets.

Labour has consistently claimed that crime is down compared to the Nineties when the Conservatives were in power.

But in an interview published last night, Ms Smith was asked if she would feel safe walking alone after midnight in Hackney, East London.

She replied: "Well, no, but I don't think I'd ever have done. You know, I would never have done that at any point in my life."

Asked why not, she said: "Well, I just don't think that's a thing that people do, is it, really?"

She was also asked how she would feel walking through affluent Kensington and Chelsea.

She said: "Well, I wouldn't walk around at midnight and I'm fortunate that I don't have to do that."

She said that she used to walk around her Redditch constituency in Worcestershire, although she could no longer get out on her own as she is now protected by police bodyguards.

"I don't get the opportunity to get out on my own now but I certainly have done in the recent past," she said.

The newspaper that carried her comments, The Sunday Times, said that following the interview, a worried aide to Ms Smith contacted them to say that the Home Secretary's words had not come out as she had intended.

The aide added that Ms Smith had recently been out at night and "bought a kebab in Peckham", a crime-plagued area of South-East London.

Ms Smith admitted that the Government had a "big job" to persuade people that urban areas were not dangerous.

"The truth is that people are safer, in terms of crime, than ten years ago," she said.

"But I do think we've got a big job to do to build people's confidence. It's also about the way people respond to the very small number of particularly violent incidents there are.

"I understand that while it is a fact that crime is falling, what you want to know is what's happening on your street, what the police officers in your area are doing and who they are. Serious violence is something we need to address."

In six months in the job Ms Smith, the first female Home Secretary, has faced a series of crises and made a catalogue of embarrassing blunders.

Last month police officers passed an unprecedented vote of no confidence in her, demanding her immediate resignation in an escalating row over her insistence that their 2.5 per cent pay rise is paid in two stages.

Ms Smith is facing mass protest rallies and a ballot of Britain's 140,000 officers over whether they should have the right to strike.

It was also revealed last year that she made an unsuccessful attempt to ensure that embarrassing details about 5,000 illegal immigrants working in sensitive Government security jobs – including one guarding Gordon Brown's car and 11 working at Scotland Yard – were not revealed.

She was also forced to apologise after Government figures underestimated the number of foreign workers by 300,000.

She admitted it was "bad" that the wrong figures were given out on foreign nationals taking jobs since 1997.

The number is now thought to be 1.1million, not the 800,000 originally recorded.