LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government fended off accusations on Monday of a U-turn over a headline-grabbing anti-crime measure, denying it had proposed taking criminals to meet victims in hospital.
The government said the policy, which had led to front page headlines in newspapers throughout the country, had been misunderstood.
But accusations his cabinet botched a policy roll-out adds to the political misery of Brown, whose poll ratings have collapsed since he took over from Tony Blair a year ago.
A spate of knife murders in London prompted Brown to announce last Friday that his government would unveil new anti-crime measures this week.
Over the weekend the Home Office issued a statement describing plans “to ensure that people convicted of carrying a knife are confronted with the dangers of carrying knives through (a) visits to A&E (accident and emergency wards) to see the impact of knife wounds; (b) meeting the families of knife victims to understand their pain”.
The plans won front page headlines and were universally described in the media as meaning that convicted offenders would be forced to meet knife crime victims and their families in hospital.
“I’m very keen we make people to face up to their consequences of their actions,” Home Secretary Jacqui Smith told Sky Television on Sunday. “It’s a practical and tough approach to make young people understand the implications of carrying a knife.”
On Monday, doctors’ groups described the idea of hospital meetings between offenders and patients as disruptive and unfeasible, and Smith said she meant no such thing.
“We are not, and I have never said we are, proposing to bring young people into wards to see patients,” Smith told parliament to jeers from opposition benches.
A spokesman for the Home Office said the plan was always to have offenders meet doctors and hospital staff, not patients.
“We have been consistent,” he added.
The Conservative Party was scathing about what it called a U-turn over a policy that was unveiled without being fully thought through.
“It’s going to give the impression that the government is in fact constructing policy in three days, abandoning it in three hours, and that this is gimmickry,” Conservative home affairs spokesman Dominic Grieve told parliament.
Reporting by Peter Graff; Editing by Matthew Jones