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Sajid Javid: 'I could have had a life of crime'

The Guardian logo The Guardian 6 days ago Jessica Elgot Chief political correspondent

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Watch: Javid: Stop and search will save lives (PA)

Sajid Javid has suggested he could have ended up in a life of crime, having grown up in a poor neighbourhood where fellow pupils shoplifted and were recruited by drug dealers.

In a speech on tackling serious violence, the home secretary launched an enthusiastic defence of stop and search, a police tactic discouraged by Theresa May because of the divisive effect on communities.

Javid said crime had overtaken health as one of the biggest public concerns, and that seeing the faces of victims of knife crime made him fear for his own children.

Sajid Javid wearing a suit and tie: Sajid Javid delivers his speech to youth workers and police officers in east London. © PA Sajid Javid delivers his speech to youth workers and police officers in east London. Javid’s first major speech on crime, with its deeply personal tone, was his first public salvo in the Conservative leadership race, one where he has slipped behind more organised rivals, such as Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and Dominic Raab. Hunt, like Javid, aims to present himself as a Tory moderate who embraced Brexit.

Related: Westminster's Game of Thrones - the battle to replace May begins

Conservative MPs and possible candidates to replace Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May: (L-R) Britain's Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster David Lidington, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Britain's Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Michael Gove and Britain's Home Secretary Sajid Javid © Getty Conservative MPs and possible candidates to replace Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May: (L-R) Britain's Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster David Lidington, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Britain's Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Michael Gove and Britain's Home Secretary Sajid Javid

MPs have suggested the home secretary lacks “a front story” that sets out a distinctive political agenda – a reference to his compelling backstory as the Rochdale-born son of Pakistani immigrants who rose to become home secretary.

Speaking to an audience of youth workers and senior police officers in east London on Monday, Javid said the “mindset of government needs to shift” to tackle violence among young people. It needed to use data more effectively to improve understanding of the routes into violence and crime.

Javid said his own start in life “could have been very different” had he not had the good influence of his parents and teachers.

“I grew up on what one tabloid dubbed Britain’s most dangerous street,” he said. “It’s not so difficult to see how, instead of being in cabinet, I could have turned out to have a life of crime myself. Pupils at my school were shoplifting and asked me if I wanted to help.

“There were drug addicts who stood near my school gates and told me if I joined in I could make some easy money. But I was lucky, I had loving and supportive parents who, despite my own circumstances, gave me the security that I needed.”

He said news reports about young people feeling they needed to carry weapons made him worry about his own children.

“I have stayed up late many times waiting for the key to turn in the front door,” he said. “When I watch the news and I see the faces of all those lost to knife crime … I cannot help but see the faces of my own children. I find it hard to detach the personal from the policy.”

Home Secretary Sajid Javid speaks with police officers © Getty Home Secretary Sajid Javid speaks with police officers

As home secretary, he said, “if I don’t feel safe or don’t think the streets are safe enough for my own children then something has gone terribly wrong”.

Javid said the causes of the rise in knife crime included a drug market where dealers were prepared to take bigger risks, the influence of social media, and police funding, which he said had been secured in this year’s settlement to recruit an extra 3,500 officers.

Javid admitted that increasing stop and search was “not universally popular” and acknowledged that it disproportionately affected black and minority ethnic communities, but said they were also the communities that suffered most from violent crime. “Stop and search saves lives. There are people who are alive today because of stop and search and I cannot say this enough,” he said.

The number of stop and searches have dropped from a peak of around 1m a year to about 300,000. Javid said he did not want to go back to the practice where it was “not well targeted or thought through”, but officers should have the confidence to use it as a tool.

“What we hear from police now is that more targeted, intelligence-led is the way to go with stop and search and I agree.

“What I want to do is to give the police more confidence in the use of stop and search … it’s about listening to the police, not going back to the way it used to be. That’s not necessary. This is about targeted use which will help save lives.”

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