Sunday, June 08, 2008

Is knife crime as common as we think?

A spate of stabbing incidents have dominated the headlines in recent weeks. But what are the facts behind knife crime and which young people are in greatest danger?

"Tackling knife culture, especially among young people, is paramount to the safety of our communities, and I am determined to reduce the devastation caused by knife crime," then Home Secretary Charles Clarke said in the spring of 2006.

Since then there has been a knife amnesty, numerous government initiatives and photo opportunities, with ministers slamming home the same message - that knives will not be tolerated.

But still the deaths caused by knives go on.

The real picture

According to the British Crime Survey (BCS), overall violent crime has decreased by 41% since a peak in 1995.

Knives are used in about 8% of violent incidents, according to the BCS, a level that has largely remained the same during the past decade.

But the BCS figures do not include under-16s, something which the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced this month would change.

Criminologist Kevin Stenson, from Middlesex University's Crime and Conflict Research Centre, said the politicians needed to do more to address the problems of those aged under 16 and added: "They are the people who fear being attacked with knives, they carry them because they are scared and for respect. It is about macho status."

But Ife Igunnubole, a youth worker in Hackney, London, said knives and guns brought a sense of power to youths who felt powerlessness.

He said: "There is a level of desperation on the streets, brought about by poverty, which is creating a culture of fear."

Mr Igunnubole, who runs mentoring and leadership projects, said tougher sentences and stop-and-search powers were all very well in the short term, but ultimately they were "just scratching the surface" and in the long term there was a need to address issues of poverty and materialism.

'Poorer most at risk'

Richard Garside, the director of the Centre of Crime and Justice Studies at Kings College London, said: "If you look at the figures for the last 10 years the number of knife victims has remained relatively stable - although there have been spikes - at 200 to 220 a year.

"But there is some evidence the demographic has changed. The average age of homicide victims overall has been going down, with younger and younger victims."

The falling age of victims is something that has been found with both knife and gun crime.

Mr Garside said: "Those living in poorer parts of town are inevitably most at risk. For many years the murder capital for knife crime has been Glasgow, but now we are seeing it as a major problem in Manchester and London and other cities."

One Scottish police officer told BBC News: "If you think you've got it bad down in London, you should take a look at Glasgow."

Scotland, and Glasgow in particular, has some frightening statistics when it comes to knife crime.

· Last year there were 73 murders in the Strathclyde Police force area, 40 of which involved knives

· Knife crime levels in Scotland are 3.5 times higher than in England or Wales

· Scotland has a homicide rate of 5.3 per 100,000 in the 10-to-29 age group, which compares with one per 100,000 in England and Wales

Karyn McCluskey, head of Strathclyde's Violence Reduction Unit, said knife crime was endemic and dated back to the "razor gangs" of the 1920s.

She said: "People give all sorts of reasons why they carry knives, including protecting themselves. But a knife is not a weapon of defence, it's a weapon of offence."

Ms McCluskey said: "Much of it is to do with bravado. Machismo is a huge issue up here and the lack of role models too. We often get knives being used by grandfathers, fathers and sons.

"Part of the problem is that they don't have the skills to walk away. If they're in a taxi queue and it's raining and they've been drinking, if someone looks at them in a funny way there will be a fight. It's as simple as that."

She said some offenders mistakenly thought they could stab a rival in the buttocks without harm, but she added: "You can bleed to death if you hit a femoral artery. There is no safe place to stab anybody."

Tougher sentences

In the past few years politicians both north and south of the border have steadily increased the penalty for carrying knives, but Richard Garside said there was no evidence tougher sentences act as a deterrent.

"Many of these youths say they are carrying a knife for their own protection, but if they are calculating to commit a serious offence they will not think about the prospect of getting caught," he said.

The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair, said on Tuesday: "The knives we are seeing are not nearly as often home-made constructed weapons, as weapons you would take from the kitchen drawer.

"Parents have a duty now to be asking their teenagers: 'Are you involved in this knife carrying?'"

It may be that the recent spate of knife deaths is simply a spike on a graph - a statistical quirk - but there is no doubt the carrying of knives and guns has not gone out of fashion.

Whether this home secretary, or this government, can turn the tide remains to be seen.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to introduce this competition which helps profile positive voices for peace.

As part of the Week of Peace 2008, Spiraluniverse are seeking entries on the topic of peace as a response to recent news and media highlights of violence and the fear of crime, particuarly amongst young people .

The Week of Peace is a week long community event which promotes peace and community safety. It is supported by the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police. The Cries for Peace competition is being launched this year to promote and profile a message of celebration, collaboration and reconcilation.

It aims to be a positive response to the far too many unfortunate stories in the media about young people and crime, particularly violent crime leading to fatalities. Regardless of the news, we believe that there are many many positive young people and community members who are able and want to express their concern and interest for the community safety and peace.

The ‘Cries for Peace’ film and photography competition is a way to capture and profile these voices and views. With this in mind, people are invited to send in short film (less than 90 secs) and still photographs submissions on the subject of peace.

The winner will receive a prestigious a London Peace Award and monetary prize and there are a number of opportunities and prizes for the runner ups.

The deadline for submissions is 8 August 2008, application forms and further information can be downloaded from

6:56 PM  

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