A legal challenge, from the victim of a vicious attack in his own home, to the Mayor of London’s plans to close over half the police stations across the capital will now be heard in the High Court after Paul Kohler’s case for a judicial review was granted.
Following weeks of knife and gun violence in the capital, which has seen the current murder rate surpassing that of New York, Mr Kohler (58) believes there has never been a more pressing time for the current plans to be reviewed. He said:
"Many of the terrible events we have seen recently, including children being shot and a pensioner initially arrested for murder after confronting a burglar in his own home, could not offer a more fitting reminder of the need to ensure police remain at the heart of London’s various communities.
"I do not believe the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is addressing that issue by closing local police stations and removing officers from the communities they police. I predict the level of violence we are currently witnessing will become more commonplace as communities suffer by not having locally based officers with locally based knowledge who know the issues of a particular area and can often intervene before problems escalate," added Mr Kohler.
The judicial review will be heard before the end of June when a judge at the High Court will scrutinise the legality of the Mayor’s Office for Police and Crime (MOPAC) plans to close 37 of the current 73 police stations across the capital.
Mr Kohler, who is represented by law firm Leigh Day, believes the original public consultation and consequent decision were legally flawed and unlawful as:
- Insufficient information was provided to Londoners during the consultation. For example, alternative solutions to the closure of the stations were rejected on the basis that they did not generate enough money, despite consultees not being given any indication as to the cost saving criteria they were required to fulfil, nor any financial information by which they might sensibly address that question;
- The Mayor failed to give proper consideration to the responses he received from consultees across the various boroughs.
Mr Kohler, a legal academic based at SOAS University in London, was the victim of a violent attack in his home in Wimbledon in 2014. He firmly believes he only survived because police officers were able to get to his house from the local station in Wimbledon - one of the stations due to close - within eight minutes of the 999 call made by his daughter, who heard the attack taking place from the bedroom where she was hiding.
During the robbery, Mr Kohler suffered a fractured eye socket, broken nose and severe internal bleeding. Four men were later sentenced to between 13 to 19 years’ imprisonment for the attack.
The London Mayor announced in November 2017 the decision to close over half the police stations across the capital in a bid to make financial savings in response to the government’s ongoing cuts to police funding.
The decision followed a consultation launched on 14 July 2017 by MOPAC on a Draft Public Access and Engagement Strategy (PAES) for the capital which was described by the Independent Consultation Institute as "the worst consultation of 2017" and reading like "a sales pitch for a pre-determined strategy".
Mr Kohler, who is raising funds to support his legal challenge through the CrowdJustice site, www.crowdjustice.com/case/save-londons-police-stations has raised almost £10,000 to date but needs to raise more funds.
Speaking after a leaked report from the Home Office suggested that cuts of some 10% of London’s police officers since 2015, has resulted in an increase in violent crime, Mr Kohler said:
"As a Londoner, and a parent, I have been profoundly saddened that there have been so many, often fatal, violent crimes in recent weeks, leaving families across the capital fearing for the safety of their nearest and dearest.
"Closing local police stations and withdrawing locally based officers will only make things worse. The Labour Mayor of London has adopted an unimaginative and short-sighted approach to the funding crisis caused by the Conservative government’s equally foolish decision to cut the Metropolitan Police budget at a time of increasing violent crime and terrorist activity. The fact we have been granted a judicial review highlights concerns regarding the legality and wisdom of a decision which will affect all Londoners, for years to come, despite us being given no meaningful role in the decision making process.
"Through my solicitors I have also been able to establish that, despite rumours to the contrary, none of the 37 police stations earmarked for closure have yet been sold. There is consequently still time to save our police stations by taking a more measured, evidence based, approach to saving money while ensuring that Londoners are not put unduly at risk."
Solicitor Tessa Gregory, who represents Mr Kohler and works at law firm Leigh Day, said:
"A decision which potentially impacts the lives of every person living and working in the capital should be thoroughly considered, including a widespread and effective public consultation with the millions of people affected.
"Our client believes the public consultation was inadequate and unlawful. In the interests of all Londoners he is pleased that a judge will now consider the legality of the original decision and hopes that in the fullness of time a more considered and thoughtful approach, which keeps the streets of the capital safe, can be found."