Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Ann K Oakes-Odger

  My son, Westley Odger, was murdered in an unprovoked fatal knife attack at 3 pm on 12 September 2005. It took place in front of people of all ages including young children. Despite every effort to save Westley, many of those people present witnessed him bleed to death from "the neck wound that had severed his carotid artery"—those people were left traumatized. Many, including the children, suffered subsequent nightmares and required counselling.

  It became evident both from the trial of Westley's killers and in other cases, of victims families' stories who have contacted me, that the perpetrators of knife crimes are generally treated in law with less severity to that of gun crimes. Even where perpetrator(s) have committed repeated prior "knife related offences"—they have not been given custodial sentences. In April 2005 both of the killers responsible for Westley's death had made threats to kill to a Police Officer when apprehended. They were on their way to attack a bouncer in Colchester town. He had called the police after being told they were coming back to kill him .When stopped in their car they were found to be carrying a samurai sword—making "threats to kill" to the arresting officer.

  These brief details of my personal story... one clear example (of which there are countless others) that knife crime is treated with less severity! Had the same set of circumstances been applied to person(s) carrying a gun, making threats to kill, especially to a Police Officer—with previous "violent behaviour"—need I say more? Certainly, I feel sure that the incident in April 2005—had it been a gun at issue, it would have resulted in a custodial sentence... and my son would still be alive today!

  "Society seems to be suffering from a `nonsense reality'... If you get shot you'll die... but, if you get stabbed you won't... both methods very effectively take life... both methods enter the body by penetration".

  At the end of the trial of Westley's killers on 4 August 2006 a petition was launched to highlight the knife problem, as well a highlighting the insufficient sentencing of those guilty of murder and/or manslaughter... many members of the public, well as other victims' families feel the same!

  In England and Wales over the past nine years a total of 2,026 people have been stabbed to death, as opposed to those killed by a shooting, which totals 601. These deaths should not have happened by either means.

  "Having researched the figures of `Knife Murders v Gun Murders'... alarmed to find that `Fatal Stabbings outweighed Fatal Gun Deaths' in the UK by three to one... whilst many `knife attacks' are often not reported".

  I can illustrate many cases dating back to 1995, for example the Head Teacher, Philip Lawrence who was stabbed and killed at his school gates, in support of the fact that knife crimes are a serious and growing problem. It is also clear that on a number of occasions the issue of knife crimes and fatal stabbings has been raised in the House of Commons and recorded in Hansard!


  One example is that of the House of Commons Hansard written answers for 3 November 2004 (pt 14) wherein, under the heading of "Knife Crimes" a number of issues were raised such as the question of what were the recorded figures for fatal stabbings since 1997. Other points included Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which prohibits the possession of an article with blade or point in a public place without good reason or lawful authority, with the exception of a folding pocket knife with a blade not exceeding three inches. Yet this is still on the Statute, and Section 139 still applies.


  It is requested that any provisions and/or amendments to this Act provides that the penalties imposed in law for "Knife Crimes" are treated in exactly the same way as the penalties imposed for Gun Crimes.


  Even in Colchester, Britain's oldest recorded town, despite its wealth, private schools, University of Essex and 2.4 semi-detached suburban success, young people and children are using guns as well as knives to make a "statement" for "so-called" defence reasons. Colchester has reported knife incidents running at one per week, and far too many knife murders have happened since that of Westley Odger in September 2005. This must change: for the future of our young and old alike, we cannot and will not live in fear! Despite Essex being considered a very safe county—we must still be vigilant to the under-current and look beyond the surface!

  "Death is a one-way ticket and the Grim Reaper doesn't care about colour, race or creed. Whether you're upper-class, middle-class, disabled or able bodied... young or old, male or female... "Death holds no Prejudice!" The pain this kind of violent death delivers is the same too... terrible, whoever you are!"

  School bullying or the perception of fear, the threat of mobile phones being taken or money, are reasons given for carrying weapons. Also peer pressure, to feel macho or tough or gain "respect".

  Getting involved in gangs brings with it many other damaging issues... substance abuse, legal and illegal drugs sold on the street. Possible involvement in the sex trade to feed a "habit"... street robberies/muggings and burglaries. It has been disclosed by Scotland Yard that they are aware of 169 gangs in London, each have around 20-30 members.


  Street gang graffiti is one of the most common ways for gangs to communicate their existence and their message. Organised graffiti is one of the first signs that street gangs are taking hold in your neighbourhood. It is also an excellent way, with reliable sources of "intelligence" to track gang growth. It is evident in Colchester and has been for some time. It is evident not only in London, but in towns and major cities around the UK, as well as the Home Counties that gangs and organised crime exists. These issues are not far-fetched, "organised crime" is evident all over the United Kingdom... in fact, its tentacles spread county to county, even country to country.


  We must not allow falsehoods to continue through clouded views:

  "If you get shot you'll die... if you get stabbed you won't... both methods very effectively take life... both methods enter the body by penetration! If you need to look at the difference it's simply this... one form is delivered from more or less any distance "a propelled bullet"—whilst the other is delivered up close and personal, hand propelled—the blade!"

  After the trial of Westley's killers, I was driven to make a difference, to ensure that another family might be spared the pain of losing a loved-one needlessly. I believe that a National Weapons Awareness programme should be delivered in schools, clubs, Young Offenders... in this respect I am working in these areas delivering the "BE SAFE PROJECT" strategy. Having spent a number of years in the field of drug and addictions counseling, I have included these issues, along with the implications of getting involved in both drugs and gangs.

  "Where Gangs are prevalent they run the neighbourhood and challenge you to join!" will continue to resource comprehensive information to work with all UK Police Forces, Community Agencies, Schools, Clubs, Young Offenders and the like... in a continued effort to reduce violent crime and help make all communities nationwide safer.


  In an ideal world we should be able to boast to the member countries who will take part in the 2012 Olympics that Britain is one of the safest places in the world. Not only to visit for the Olympic event, but for a holiday to see the fine examples of historical architecture... to come back again and again to discover the whole country. Its beauty, its peoples, its amazing diversity of landscapes and customs as well as its contribution to worldwide technological advancement. We are a civilised society... aren't we?

  As anyone can see, we now have only a short time to clean-up our act: five years! This time must be spent wisely, in a "clean-up" on a nationwide basis. Let's be clear, this problematic cocktail of violent use of weapons, whether it be knives or guns, has to be eradicated before 2012—not just because of the Olympics, but because it's right.


  There must be a review of how a person found carrying a knife or gun is dealt with and/or charged (Magistrates—six months maximum sentence imposed for an offence?) At what point and under what circumstances would the matter be referred to Crown... so serious basis? Any penalties put in place to deal with knife crimes as well as gun crimes must be capable of being implemented.


  Nationwide education in Weapons Awareness, information to young people to challenge their existing views on guns, knives, gangs as well as drugs. All the criminal implications that could effect their decisions and choices in later life. If you become a person with a criminal record those choices are limited—job prospects in Britain or abroad will NOT be open to you in the same way. Travel abroad may not be possible, even for a holiday. If informed young people make an informed decision to cross the line in the sand, which is the law, then the penalties must be clear and tough.

    —  Positive Role Models are needed, that Young People respect and aspire to!

    —  Zero Tolerance and Assertive Policing—where the line in the sand is crossed!

    —  Certainty of Punishment—a clear and tough message of deterrent!

22 February 2007

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