The UK’s new Home Secretary has visited Lewisham to talk local policing, prison “chaos” and the scrapping of the Rwanda scheme. 

Yvette Cooper went to Lewisham police station on Monday morning (July 8) then walked around the area with officers. 

Passers-by clapped the new Home Secretary and said “thank you”, taking selfies and waving, while speaking to her about the local community. 

Ms Cooper walked around the market and spoke to locals. She chatted to them about the police force and plans for protecting the local area. 

Ms Cooper also repeatedly thanked officers on duty for their hard work. 

A passer-by asked: “Will we have justice for asylum seekers?” 

Ms Cooper replied: “We have a fair system and we have to prevent some of the real problems that we have.” 

Ms Cooper meeting localsMs Cooper meeting locals (Image: PA)

‘Prison chaos’ 

During the visit she accused the Conservatives of leaving behind a “legacy” of “chaos” and crisis in prisons as ministers are reportedly deciding whether to free inmates after less than half of their sentence to ease pressure on cell space. 

Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer is said to be expected to authorise emergency measures this week which could see criminals automatically freed after serving 40% of their sentence. 

Newly appointed Justice Secretary Shabana Mahmood has been told the move could stop prisons running out of space within weeks, according to reports. 

Ms Cooper sidestepped questions on whether Labour would be bringing in the plan as she met police officers in Lewisham, south-east London, on Monday, but told reporters: “I’m extremely concerned with the legacy that the Conservatives have left us with on prisons. 

“They have allowed the number of remand prisoners, of people waiting for trial, to increase because of the chaos and the backlog in the criminal justice system. 

“All of those things are going to need to be addressed and to be fixed, and the Prime Minister has said there isn’t going to be a quick fix, but we’re going to have to deal with the legacy that we inherit. 

“But I think it’s been totally irresponsible, the way the Conservatives have handled this for not just recent months, but in fact for years. It’s deeply, deeply damaging what they have done, and we are going to have to look at what it is we now inherit.” 

Prison governors and union leaders have been warning for months that jails could reach capacity if no further action is taken. 

 Yvette Cooper during a walk through Lewisham town centreYvette Cooper during a walk through Lewisham town centre (Image: PA)

Border crossings 

Ms Cooper also spoke about the launching of a Border Security Command designed to crack down on people-smuggling gangs orchestrating crossings. 

Ms Cooper said setting up the unit was Labour’s first priority on migration as she faced questions on the future of the Bibby Stockholm barge, which is being used to house asylum seekers in Portland, Dorset. 

She did not confirm whether the Government would abandon use of the barge but told reporters: “We need to clear the Conservatives’ asylum backlog, but the first priority has to be to get the stronger border security in place, and that is why our first step is setting up the new Border Security Command.” 

Recruitment of a Border Security Commander, who will report directly to the Home Secretary, has begun, with the new recruit expected to take up their post in the coming weeks, the Home Office said. 

The commander will be a “leader used to working in complex and challenging environments, for example at senior levels of policing, intelligence or the military” and will bring together the work of the National Crime Agency (NCA), intelligence agencies, police, immigration enforcement and Border Force, the department said. 

New laws will be brought in to introduce counter terror-style powers and measures to fight organised immigration crime, officials added. 

Ms Cooper has also ordered an investigation into the latest routes, methods and tactics used by people-smuggling gangs across Europe to inform a “major law enforcement drive” over the coming months. 

Over the weekend, Sir Keir said the stalled multimillion-pound plan to send migrants to Rwanda is “dead and buried” as he confirmed the deportation policy is to be scrapped. 

The Prime Minister said he was “not prepared to continue with gimmicks” as Labour announced plans to free the last two migrants who were detained ahead of anticipated flights. 

As she met police officers in Lewisham, Ms Cooper branded the policy a “con”, telling reporters she is now auditing the entire scheme and the amount of money spent on it. 

The Prime Minister’s spokesman later added that the scheme has been “cancelled” and “won’t go ahead”.