1 Introduction |
Background to our inquiry
1. Growing public concern about a seemingly new trend
in violent knife offending came to a head with a series of high-profile
fatal stabbings in May 2008. 'Knife crime' dominated the headlines
throughout the summer. At the same time, official crime statistics
continued to show a sharp decline in violent crime. To try to
establish the extent of the issue, we decided to expand our wide-ranging
inquiry into Policing in the 21st Century to
take evidence on knife crime from the Channel 4 Street Weapons
Commission, police officers and politicians. In our subsequent
Report we concluded that the evidence we had heard "convinced
us of the value of undertaking an inquiry devoted to that subject
[knife crime], which will commence in the autumn."
2. In July 2008, we therefore published our intention
to "investigate levels and causes of knife crime, profiles
and attitudes of offenders and assess effective solutions"
and to examine in particular the following issues:
- Availability and reliability
of data, knife-carrying offences and hotspots
- Offender profiles, and public
perceptions of levels of knife crime
- Causes: reasons for knife-carrying and use
- Causes: availability of knives
- Current legislation
- Solutions: education, parents and community projects
- Solutions: police operations, amnesties and enforcement
- Solutions: convictions, penalties and sentencing
3. In the course of our inquiry we took oral evidence
from 35 witnesses between November 2008 and March 2009 and received
25 written submissions. A list of those who gave evidence is annexed.
We held seminars in South London, Leeds and Bristol with local
police officers, medics, youth workers, academics and young people,
to establish how different parts of the country are affected by
knife crime. We also visited Aylesbury Young Offenders Institution,
met with London school children involved with the organisation
UNCUT and were briefed by staff from the National Audit Office.
Defining knife crime
4. There is no Home Office definition of 'knife crime'.
The phrase was adopted by the media and is now popularly used
to refer primarily to stabbings but also to the illegal carrying
of knives by young people in a public place or on school premises.
However, 'knife-enabled crime' includes a variety of other offences
involving a bladed weapon, for example it is an offence to cause
or threaten harm with a knife and if used in a robbery or assault,
it aggravates the offence. It is also illegal to look after, hide
or transport a dangerous weapon on behalf of someone else, market
a knife in a way which is likely to encourage violent behaviour,
and sell a knife to a person under 18.
5. As we discuss in chapters one and two, it became
apparent during our inquiry that knives are used in a variety
of situations, for a range of motivations and affect different
kinds of people, making a coherent analysis of weapon use impossible.
The concerns which prompted our inquiry related mainly to knife
offending amongst young people, therefore consideration of causes
and solutions in the later chapters of our Report focus in the
main on knife-carrying and violent offending by children and teenagers.
1 Home Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session
2007-08, Policing in the 21st Century, HC 364,
para 163 Back
Ev 126 [Liberty] Back