The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1996Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech at the Sun / Police Federation Cop of the Year Awards – 23 May 1996

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at the Sun / Police Federation Cop of the Year Awards, held on the 23rd May 1996.


I was delighted to be asked to present the first ever “Cop of the Year” Award. It is good to see The Sun working with the Police Federation to show their support for the police and I am very pleased to be involved myself.

When I read the stories of the policemen and women who have been nominated for tonight’s award, I found it impossible to understand how any judge could have chosen a final winner. Thank goodness, I thought, I’ve got an easy job.

Think for a moment of some of the cases that have been particularly prominent in recent years. Each one arising out of what some might call “routine policing”.

WPC Lesley Harrison, who was stabbed and was lucky to survive when investigating a burglar alarm call in Merseyside.

PC Philip Walters who was shot and died when called to a minor street disturbance.

And PC George Hammond, who suffered, but survived, the most horrific injuries when responding to a routine call ten years ago. He died just a few months ago, his death accelerated on by those injuries. I am pleased that his wife Angie is with us tonight, and grateful that she felt able to be a member of the selection panel.

We ask and expect much of our police, to protect us from crime, to build a safer Britain and to uphold the law, often in dangerous and difficult circumstances.

I grew up in a part of London where – then as now – there was poverty and crime. But there was respect for the copper. There still is.

To the pensioner, the parent, the youngster coming home from school, there is something comforting about the sight of a bobby on the beat, thank God still unarmed and I hope so still in the future.

The British Crime Survey published in February showed that 82% of the public felt their local police did a good job. 82%, to a politician that’s an enviable statistic!

Whenever a wedge is driven between the public and the police, only the villain gains.

That is why this Government will always support the police. And why we have ensured there are more policemen on the streets than ever before. Those are both reasons why Michael Howard and I were able to announce recently the biggest fall in recorded crime since records began.

And why last October I committed the Government to providing the funds for 5,000 more police over the next three years. We are on the same side. The Police Service and the Government are committed to a law abiding community and to a safer Britain. And against those who transgress the normal laws of society.

And why Michael and I have decided to introduce a range of tougher sentences to make sure that when a criminal is locked up he stays locked up and isn’t out on the street in a matter of months committing identical crimes over and over again.

I do understand the concerns of the judiciary and I have spoken to Peter Taylor at length about his particular worries on more than one occasion. Peter has been a splendid Lord Chief Justice and I am tremendously grateful for the work he has done. It is a tragedy that he has been forced to stand down earlier than we all would have wished. But I do not believe it can be right that the current position on sentencing remains unchanged in the future.

I know it won’t come as a surprise to most of you but I was horrified to learn that the average time a burglar can expect to spend in prison is around 8 months. Perhaps that might be acceptable for a first offence. But that only rises to ten months even after seven or more convictions. I do not believe that can be either fair or just. To use a well known phrase, a criminal can certainly consider such a sentence as an occupational hazard. We’re going to stop that.

These new proposals mean that a third time burglar can expect a sentence of a minimum of three years – and with our proposals for honesty in sentencing he can expect to serve a very high portion of that time behind bars. I have an old fashioned view. Prison works. While a criminal is in prison, he is not out on the street wrecking the lives of ordinary people.

And the same goes for those who are ruining the lives of our young people with drugs. Again I might be old fashioned but I’m not prepared to countenance woolly minded liberal thinking nonsense about drugs being some kind of acceptable part of growing up. We are going to make sure that criminals dealing in drugs get the kind of sentence their crimes deserve.

There has been a lot of confusion about our proposals for life sentences for dangerous and persistent offenders. In 1994 there were 217 offenders who had committed a second serious sexual or violent offence. 10 out of 217. Only 10 of them got life sentences. That means that over 200 of them will be released back into the community without any assessment of the risk they will represent to the public, even if everybody – the police, the prison service, their probation officer, all knew they were likely to go out and commit the same sort of offence again, they are still going to be released. There were 40 criminals who did precisely that in 1994. We are not trying to stop the judges saying how long they think someone should serve in prison. It will remain entirely for the judiciary to set the minimum sentence. All this means is that before a serious and dangerous offender is released onto the streets, someone asks whether he is likely to go it again. That has got to be simple common sense.

Ordinary decent people want their community to be secure. They want the streets to be free of crime and safe for the vulnerable and for their children. They want to see more support for those who, like the police, contribute to our community and rather less support for those who offend against it.

The British police are not set apart from the community. You are part of it. You don’t go back to some anonymous barracks at the end of a tough day. You go home to the house next door. You are ordinary men and women. But ordinary men and women of a rather extraordinary quality.

Tonight is about local police recognising and rewarding their own local heroes. The winners have every right to feel very proud. But I, tonight, should like to congratulate you all.