Tens of thousands of offenders convicted of serious crimes have been spared jail since the Tories took office, with Labour claiming Rishi Sunak’s party is “on the side of criminals”.
The figures highlighted by Labour show community punishments or suspended sentences handed to more than 16,500 adults convicted of child pornography offences and 130 cases of rape.
The latest salvo in Labour’s attack on the Conservatives over crime in the run-up to May’s local elections came as the party faced criticism over a social media post accusing Mr Sunak of not believing child sex offenders should be locked up.
The decision to aim the attack at Mr Sunak was criticised because sentences are passed by judges or magistrates rather than the prime minister of the day – and the Tory leader was not even an MP in 2010, when the figures included in Labour’s analysis begin.
Other offences highlighted by Labour between 2010 and the first half of 2022 include 8,487 sexual assaults, 937 cases of possessing a firearm with intent and 404 kidnaps.
Although judges have discretion within sentencing guidelines and the circumstances of individual cases vary, Labour claimed the lenient punishments were due in part to problems within the criminal justice system including case backlogs and crowded prisons.
Shadow justice secretary, Steve Reed said: “These figures will horrify communities up and down this country.
“Victims are terrified, constantly looking over their shoulders.
“This is reality in Tory Britain.
“The Conservatives have left dangerous criminals free to roam the streets.
“Parents will be worried sick that the Conservatives have gone so soft on these dangerous crimes.
“Rishi Sunak must come clean and explain why the Conservatives are on the side of criminals, not the law-abiding majority.
“Labour is the party of law and order, and we will implement tougher sentences for dangerous criminals.
“We have made it a central mission to make Britain’s streets safe.”
Labour’s attempt to portray itself as the party of law and order saw it use a Twitter post to attack Mr Sunak directly – something which a senior shadow cabinet minister faced awkward questions over.
The opposition posted a photo of the Prime Minister alongside the words: “Do you think adults convicted of sexually assaulting children should go to prison?
“Rishi Sunak doesn’t.”
The tweet was condemned by opponents, commentators and some Labour MPs, while Twitter added context to the message.
Asked if she stood by the Twitter post, shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said: “What I stand by is what that graphic is trying to show, which is that the Prime Minister of our country is responsible for the criminal justice system of our country and currently that criminal justice system is not working.”
She added: “I didn’t design the graphic, it’s not my graphic.”