Britain’s top lawyers have written to Priti Patel to express their concern after a knifeman threatened to kill an immigration solicitor last month in an attack colleagues say was directly motivated by comments made by the home secretary.
On 7 September a man with a large knife entered a London law firm and launched a “violent, racist attack” that injured a staff member before the assailant was overwhelmed.
A confederate flag and far-right literature were allegedly found in a bag he was carrying. According to documents about the incident, police described the knife as a “weapon designed to cause serious harm”.
Days before, on 3 September, Patel dismayed the legal profession by claiming “activist lawyers” were frustrating the removal of migrants.
It was Patel’s remarks which the law firm – not being named for security reasons – believe inspired the incident. “Responsibility and accountability for this attack, in the eyes of this firm, lies squarely at the feet of Priti Patel,” say documents containing witness statements and details of the attack.
The day after the incident, the firm wrote to the Law Society asking it to raise the issue with Patel, government lawyers, the lord chancellor and the Ministry of Justice to “ensure that public attacks on the legal profession are prevented from this point forth”.
The letter said: “It must be ensured that no further lives are endangered as a result of her untruthful and deliberately inflammatory rhetoric. Put simply, this must stop now, before innocent lives are taken and other irreparable damage is done to those who work in this field.”
It added: “This must involve all previous statements made by Priti Patel being publicly retracted, and an apology or acknowledgment that such action to date has been inappropriate. Urgent reassurance is required from the government that this will not be repeated. The position as it stands is untenable, dangerous, and cannot be allowed to persist.”
On Saturday the Law Society confirmed it sent correspondence last month on the attack to the Home Office and Ministry of Justice.
Patel appears not only to have ignored its concerns but doubled down on her attacks against immigration lawyers.
Last Sunday, almost a month after the knife attack, Patel used her speech at the Conservative party conference to target “do-gooders” and “lefty lawyers,” claiming those who represented asylum seekers were “defending the indefensible”.
Two days later, in his keynote speech, Boris Johnson went even further, claiming the entire criminal justice system was “being hamstrung by lefty human rights lawyers”. It remains unclear to what extent, if any, the PM was aware of the knife attack.
Last night the body representing the legal profession reminded the government that inflammatory rhetoric had consequences. The Law Society revealed it had heard from other law firms which had received increased “levels of abuse, threats