London police make knife crime a priority.jpg

London police make knife crime a priority


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Mike Johnson is a free-lance journalist who worked in the Algarve for more than 20 years. He now lives in Plymouth in the UK and comments on world topics which fascinate him.

FOR ONCE, common sense seems to have prevailed over making emotional headlines. Since the World Trade Centre attack in New York, fighting terrorism has been the declared priority of the Metropolitan Police.

There are many, even within the force, who believe that gangland crime, particularly involving knives, is a greater threat to the safety of Londoners than Al-Qaeda.

At the time of writing, 20 youngsters have been murdered with knives in the capital this year. We discovered that one of them, 16-year old Ben Kinsella, had written to Prime Minister Gordon Brown only days before he was stabbed to death, urging him to follow the examples of New York and other American cities, where this problem had been successfully tackled. In a recent programme on national television, another teenager pleaded with politicians in the studio to do more to remove the threat.

Earlier this year, the Metropolitan Police carried out an exercise, which involved using airport-style metal detectors within high-risk areas of London. 27,000 people were searched, 1,200 of whom were arrested and 500 knives were seized. Of those arrested, 95 per cent were charged with weapons offences.

Over the years, successive governments have flirted with policies which might give young people a greater sense of purpose and increase their self-esteem. Youth clubs were introduced and later closed, as local council budgets were tightened. One of the policies on which Tony Blair was first elected to power in 1997 was to be ‘tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.’ It sounded great but meant little.

Recently, Blair’s wife, Cherie, told a parliamentary committee that she feared for the safety of her own children on the streets of London. She is currently chair of a commission on street crime, which has called for a Violence Reduction Unit to be set up within government. It would bring together experts from the Home Office, the Department for Children, Schools and Families – yes, there is such a department – and other parts of local and national government.

One doesn’t have to have a degree in logic to understand the reasons young people carry knives. For some, it’s a matter of bravado. Members of one London gang wear a white bandana to identify themselves. This is exchanged for a red one when they carry out their first fatal stabbing.

Others carry knives for self defence – arming themselves because they believe others are armed – little realising that the very fact they have a knife could turn them into a victim.

Responsible parents are now telling their children not to resist if a yob attempts to steal their i-pod, their credit cards or their mobile phone. They have learnt this from their own experience. The new Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has firmly joined this camp. He says he has told his own four children to pass by any trouble and not get involved. A long way from the parable of the Good Samaritan but, these days, it’s a sensible expedient.

A former chairman of the Youth Justice Board has remarked how swaggering, knife-carrying yobs become sobbing, lonely children once they are imprisoned for murder. This is one message which needs to be got across, in order to deter others from going down a similar path. One report suggests there are 60,000 muggings at knifepoint nationally each year. It also says, more than half of the young victims don’t report them to the police and 45 per cent don’t even tell their parents.


David Cameron, the Conservative leader, has said it will be future party policy to automatically imprison those convicted of knife crime. That may certainly act as a deterrent to some, but would certainly be an added burden for our already over-crowded jails. He also said we shouldn’t pussy-foot around using the words ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Family values and the values of society must be restored.

There is also another factor to consider, which is ultra-sensitive in this politically correct world. A sizeable proportion of those involved in youth gangs are from recently arrived immigrant groups. They come to Britain in search of ‘a better life’, cannot find a job, or indeed anything to occupy their spare time and drift into crime. The government must set up more youth activity centres, each of which would have a job liaison officer, to help them find work.

Where I live, there are two offices, side by side in the main street. Both cater exclusively for youngsters aged between 16 and 21. One offers social advice,with sex problems and relationships, while the other offers job opportunities. There is a constant stream of visitors to both. Both are financially supported by government, which must now make even more money available to set up such initiatives in all towns where there is a recognisable problem.

There is then the question of otherwise normal kids, many from broken homes, whose parents just wring their hands, saying their child is out of control. Parents cannot abdicate responsibility for the actions of their children. It is they who should be up in front of magistrates for failing in their obligations. It is all very well putting more police on the beat – that will help solve the immediate problem – but it is in the home that the real revolution needs to take place.