Knife Crime - Home Affairs Committee Contents

3  Victims and offenders

The relationship between victim and offender

36. Most media coverage of knife crime focuses on stabbings that are gang-related or random stranger violence. In 2007/08, domestic knife violence constituted around 6% of all British Crime Survey violence, stranger knife violence constituted 4% and acquaintance knife violence 6%.[38] In terms of victims of serious knife injuries that present to hospital, Professor Brohi told us that "a very small proportion" of those seen at the Royal London Hospital are "innocent people walking down the street who are jumped on or stabbed" and only "a very small incidents of domestic violence crime lead to knife crime": they mainly related to "gang culture".[39]

37. Dr Golding argued that one reason for an increased focus on knife crime was a recent change in the nature of the problem: "the context is gangs and the prevalence of youth in a way that was never the case before."[40] Professor Brohi agreed, noting that trends in terms of stabbings resulting from "brawls in the street" have been constant since records began but:

    The change that we see is really in the teenage group and the rise of a new demographic of teenager being stabbed. That is a very different category of person with a very different background and reason for carrying the weapon. They tend not to be alcohol-related and have more to do with school gangs or local gangs. When we talk about gangs it is important to separate out the organised gangs which tend to be people in their mid-20s and late 20s, often of ethnic or organised crime origin, with teenage school gangs which are more dependent on the area.[41]

38. The link between knives and street gangs varies by location, for example, in London and Glasgow there appears to be a strong link whereas in Birmingham and Manchester gangs are more associated with gun violence.[42] A complicating factor is that there is no clear definition of what comprises a gang. An anonymous witness from Merseyside told us:

    When you say gangs, there are not just gangs that are violent, there are gangs of, like, friends, people who are just out for a laugh and out with their mates who are not doing anything wrong. You have to be careful when you say gangs because people might take it the wrong way.[43]

Most offending by young people is group-related in some way; whether these groups can always be termed "gangs" is another matter. [44] The Youth Justice Board also told us while "street-based groups of young people who are involved in offending may often be armed", weapon-carrying "is by no means limited to groups."[45]

39. While there are clearly examples of serious street-gang-related violence in large cities, MyGeneration founder Shaun Bailey has argued that society should keep a perspective about gang culture and not afford members a special status they do not deserve. He believes that fears about so-called colour coding have been blown out of proportion: 'It does exist, but the wearing of a certain colour in a certain area is very unlikely to put you at risk … The gangs know who they are fighting with and who they are looking for … [Parents] should not be worrying that if their kid is from E12 and he goes into E1 he's finished. It isn't like that. There has been a certain amount of Hollywoodisation about gangs by the media."[46] This point was reiterated by one of the witnesses to our inquiry, Kirk Dawes of the West Midlands Mediation and Transformation Services:

    The vast majority of young men who get involved in gangs do not even know that is the way they are going until one day they wake up and realise they are part of a group of people who are behaving in a criminal way … We have given them the title "gangs". In 2003 in Birmingham there were 27 gang-related murders, but I tell you now that the Johnson Crew and the Burger Bar Boys did not call themselves gangs; they did not realise it. These were friendships born out of school and childhood. Following some New Year shootings the media said that there were two gangs in Birmingham: the Burger Bar Boys and the Johnson Crew and over night we had two definitive gangs. They then began to believe in their own celebrity status and behaved in that way.[47]

40. A significant proportion of stabbings relate to brawling or domestic violence, but the rise in violent knife offences seen over the past few years is associated with street violence between groups of young people who share a territorial identity, often referred to as 'gangs'. While young people often offend in groups, there may be a tendency to overstate the phenomenon of streets gangs and a danger that categorising groups of young people in that way may glamorise street violence. Random stabbings of innocent bystanders remain extremely rare.


41. Not surprisingly, London has the greatest volume of 'most serious' knife crime (34% of the national total), although the rate of offending per head for London is similar to Greater Manchester and the West Midlands (9.7 per 10,000 population compared to 8.8 and 8.3 respectively). London also has a higher than average proportion of knife-enabled murders (50% in London against a national average of 3%).[48] The Youth Justice Board explained some of the reasons why:

Evidence from youth justice practitioners supports the widely held belief that knife crime is a far bigger problem in London than in other major cities. There are many reasons for this trend, not least of which are the size of the capital and the proportionally higher number of gangs or other groups. There is evidence to show that other factors contribute to the problem, including the large number of transport links into and around London and the sheer number of postcode areas which young people often associate themselves with. Both of these factors serve to create natural geographical boundaries and generate a greater sense of territorialism, which can result in young people arming themselves with knives when leaving their local area.[49]

The BBC's Mark Easton noted that of the 179 under-16s admitted to hospital with knife injuries in 2006/07, 40% were in London, whereas not one child in central and south-east England outside London was admitted.[50]

42. The 2008 MORI Youth Survey threw up some interesting results, finding that the highest incidence of weapon-carrying was in Wales and the North-East of England, at 35%.[51] This may be explained by the fact that the survey included legitimate reasons for possession. However, other evidence appeared to indicate that, although knife crime is predominantly an issue for large conurbations, it is also rising in other areas. For example, Policy Exchange found from research with youth offending teams (YOTs):

    As expected, urban YOTs reported more increases in knife crime than rural ones, but the difference was not pronounced: 67% of urban and 55% of rural YOTs reported an increase in knife crime incidents among young offenders. This suggests that the phenomenon is spreading from urban centres to less densely populated areas.[52]

Dr Lecky presented hospital data showing there has been a rise of knife injuries in rural areas since the mid-nineties, albeit less steep than in urban areas:

Figure 5: Knife injuries as proportion of all serious injuries 1994-2008: Urban/rural divide[53]

43. Researchers at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies have argued that "people living in poor neighbourhoods also stand a far greater chance of finding themselves at the wrong end of a knife", noting that, in addition to suffering a higher rate of violent victimisation in general, about 60% of murder victims in the poorest fifth of areas in Britain die from being cut with a knife or broken bottle or glass as opposed to 30% in the wealthiest areas.[54] The nature of knife crime can also vary across the country. The Youth Justice Board argued:

    It is worth noting that the experience of, and reasons for, knife crime amongst young people can be relatively varied between different cities and regions, and therefore assessments of the causes of knife crime need to take into account the local nature of the issue.[55]

An example of this is the extent to which knife crime is associated with street violence.


44. Patterns of knife offending and victimisation tend to reflect the ethnic composition of the local population rather than being linked to any particular culture(s). For example, Professor Brohi told us in relation to the Royal London Hospital, which is in East London, that:

    We do not have solid figures but our local area is such that the majority of the youth-related stab victims are Asian or black. [56]

Whereas we heard our at Leeds seminar that knife offenders in Manchester, for example, would be more likely to be white. This was supported by evidence from Assistant Chief Constable Crowther of the British Transport Police, in relation to knife-enabled robbery and assault.[57]

45. In terms of knife-carrying, the 2008 MORI Youth Survey found "no significant difference in terms of carrying a 'knife or 'gun' across ethnicity overall".[58] 11 MILLION found that young people from a black and minority ethnic background were more likely than their white counterparts to say that knife crime was a problem in their area, but the majority of current or former knife carriers were white.[59]

46. We asked specific questions about the relationship between knife-carrying and immigration, in light of evidence to our inquiry into Policing in the 21st Century which indicated there could be higher levels of carrying amongst immigrants from Eastern Europe.[60] Dr Brohi noted that the Royal London Hospital does see evidence of knife use by organised criminal gangs originating from the Baltic states and Turkey, but "the rising demographic of youth crime tends to be related to the local population who are not really immigrants; they are British Asian, British black or in Manchester British white people."[61]

47. Violent knife crime is concentrated in the deprived areas of large cities. The nature of knife crime may vary between cities and is not always linked to street violence. While hospital data show a rise in the number of knife injuries sustained in rural areas since the mid-1990s, the trend does not mirror the rapid rise seen in urban areas since 2006 and incidence remains considerably lower than in urban areas. While some immigrants from countries where knife-carrying is socially acceptable may be more predisposed to carry knives, knife use is not linked to ethnicity but rather reflects the local demography.


48. The largest proportion of offenders and victims affected by knife crime are those in their late teens and twenties. For example, the largest category of both offenders and victims in crimes recorded by the Metropolitan police is 18-29. This conforms with data for overall violent offences which show that more than 85% of violent offenders are between the ages of 16 and 29 and the risk of being a victim of violent crime is almost four times greater for young men aged 16-24. According to data supplied by the Trauma Audit Research Network, the median age of hospitalised victims is 27.8.[62]

49. However, a clear theme that emerged from our evidence was that knife-carrying and use is increasingly affecting children and younger teenagers. For example, between 2003 and 2007 hospital admissions for knife wounds increased by 62.7% for children under 16, from 110 to 179 (although more recently admissions of teenagers have fallen).[63] Dr Iain Brennan told us at our Bristol seminar that the median age of British Crime Survey victims has declined since 2004/05.[64] According to Dr Golding, "one of the issues reported to us is the increasing youth of some of the people who engage in this type of criminality."[65] Citing their then-most recent data, between April and August 2008, the Metropolitan Police told us that 24% of knife victims, 31% of knife-enabled offenders and 27% of knife possessors were under 18.[66] This trend was corroborated anecdotally, for example according to one anonymous witness giving evidence with The Prince's Trust:

    People get involved in it earlier. I do not know exactly the statistics or numbers overall, but I think that is what is quite worrying for me.[67]

50. We tried to establish the age at which young people were most likely to carry a knife. 11 MILLION's research (with 8-17 year olds) found that the majority of current or former knife carriers were aged between 15 and 17.[68] The 2008 MORI Youth Survey (of 11-16 year olds) reported that 15-16 year olds were more likely to report having carried some kind of weapon than their younger counterparts, although the difference was not dramatic at 34% versus 30%.[69] The most common age at which the excluded pupils and young offenders interviewed for Why Carry a Weapon?, a piece of research carried out by Nicola Marfleet and published by the Howard League for Penal Reform, had carried a knife for the first time was 11.[70] We also heard instances of some really young children carrying knives:

    You do get children from the ages of around seven, eight and nine carrying weapons such as knives … You can find people from the age of about seven onwards carrying knives and in not only our estate but around Bootle and other areas. It is horrible.[71]


51. Knife-enabled offences are predominantly perpetuated by males on other males. For the most serious cases that end up in hospital, Professor Brohi told us: "Ninety-five per cent of our knife patients are male. The only female patients are those who suffer from domestic violence. Therefore, this is really a male problem."[72] Data from other hospitals corroborates this evidence:

Figure 6: Penetrating Injury Audit: Stabbings by gender, July-December 2008 (Greater Manchester)[73]
GenderFrequency Percentage
Male154 89.5
Female18 10.5
Total172 100

This mirrors overall violence trends: more than 85% of violent offenders are male.[74]

52. The 2008 MORI Youth Survey found that boys are predominantly more likely to admit to carrying a knife or gun than girls: 45% of boys compared with 16% of girls. The OCJS 2005 study had similar findings: 5% of boys versus 2% of girls. One anonymous witness told us that in his area of Merseyside girls do carry knives, though maybe for different reasons:

    There is a ratio of about 30% of girls that carry around knives and 70% of boys carry around knives because girls have got more reason. Girls have reasons for carrying knives such as rape, assault and other reasons such as that.[75]

53. Males in their late teens and early twenties constitute the majority of perpetrators and victims of violent knife crime, which is consistent with other types of violent offending. However, the number of under-18s affected has risen. The age at which young people carry knives is also worrying: the incidence of carrying is highest amongst older teenagers, but we heard instances of carrying by children as young as seven. 11 seemed to be a key risk age for first carrying a knife, presumably linked to the transition from primary to secondary school. Boys are far more likely to carry a knife than girls.

Types of knives

54. The 2008 MORI Youth Survey found that the two most common weapons carried were a penknife (17%) and a BB gun (15%). The 2005 and 2006 Offending, Crime and Justice Surveys also found that penknives were carried more commonly than other knives:

Figure 7: Type of knife carried by 10-25 year olds in the last 12 months among those carrying knives, 2005 OCJS[76]

However, carrying a penknife is usually legal and cannot automatically be linked to sinister intent. 6% of knife-carriers reported carrying a flick knife and 4% a kitchen knife.[77] Speaking in reference to the police stop and search operation, Blunt, Dr Golding told us that kitchen knives only constitute "about 10%" of the knives that are used and found, whereas a significant proportion are flick knives and penknives. He noted that about 20% are described as "other", meaning other illegal weapons, sharp instruments, gravity knives and so forth.[78]

55. In terms of use to cause injuries, Dr Lecky presented Trauma Audit Research Network data indicating that kitchen knives were used most often:

Figure 8: Penetrating Injury Audit: Stabbing assault weapons used July-December 2008[79]
WeaponTotal Percentage
Kitchen knife59 34
Unidentified knives 3721.5
Other11 6.5
Flick knife5 3
Glass11 6.5
Penknife2 1.2
Unidentified weapon 4727.3
172 100

56. Hospital data analysed by the Trauma Audit Research Network indicates that the type of knife used to injure most frequently is the kitchen knife, probably because of its easy availability. However, young people tend to admit to carrying penknives, flick knives and other kinds of knives, which are also more commonly found by the police during stop and search operations. This may suggest that the knives used to cause serious injury may differ from those that are routinely carried. The MORI Youth Survey found that penknives were the most common weapon carried by young people, but to some extent this will be for legitimate purposes: only 1.2% of stab wounds recorded by TARN hospitals during the second half of 2008 were caused by penknives.

38   Knife crime statistics, Standard Note SN/SG/4304, House of Commons Library, March 2009, Table 3 Back

39   Qq 55, 58 Back

40   Q 9 Back

41   Q 53 Back

42   Q 414, Annex B [Leeds seminar notes] Back

43   Q 342 Back

44   Youth Justice Board, Groups, Gangs and Weapons, 2007, Summary, p 3 Back

45   Ev 121 Back

46   "Colour", The Times, 11 July 2008, T2, p 4 Back

47   Qq 406, 410 Back

48   Ev 134 [Mayor of London] Back

49   Ev 121 Back

50   "Knives, guns and teens", Mark Easton's UK blog,, 4 July 2008 Back

51   Youth Justice Board, MORI Youth Survey 2008: Young people in mainstream education, February 2009, p 48 Back

52   Policy Exchange, Going Ballistic: Dealing with Guns, Gangs and Knives (London: 2008), pp 43-4 Back

53   Ev 193 [Trauma Audit Research Network] Back

54   Chris Eades, Roger Grimshaw, Arianna Silvestri, Enver Solomon, Knife crime: a review of evidence and policy, 2nd edition (London: Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, 2007), p 24 Back

55   Ev 121 Back

56   Q 65 Back

57   Qq 142-3 Back

58   Youth Justice Board, MORI Youth Survey 2008: Young people in mainstream education, February 2009, p 47 Back

59   11 MILLION/YouGov, Solutions to gun and knife crime, March 2009, Summary p 2 Back

60   Home Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2007-08, Policing in the 21st Century, HC 364, para 81 Back

61   Q 66 Back

62   Ev 130 [Metropolitan Police]; National Audit Office, The Home Office: Reducing the risk of violent crime, February 2008, p 12; KC 26 [Trauma and Audit Research Network] Back

63   Knife crime statistics, Standard Note SN/SG/4304, House of Commons Library, March 2009, p 13; NHS figures, cited in "Knife hospital admissions down 8%", BBC News Online, 12 March 2009,  Back

64   Annex D  Back

65   Q 4 Back

66   Ev 130 Back

67   Q 269 Back

68   11 MILLION/YouGov, Solutions to gun and knife crime, March 2009, Summary p 2 Back

69   Youth Justice Board, MORI Youth Survey 2008: Young people in mainstream education, February 2009, p 47 Back

70   Nicola Marfleet, Why Carry a Weapon? A Study of Knife Crime Amongst 15-17-Year-Old Males in London (London: Howard League for Penal Reform, 2008), p 59 Back

71   Q 338 Back

72   Q 64 Back

73   Ev 194 Back

74   National Audit Office, The Home Office: Reducing the risk of violent crime, February 2008, p 12 Back

75   Q 343 Back

76   Home Office, Young People and Crime: Findings from the 2005 Offending, Crime and Justice Survey, December 2006, Figure 2.6 Back

77   Youth Justice Board, MORI Youth Survey 2008: Young people in mainstream education, February 2009, p 46 Back

78   Q 11-12 Back

79   Ev 194 Back

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