A WAVE of knife attacks has triggered renewed debate about the rising tide of lawlessness in Britain. Police said there were more than 50 stabbings over the recent Bank Holiday weekend alone, despite the onset of a five-week ‘amnesty’ offering people the chance to hand in offensive weapons at police stations without risk of prosecution.
Statistics show that attacks by strangers are now the largest component of overall violent crime in England and Wales. So-called ‘stranger violence’ constituted 35 per cent of violent crime in 2004-5, compared with 24 per cent in 1995.
Recent victims include Tom Grant, a 19-year-old student, stabbed to death on a train, after he came to the aid of a woman who was being verbally harangued by another passenger. Another casualty, father-of-three Barry Wilson, was murdered on the way home from a community fun day in Bristol. And Ian Montgomery was reported to be fighting for his life last week after being stabbed when he tried to help a woman who was being attacked in Nottingham.
Other high profile incidents this year include that of Richard Whelan, fatally stabbed on a London bus when he remonstrated with a youth who was throwing chips at other passengers. And then there was the sad case of 15-year-old Kiyan Prince, a talented footballer who was murdered outside his school when he tried to break-up a fight. The surge in violence in schools is particularly troubling. Reports estimate that up to 300,000 of Britain’s 10 million pupils regularly take knives into schools.
In Britain today, it seems that an act of gentlemanly chivalry – rescuing a damsel in distress or intervening to stop a potentially violent altercation – can cost you your life. Perhaps the Conservative leader, David Cameron, hit the bull’s eye when he said that the gravest threat to Britain was no longer economic decline but social decline.
A generation ago, it was all very different. Britain, in the grip of severe economic woes, was dubbed “the sick man of Europe”, as governments wrestled with strikes, runaway inflation and a run on the pound. But violent crimes, especially the random, motiveless attacks that characterise our inner cities today, were not so widespread. In the 1970s, a trip around British cities was not necessarily an unpleasant experience. The Dixon of Dock Green era was coming to an end but London still felt relatively cosy, free of the tension and danger that fill the air now.
Does the punishment fit the crime?
In the end, most politicians, except those on the fringes, agreed a strategy to reverse economic decline, hence the Blair government chose not to repeal much of the Conservative legislation. Now we need a similar consensus on crime. We cannot blame anti-social behaviour and violence on deprivation – that is a knee-jerk liberal response belied by the facts.
Britain is one of Europe’s wealthiest countries. Portugal, by contrast, is far poorer than Britain, yet manages to have a more conspicuous police presence and considerably less violence. The streets of Sofia – capital of Bulgaria where the average monthly salary is 150 euros – are also comparatively safe, notwithstanding widely reported problems with corruption and organised crime.
The British authorities cannot conquer the knife culture through crusades against poverty, or by launching amnesties and stricter clampdowns on those carrying offensive weapons. Thugs will always use something to attack a victim – a glass, a pen, a mobile phone or even a cigarette packet can be transformed into a lethal weapon! And if all else fails, they will simply kick a person to death.
Most hooligans would simply ignore tougher legislation against knives, disadvantaging only the law-abiding citizen. When guns are outlawed, only the outlaws carry them, as the pro-gun lobby in America reminds us.
We need to concentrate on the criminals, not on the weapons. In Britain, there remains a residual leftist conviction that mankind is basically good, corrupted only by circumstances. But we have to recognise that evil exists, often without motive or explanation. The growth in mindless violence has happened because perpetrators no longer fear the sanctions of authority and because police have abandoned the streets.
Sky News recently carried shocking film of three youths, captured on CCTV footage, sauntering out of a train station. They chat and laugh among themselves. Then, for no reason at all, they attack a man sitting at the entrance, punching him to the ground before knifing him through the heart. Perhaps British politicians would like to tell us what they think is a suitable punishment for such a crime. I have my own idea about an appropriate punishment but, unfortunately, it is no longer possible in today’s Britain ….
By Gabriel Hershman
• Gabriel can be contacted via e-mail at [email protected]