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Keyham Shootings

Volume 701: debated on Wednesday 22 September 2021

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Scott Mann.)

On Thursday 12 August at about 6.10 pm, the first shots were fired in Keyham. In the space of the short amount of time that followed, our city was forever changed. That day, we tragically lost five members of our community. We remember Maxine Davison, Stephen Washington, Kate Shepherd, Lee Martyn and his three-year-old daughter Sophie Martyn—five people: mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, friends, neighbours and colleagues, members of the community whose lives were taken from us too soon. We also remember two others who were injured and taken to hospital that day, whose recovery we continue to hope is as full and fast as possible.

This incident has devastated the proud and tight-knit communities of Keyham and Ford in Plymouth. Tonight I will not be speaking about the causes of the shooting. The inquest and the ongoing investigations will set out the answers to those in due course. I want to focus on how our community will get the support it needs not just today, tomorrow, next week or next month but for the coming years—support to come to terms with what has happened, and hopefully support to heal. We know the earlier the help arrives, the greater the effect it will have.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this important debate. As he knows, one of the victims of this atrocious act of violence lived in my neighbouring village of Kingsand for a time. I met her on a number of occasions as our children both went to the same school. She did nothing to deserve this callous and cowardly act. The hon. Gentleman is right to ask for support for this neighbourhood and I support him. We need to heal the people and try to help them to cope with this barbaric act. I thank him for bringing this matter to the attention of the House.

I thank the hon. Lady, my colleague from just across the Tamar. This tragedy has affected not just our entire city of Plymouth, Devon and Cornwall and the wider peninsula, but the country as well, and it is something that we face together. I thank her for her remarks.

Our community in Plymouth is facing a collective trauma. We know that there are over 300 eyewitnesses to the shooting—people who have seen a body or blood on their street—and many of those are children, who should never have witnessed anything like this in their young lives. There is nothing that prepares you as an MP for the conversation with a parent about how their child saw someone get shot in front of them—what they should say, what they should do, who they should turn to—and not always having the answers to give them. Like many of the community responders, I had conversations like this not just once or twice but many times every day in the aftermath of the shooting.

My experience, though, has been no different from the school staff at Ford Primary School who opened their doors to the community just hours after the shooting, the street pastors, the police officers and the PCSOs, the local vicars, the staff at our local Co-op, or the residents told to stay in their homes for days after the shooting with the bodies of their neighbours on the streets outside. I say these things not just to seek and elicit sympathy but to illustrate what collective trauma means in a very real human sense. Biddick Drive in Keyham could be any street in any of our communities, and that is what makes this tragedy so scary for all of us.

Plymouth is a trauma-informed city, and the experience of communities in similar circumstances in the past has shown us that after an event like this there are consequences that can be predicted. More children will struggle at school, get lower grades and drop out of school earlier. More people will face unemployment and insecure work. More people will be a victim of crime and more people will themselves commit more crime. More people will experience and suffer from domestic and sexual abuse. More people will suffer from severe mental health problems, anxiety and depression. I see it as my job as Keyham’s MP to do everything I can to stop that from happening.

As a city-wide response, local councillors from all parties, community leaders and the police and crime commissioner all shared in this effort. This really has been a Team Plymouth response. I have never been so proud of my city as I was in the days after the shooting. There was an incredible response on the day from the paramedics and the police who rushed to the scene, the four air ambulances that attended, the doctors and the nurses, the city council and its staff, the local schools and many more. Our whole community stepped up. The teams at Ford Primary School and Keyham Barton, as well as Stuart Road and other schools, have been superb, as have the churches that opened their doors immediately—St Mark’s and St Thomas’s in particular. I want to thank the local councillors—Sally Cresswell, Jemima Laing, Bill Stevens, Mark Coker, Charlotte Cree, Tudor Evans, Gareth Derrick and Stephen Hulme—and the police and crime commissioner, Alison Hernandez, and her team for the work they have done. This was a Team Plymouth response. I also thank the Wolseley Trust for its co-ordinating and fundraising for the Plymouth together fund, which has already raised thousands for the funerals, the victims and the community, but more is needed. Donations are still being made online.

Local businesses large and small have also stepped up, including Zoe Stephens from the Co-op, who provided candles for the vigils and cups of tea at the events, and Richard Baron, who dropped everything to install more home security for residents. When your child cannot sleep because of what has happened and they are scared that a bad man will come through the window, a simple window restrictor is worth more than its weight in gold. I want to thank in particular Keyham neighbourhood watch—Sarah, John, Simon, Lena, Laura, Kicki and Hazel—and its relentless and positive chair, Kevin Sproston. I thank everyone for the outpouring of support from across the country. The support that we saw in Plymouth was cross-party.

I want to express solidarity from across the Tamar in Cornwall. We all feel what the hon. Member feels, particularly about children being safe. It should be a given that every child should be safe in their own bed at night.

I thank the hon Member for that intervention and for giving me time to compose myself. I agree wholeheartedly.

The support that we saw in Keyham was cross-party. The Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary visited to share the nation’s condolences. It is important to say, because some people are sometimes sceptical of politicians and parties, that party politics is irrelevant here—not secondary but irrelevant. It is the people of Keyham and Ford who are the focus for me and colleagues on a cross-party basis in Plymouth. It has made me extraordinarily proud of our city. Despite the tragedy, we have come together and cared for one another, but we need more help.

Our conversations with Ministers have been productive and constructive. The funding bid prepared by Plymouth City Council, Devon and Cornwall police, the police and crime commissioner, our local NHS and our mental health provider Livewell Southwest, backed on a cross-party basis, is reasonable, proportionate and laser-focused on tackling the trauma caused by this mass shooting. In the weeks that followed the tragedy, we pushed the entire city’s resource into Keyham. We have managed that, but we can do so only for a few weeks and not on a long-lasting basis. We are asking for support now so that we have what we need not just for Keyham, Ford and North Prospect but for the rest of Plymouth.

We have asked for additional educational psychologists and social workers to help our children deal with the trauma they have experienced. We have asked for more support for teachers and local schools so that teachers, teaching assistants and school staff can help the children deal with what they witnessed. We have asked for more social workers and a higher capacity for children’s social care, because we know that our community will have more complex needs in the months and years ahead. We have asked for more support for the community safety partnership so that families can be reassured that they are safe in their homes. We have asked for more youth workers to help our young people get through this and stay resilient. We have asked for more bereavement and mental health support to help people process the things they saw and how they are feeling. We have asked for more victim support to make sure that those who have lost everything have everything that they need at this terrible time, and we have asked for more police on our streets to reassure a community where some people are still scared to leave their homes, scared to return to work and fearful about letting their kids out to play. Some of those requests are about policing.

May I first commend the hon. Gentleman? He has spoken about how the community came together, but I think we all recognise the leadership given by their MP. Every one of us can say that the people of Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport should be immensely proud of their MP. I wrote him a letter, because I was well aware of the leadership that he had given the community.

We in Northern Ireland have suffered greatly over the years—the hon. Gentleman and I have talked about it—with the impact on adults and, in particular, on children. We are probably all thinking about the schoolmates of the children who were killed—they are probably wondering why their friends are not here today. The issues are real.

I know for a fact that the Minister will do this without my asking, but does the hon. Gentleman agree about the importance of some communication with those in Northern Ireland who have helped in these issues to give the solace, help and support that is really important, especially for young children? Our hearts break and ache for the children who grieve today.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The tragedy we faced in Keyham has reminded so many other communities of tragedies they have faced. One thing we have benefited from is the experience and the lessons of other communities that have been through so much—from Northern Ireland, but also from Manchester. In particular, the team at Manchester City Council after the Manchester Arena bombings have shared so many of the things that they did and so many of the lessons that they learned with so much honesty and transparency.

There is a temptation to say that in the response we had all the answers, and we did not. The bid we have put together is partly about policing, partly about education, partly about mental health and partly about recovery and healing, but it is a bid that all ties together and that deals with every aspect of our community. It is in that way that I think the promises that were made to Keyham and to Plymouth in the days after the shooting—that our community would not be left behind, that the victims would not be forgotten, that help would be provided—are so important to remember now.

The ask we have made of Ministers is a big one. It is a multimillion-pound ask, and I am sure it is a difficult one to receive as a Minister halfway through a budget year, but it is important that we take time to look at what a difference it would make. The focus for me is on the immediate support—on what can be done in the next year, in particular. We have tried to request funds from current Government spending pots that fit with departmental spending priorities. We have had and are continuing to have good conversations with the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, the Department for Education, the Department of Health and Social Care, and the Department for Communities. I think this underlines the importance of having a lead Minister to co-ordinate and pull together a pan-Government response in this respect, and I am very grateful to the Minister for Crime and Policing for doing that role, working across Departments to help us get the support we need.

There has to be a national debate that takes place as a result of this shooting about strengthening our gun laws, about proper mental health support, about addressing the poison that is lurking in the rotten underbelly of the internet and about how to help angry young men. Keyham’s voice will be heard in that debate, but the focus right now should be on getting the support that is needed to the people who need it right now. Plymouth needs big hearts to prevail in giving us support, and calm and cool heads to prevail in the changing of laws. I do not want any other community to go through what we have in Plymouth, and that means the changes must be right and they must be right first time.

This has been the hardest month of my adult life. I live half a mile from the shooting, and this is my community. I think we are all hurting—I am hurting—and the sense of loss is deep and profound. For me, it is the children who are the hardest aspect of this—the children who witnessed it, and not just the toddlers, but the teenagers. I think it is worth saying at this point that it is okay not to be okay. I have not been okay at times, and I am probably still not okay now. I think that none of us who experienced this really is. Each of us will process the pain and loss differently. Some will do so quickly, and others will take weeks, months or years to start to heal or to feel able to come forward to talk about what they have experienced. For the victims’ families, the loss of a loved one will mean there is a part of them missing for the rest of their lives.

Sometimes I feel really silly having these feelings because I did not see anyone die, but I did see the forensic tents over the bodies and the pressure-washed pavements where the blood had been cleaned away, and I have spoken to dozens and dozens of people who saw someone killed in front of them. I think I have a responsibility to take my own advice, so I have been getting some help as well to help me deal with what I have experienced and the stories that have been shared with me. Not everyone has to make a speech in the House of Commons to admit it, but help is available if you need it, and I encourage people to come forward. This is not a sign of weakness; I think this is just an admission of being human. That is why the support we are asking for is so badly needed. It keeps the support workers in our community, and it provides the reassurance for folks to leave their homes, for kids to play outside—importantly, for kids just to be kids again—and for all of us to start to heal.

Plymouth is a strong city. We always look out for one another, and it is in the darkest hour that even the tiniest glimmers of light shine the brightest. It was the compassion of neighbours, the love of friends and family, the messages of support, the expertise of professionals, and the promise that we would not be left behind that saw us through.

I have spent a lot of time speaking to the Minister, and to other Ministers and officials, and making the case, as have colleagues from our city council, the police, our NHS and mental health services, and right across Plymouth. The case for immediate and long-term funding is an important one, and I am grateful that it has been listened to with respect and dignity. I hope that when the Minister gets to his feet, he will have good news to share. For those who are watching in Plymouth it is important that we say this: we will get through this, and we will get through it together.

Let me begin by saying that my thoughts, and those of all Members of the House, will largely be with the families who so tragically lost their loved ones—Sophie and Lee Martyn, Maxine Davison, Kate Shepherd and Stephen Washington—on that dreadful day in Keyham. This was a truly horrific and shocking incident, and we owe it to the victims to learn all the necessary lessons from what happened. We also offer our very best wishes to those who are injured, and pray that they make a full recovery.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) for securing this debate, and I offer my appreciation for the way he has worked in collaboration with me and my colleagues on this important matter. Securing the right support for those who are victims, survivors and witnesses of the shootings lies at the heart of this debate, and I recognise just how remarkable the local response has been in the immediate aftermath of this horrible incident. That is something of which Keyham, and obviously the hon. Gentleman, can be incredibly proud. The Home Secretary witnessed it first hand when she visited on 14 August to meet the chief constable, as well as the hon. Gentleman and local leaders.

It is right that the response to this incident should be led by and for the local community, as they are best placed to know their needs. That has been embodied in the Plymouth Together campaign, which I know the hon. Gentleman has been involved with. I have been reassured to hear in our conversations throughout the past weeks that victims, survivors and witnesses have had access to all the support they need immediately. I have also heard the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about ensuring that such support is sustainable long term, and that it will be there when it is needed in future.

I think we have a responsibility to Plymouth, and particularly to the children who were involved in the shootings and witnessed those murders, and it is important that we do not forget them, that we are constantly there for them, and that we can provide the funding wherever and whenever possible to ensure that they get through this horrific episode without scars on their futures.

My hon. Friend is quite right, and if she will give me a moment, I will outline the part that the Government will play in helping Keyham to grieve and to recover. I have been reassured in our conversations that immediate support is available for victims, witnesses and survivors, and that such support must be sustainable in the long term. I know that the office of the police and crime commissioner, Victim Support, Plymouth City Council and its local partners have done outstanding work in supporting those impacted by this incident, and drawing in support from across the entire city. I express my gratitude for their proactive and constructive approach, as well as that of the police and crime commissioner Alison Hernandez. I also echo the tributes paid by the hon. Gentleman to the emergency service personnel who played such a critical part on the day in their response, and who continue to do so on a daily basis.

Although it is right that the response is led by the local community, it is also right that central Government support those efforts and ensure that victims get the help they need. Later this year the Government will introduce a landmark victims Bill, to enshrine the rights of victims in law, ensuring that victims are better supported to recover and have confidence in the criminal justice system, and that more offenders are brought to justice. To ensure that victims receive the rights and support they are entitled to, we published a revised victims code in April to make it a clearer and comprehensive framework centred on 12 key rights for victims.

When these awful crimes happen, the nationally commissioned homicide service is there to offer support to families bereaved by murder and manslaughter, to support them to cope and, as far as possible, recover. The service covers a range of practical and emotional support, and in Keyham it will be there for as long as it is needed by the families who have been impacted by this awful event. The 24/7 support line, live chat and My Support Space services have been available to anyone seeking support, while locally commissioned support services have had staff and volunteers placed in the community, directly delivering support and providing a reassuring presence.

Thankfully, shootings of this nature are very rare in the UK, but when such horrific tragedies happen, they have a profound and devastating impact on those affected, the local community and our society as a whole. We have not come here today to debate the cause of the crimes, as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport said, but it is important for me to put it on the record that protecting the public is our No. 1 priority, and we are supporting the police with more powers, resources and officers to carry out their critical work now and in the future.

No one should ever have to live in fear of crime. Following this incident, I know, because the hon. Gentleman has highlighted it today and previously to me, that that is a real concern for everybody in that part of Plymouth. In the wake of such a terrible tragedy, we are fully committed to helping the local community, and I can inform the House that we have allocated over £1 million in additional Government funding to support the recovery effort in Keyham. Over £800,000 will be invested in community safety and policing to help rebuild confidence and reassure the public that Keyham is a safe place to live, work and go to school. Part of the recovery is also ensuring that there are adequate support services available for the victims and witnesses of these attacks. Almost £300,000 will be made available to the Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly police and crime commissioner to commission additional support services as required.

As we have heard movingly this evening, one very important issue is the number of children and young people who sadly witnessed the events that took place last month. I echo the hon. Gentleman’s thanks to the local schools in the area, which opened to the community to facilitate immediate support. He has asked for support for the local schools in Plymouth. I am pleased to say that educational psychologists have been made available to the schools in the vicinity to support children and young people to deal with the trauma they may have witnessed. We know that organisations such as Young Devon and Jeremiah’s Journey have been providing important practical and emotional support to those young people who have requested it.

As a result of the funding I have announced today, specific further caseworker support will be made available for children and young people who witnessed these horrific events. We know how important practical and emotional support are for victims and witnesses of crime, and it is for that reason that I have agreed to make funding available not only for caseworkers but for specialist emotional support, including trauma and counselling provision for those who witnessed these horrendous acts of violence, including children and young people.

I know that the hon. Gentleman has been in discussions with the former Minister for schools, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb), about additional support that may be available. Officials at the Department for Education have been in close contact with the council on this matter and continue to work in collaboration to understand the recovery needs.

I am sure that we all commend the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport for his honesty this evening in sharing the personal impact that this incident has had on him. I am sure that Members across the House will agree with him that asking for help is no sign of weakness. That is why an additional 130 spaces have been made available in local mental health services through the increasing access to psychological therapies programme.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is also sighted on the request for cross-Government support submitted by the city council following the tragic events. It will continue to work with the council, and with other Departments with an interest, to contribute, where possible, to the further recovery efforts in Keyham in the longer term. I can assure the hon. Gentleman and other Members that this issue remains a priority for the Government, and I hope that my colleagues will be able to say more about the available support in due course.

I thank the hon. Gentleman again for securing this debate and for his constructive and positive engagement with me and my ministerial colleagues. I hope that I have been able to reassure him and the rest of the House about how seriously we take our responsibility to those directly affected by this tragedy and to the local community more widely. Let me say once again that my thoughts are with the loved ones of the victims whose lives were lost in this appalling incident, and with the wider community who witnessed this dreadful act. As the hon. Gentleman said, Plymouth will recover, but a process of grieving and mourning must be gone through first. We will be standing alongside all those organisations and individuals who have contributed to the remarkable collective community effort in the aftermath of this horrific shooting, to make sure that Plymouth has a brighter future.

I would like to thank you too, Luke, for bringing this issue before the House of Commons in the way that you have. I wish you and your community well in the coming months and the years ahead.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.