Knife Crime - Home Affairs Committee Contents

6  Reducing knife-carrying

124. Young people who carry a knife because they are frightened or because they perceive it to be glamorous require different preventative interventions from those who carry one with intent to use it. In this chapter we consider possible solutions for the former through education about the reality of knife-carrying—particularly to reinforce the message, in the words of Mr Levy, that "to carry a knife is to use a knife[175]—and helping young people to feel safer at school and on the street.

Educating children about the realities of knife-carrying

125. One of the elements of the Government's Tackling Knives Action Programme is a £3 million media campaign called "It Doesn't Have to Happen". Launched in May 2008, it aims to dissuade young people from carrying knives by depicting graphic images of knife wounds and encouraging them to make and share anti-knife pledges. It has included a billboard campaign and radio and viral adverts directing young people to a dedicated page on the social networking website Bebo. The Home Office Minister, Alan Campbell MP, argued that:

    I think the media campaign has been remarkably successful and acknowledged as such … It is one in line with other campaigns that we have run within the Home Office which started by asking young people about the message that would be most effective, and that is not just in terms of content; it is in terms of the medium which is used too … Around three-quarters of respondents who have seen the campaign said that it would make them less likely to carry a knife; four out of five said it made them more aware of the risks.[176]

126. However, some witnesses were sceptical that the media campaign would reach, and influence the kinds of young people who most needed to hear the message. Firstly, an anonymous witness giving evidence with The Prince's Trust told us that "half the kids you want to reach are not going to be watching it on the TV; they are on the road, they are at a bus shelter or whatever."[177] Secondly, the message may be too simplistic for the complex realities of living in an unsafe community:

    Saying No does not address the problem. You have got to see what is the situation that this young person is facing. Unfortunately, everyone's situation is different so it has got to be a little bit more of an holistic approach. Instead of wasting resources just doing another workshop or another poster campaign or £1 million advert campaign.[178]

The joint submission from Race on the Agenda (Building Bridges Project), the Street Weapons Action Team and the Independent Academic Research Studies argued that "advertising campaigns, such as the 'its not a good look' campaign fail to identify with any real activity at street level."[179]

127. The Minister accepted that more needed to be done to reach these young people through family members and local champions.[180] When asked by YouGov, on behalf of 11 MILLION, to whom they would pay the most attention on how to stay safe from gun and knife crime, 74% said they would listen to their parents, 67% said they would listen to the police and 46% would listen to teachers.[181] However, Nicola Marfleet found in Why Carry a Weapon? that parents were struggling to respond properly. Frances Crook discussed the results:

    We found that young people had conversations about carrying knives with their parents but the response from parents was not helpful; it was often threatening and not having a proper conversation and not being supportive and not helping the young people to deal with the issues they face. The research showed that the lack of family life for these young people was very important was an inhibitor to having that difficult conversation about how to protect yourself and how not to be a victim and why not to carry a knife.[182]

A 2004 Lemos&Crane report into knife use by young people, Fear and Fashion, even found some cases of parents giving knives to their children.[183] Mothers Against Murder and Aggression Wales told us that some teenagers, particularly girls, had told them they carry a penknife given to them by their fathers: "parents are just as worried by the press reports and are arming their children in the belief that they will be protected."[184]

128. 11 MILLION emphasised the importance of using "real" people, who young people can relate to, to convey the message. Their research found that:

    What they do not want are celebrities, they do not want David Beckham rolled out as a role model. The most important role models for them are their parents, their teachers and the police but they also want to hear from people who have been through the same experiences, maybe somebody who has taken a wrong path, they have gone into prison where there were drugs, guns, knives or whatever it might be, and they have come out, they have changed their ways, those are the kinds of people who really have an impact in terms of helping young people to understand what the impact will be on them and on their families if they go down that route themselves and to help them see there is an alternative.[185]

The young people who gave evidence to us agreed. An anonymous witness with 11 MILLION suggested that young children are likely to be influenced by the police:

    In primary schools where the children are younger they look up to the police more and they will see them as the good guys and so they will listen to them. I think that is a good way of getting the point across of gun and knife crime.

    However, this may be a less useful approach for older children:

    in terms of getting to the high schools and colleges, maybe, you want to get knife victims or victim's families to come in and talk about it because when you get to high school you start to tend to lose the respect for the police.[186]

Several witnesses advocated using involve former offenders, to talk about the consequences of their actions for themselves and their victims. For example:

    I had the pleasure of seeing an organisation do a presentation last Saturday, a group I am working with, and they are run by former firm members. If you get the right sort of people, if you have got respect, whether it be for positive or negative reasons, talking to them, it might just work … it did seem to get through. It is about education that is relevant to their situation.[187]

129. Schools are a good place to reach young people who lack parental guidance. Following her son's murder, Mrs Oakes-Odger has spoken to many 11 and 12 year olds in schools in her native Essex and around the country. She explained how she engages young people, who have no real understanding of what death means, to really think about the potential consequences of carrying a weapon:

    I speak to them about what happened to Westley. I show them Westley through their growing up years so that they relate to Westley as being someone within their age field and then the understanding comes out of his story, what relevance that is to them going through their school years; I speak to them about their discos, their social events, where an innocent situation can evolve and, if you have a knife, instead of a possible disagreement where bumps and bruises are involved, with a knife in their pocket, potentially, therein is a life-threatening situation which they then relate to only in terms of missing fingers. I find that showing young people pictures of injuries that they can relate to, such as fingers hanging off, has more relevance to them … I relate with them about Westley's story as a mum so that they can think about, "How would I feel if my brother or sister was missing and my mother was hurting at the loss of my brother or sister?"[188]

In addition to explaining the consequences of knife use for victims and their loved ones, Mrs Oakes-Odgers believed that children should be encouraged to consider the personal consequences of a criminal record or school exclusion for their future lives.[189]

130. During our inquiry, we saw several short films that had been made to be shown in schools by organisations including UNCUT and Value Life in London, and Sharpshotz in Bristol. We considered that the graphic reconstruction of a fatal stabbing portrayed in the UNCUT film was particularly powerful. Despite these examples of good practice, weapons-awareness training is patchy across the country. The Violent Crime Action Plan sets out the Government's aim to use the organisation Be Safe to educate 1.1 million young people over five years about the dangers of carrying weapons.[190] Be Safe was set up in 1998 by former police officers who were asked to put together an educational programme about knife crime by Newham Youth Offending Team for young offenders in that area. An evaluation of 1000 young offenders who were habitual knife carriers found that only 7.8% had re-offended and of those only 1.7% re-offended with a knife after completing the programme. Since then Be Safe has trained professionals to deliver their knife prevention workshop to young people in different parts of the country.[191]

131. At our Leeds seminar, we heard from representatives of the Leeds Weapons Awareness Programme, which was adapted from the Be Safe weapons to the Leeds context. The programme is delivered to all high schools across Leeds and is believed to be the largest-scale crime prevention programme delivered in the UK. Since it has been running, agencies have noted an increase in young people reporting other young people for carrying knives.[192]

132. We considered the age at which children should be educated about the dangers of knives. Shaun Bailey, of MyGeneration, argued:

    I do not think it is right to talk about knife crime with primary school age children—I think it is absolute nonsense—you either terrify them or you alert them to something that they are not aware of and they try to become involved in.[193]

As noted in chapter three, we found that 11 appears to be a key risk age for carrying a knife for the first time. Mrs Oakes-Odgers advocated a national weapons awareness education programme for all Year Seven pupils.[194]

133. The Lemos&Crane report quoted a weapons awareness training practitioner who felt that many schools either did not know of, or were in denial about, the extent of the knife problem:

    We have recently rolled out a scheme and only two schools have taken it up as the majority deny that they have a problem.[195]

PC Bowman, from the Leeds Weapons Awareness Programme, noted that they had encountered some initial resistance from head teachers who were worried that if they were seen to be delivering the programme their school would gain a reputation for having a problem with knives, but that these concerns had been overcome over time.[196]

134. We support the aims of the Government's anti-knife media campaign and we believe it has had some impact on making young people think twice before carrying a knife. However, we are concerned that such campaigns may not reach the most at-risk young people and fail to engage with the realities of street violence. Evidence shows that children are most likely to be influenced by "real" stories, particularly the experiences of former offenders and the families of knife victims. We recommend that all Year Seven school children should participate in an assembly or lesson, delivered by trained individuals to whom children can relate, that focuses on the dangers of knife-carrying and the consequences for victims, their families and offenders. We consider that the short film made by the UNCUT Project provides a particularly powerful means of communicating with pupils about the realities of knife violence. In order to engage children effectively, the programme should be adapted to the local context, along the lines of the Leeds Weapons Awareness Programme.

Keeping children safe at school

Knife detectors

135. One of the measures proposed to prevent knife-carrying is installing metal detectors in schools. As of June 2007, teachers have the power to search pupils without consent whom they suspect of carrying weapons, or to call in the police to carry out the search. Phil Hearne installed knife detectors while he was Principle of the London Academy and of Paddington Academy following the fatal stabbings of pupils from these schools (outside school premises in both cases). We asked him if he would support the installation of knife detectors in every school:

    I think the answer is less straightforward than yes or no. The reason we introduced it was because people felt it was necessary to do so on two counts. Without any hierarchy to it, first, they felt safer; second, they wanted to prove to other people that they had nothing to hide. It was their decision to do it. I was quite happy to go along with that decision because in a sense it came from them. I think that it is for schools to make that decision based on what they and the community feel is the need.[197]

136. Young people canvassed by 11 MILLION were divided in their views: some would welcome metal detectors while others considered that they might increase levels of fear.[198] In April 2009, Waltham Forest claimed to be the first local authority to introduce random police screening for weapons in all of its secondary schools, using portable weapon detectors. As of 30 April, 12,000 pupils had been screened and no knives had been found.[199]

137. Mrs Lawrence, a former teacher and widow of murdered headmaster Philip Lawrence, argued that "most stabbings take place outside school and all the knife arches in the world will not stop someone leaving a knife outside."[200] Knife-carrying seems to be a bigger issue outside than within schools—a survey carried out by Dr Carol Hayden of 14-15 year olds in fourteen schools in the south of England found that over the past twelve months 3.4% had carried a knife to school as opposed to 11.1% who had carried a knife outside of school. The same survey found that pupils felt safer in school than elsewhere.[201]

138. The installation of knife detectors can help to reassure pupils and their families that a school is taking firm steps to protect them from potential knife violence. However, they may not be appropriate for every school and also have the potential to make some pupils more fearful. It is also debatable whether they are necessary; a University of Portsmouth study found that pupils feel safer and are less likely to carry knives at school than they are in other environments. We therefore do not recommend compulsory introduction of knife detectors in schools; rather each school community should make the decision for themselves.


139. If a knife is detected, schools have to decide what happens to the carrier. Phil Hearne told us that, under his leadership, if a pupil was found with a knife it resulted in automatic permanent exclusion but this is not necessarily the case in all schools.[202] While he accepted that there is a dilemma, in that excluded children are more likely to go on to offend, he believed the needs and wishes of the majority of pupils and their families must come first. The two pupils we spoke to from Gladesmore Community School disagreed as to the best means of handling the situation. Kane argued "they should be permanently excluded because they could use that knife to take someone's life or use it to hurt someone" but Valerie said "I do not think they should necessarily be permanently excluded because they could have been carrying a knife to show they had trouble. They should be given a second chance."[203]

140. Representatives from schools and youth clubs who spoke to Lemos&Crane emphasised "the need to continue working with young people even after they had been found in possession of a knife, though it may be necessary to work with them in a different way".[204] One of the young people we met argued that expelling a pupil for knife-carrying does not in itself do anything to address their attitude to weapons.[205]

141. Taking a knife onto school premises is a serious transgression and should be dealt with accordingly. In such cases, many would argue that the child should be excluded for the benefit of the wider school community and we do not seek to remove the discretion of school leaders to make such decisions. However, we continue to be concerned about the increased likelihood of excluded children to go on to offend. For this reason, exclusion should automatically constitute the point of serious intervention by the relevant authority to put in place the kind of diversions we explore in our final chapters.

Safer Schools Partnerships

142. Safer Schools Partnerships, whereby a police officer is stationed in a school or linked to a series of schools, were set up in 2002 with the aim of protecting pupils from victimisation as well as reducing crime amongst young people. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Hitchcock told us that 5,300 schools are currently participating in Safer Schools Partnerships: around 3,800 (about 20% of all) primary schools are covered within it and 1,500 (about 45% of all) secondary schools.[206] Mr Hearne spoke in extremely positive terms about the impact of their introduction. In terms of the relationship between schools and the police he said:

    For us the important issue is sharing intelligence. Invariably, schools know things before the police because of the network of communication when youngsters talk to teachers about things. They must be able to communicate that efficiently and effectively to the police. Equally, when the police know something they should be able to communicate that efficiently and effectively to schools.[207]

However, the National Audit Office has noted that, although senior police officers also the value these partnerships, the Home Office has not collected reliable data on the number of partnerships that exist nor has it done any evaluation of which models are the most effective.[208]

143. Detective Chief Superintendent Carnochan, of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, described the benefits of "campus police officers", who are dedicated community officers who work in about 50 high schools in Scotland:

  • Attendance at school has improved;
  • Bullying has reduced;
  • Graffiti has reduced;
  • They provide a means of "dealing with the drama before it becomes a crisis. Because relationships are established, these officers are able to share information about individual boys and girls in the school that otherwise they would not"; and
  • Officers link into the feeder primary schools to ease the transition period to high school.[209]

144. Safer Schools Partnerships, whereby police officers are attached to a school or group of schools, appear to be an effective way of keeping children safer. We heard evidence of how they can help to reduce conflict between pupils and generate intelligence about conflicts that have the potential to spill over outside school. However, we note concerns expressed by the National Audit Office about a lack of evaluation of the different models in existence. We recommend that the Government should carry out such an evaluation with the aim of spreading best practice and ensuring the participation of all schools that would benefit from involvement in such a partnership.

Keeping children safe on the street

Increasing young people's confidence in the police

145. As explained in chapter four, young people do not trust their 'natural protectors' to keep them safe. Increasing their confidence to seek help from the police should lessen their perceived 'need' to carry a weapon. 11 MILLION found that most young people feel very positively towards the police. Their research, published in March 2008, found that 82% of 8-17 year olds said they liked the police a lot or quite liked them, while 18% said they did not really like them or did not like them at all. However, for 16 or 17 year olds the proportion saying they really like them dropped to only 10%. 61% of eight or nine year olds feel very or quite respected by the police but the proportion of 16 and 17 year olds who said that they feel respected halved to 30%. Moreover, 56% said they see police infrequently or never.[210]

146. One of the reasons for this lack if is a perception that the police do not always respond when a crime is reported to them. The Children's Society did a piece of research which found that the most commonly cited reason for not going to the police was 'nothing the police can do/not interested', 'nothing ever happens if you phone the police', 'police don't do anything'. [211] A second factor is a culture in some communities which discourages positive interactions with the police: summed up by a contributor to the Children's Society research in the phrase 'because I am not a grass'.[212] This attitude was clearly demonstrated at our London seminar, where even young people involved in trying to stop their peers from carrying knives said they would not necessarily advise them to go the police. Thirdly, some young people feel they are treated badly by the police when they are innocent of any crime. For example, 11 MILLION reported "unacceptably wide variations in the way stop-and-searches are conducted."[213] A 15 year old witness from Merseyside told us:

    I have only ever been stopped and searched once but when they were committing this stop and search they went into it violently and they talked down to me. It is not like they were checking to see if you had a knife or anything wrong, any drugs or anything, it is like they want you to have something on you because at the end of the day that is how they see it, they get a bonus for every one they take in, don't they?[214]

147. We heard about some positive initiatives to improve relationships, such as role reversals which allow young people to stop and search police officers in order for the former to gain a better understanding of the reasons why police use the tactic and for the latter to appreciate why the process needs to be conducted sensitively. Schemes such as Chance UK, run in the UK for 13 years, see serving police officers acting as mentors to troubled children to prevent them from growing up to see the police as the "enemy".[215]

148. Outside the school environment, young people should feel they can rely on the police to keep them safe. However a minority of young people view the police as an enemy, rather than an ally, and this minority increases as children progress through their teens. Some of these young people share the fears of some adults that the police will not respond when needed and in this respect our previous recommendations on improving public confidence in the police are pertinent.[216] However for some of these young people this attitude stems from a negative personal experience, particularly of stop and search. We cannot emphasise enough how crucial it is for stop and search to be carried out in an appropriate and sensitive manner. We also urge support for schemes that break down the barriers between police officer and young people, such as Safer Schools Partnerships and those that see police officers acting as mentors to young people.

Support for victims

149. The Policy Exchange noted recently that victims of violent crime are up to 70% more likely to become violent assailants themselves, but there is no national programme in place to offer trauma support and follow-up counselling to victims who receive hospital treatment.[217] In 2004 a youth offending team practitioner told researchers Lemos&Crane that "we admit to struggling to engage with victims."[218] Victim Support provide vital services but are under-resourced. Better counselling and support for knife victims could help them to deal with their fear in order to reduce the likelihood they will resort to carrying a weapon themselves.

150. Given the correlation between being a victim of violence and carrying a weapon, providing support for assault victims is key. We hope that measures to improve the relationship between young people and the police will encourage higher levels of crime reporting and that when these young people do come forward, they are given the counselling that they need.

175   Q 231 Back

176   Q 538 Back

177   Q 279 Back

178   Q 279 Back

179   Ev 110 Back

180   Q 538 Back

181   11 MILLION/YouGov, Solutions to gun and knife crime, March 2009, Summary p 5 Back

182   Q 295 Back

183   Lemos&Crane, Fear and Fashion: The use of knives and other weapons by young people, 2004, p 11 Back

184   Ev 184 Back

185   Q 377 Back

186   Q 349 Back

187   Q 280 Back

188   Qq 218-9 Back

189   Q 220 Back

190   Home Office, Saving lives. Reducing harm. Protecting the public: An action plan for tackling violence, 2008-2011, February 2008, p 26 Back

191   Be Safe website, Back

192   Annex B [Leeds seminar notes] Back

193   Q 313 Back

194   Q 226 Back

195   Lemos&Crane, Fear and Fashion: The use of knives and other weapons by young people, 2004, p 5 Back

196   Annex B [Leeds seminar notes] Back

197   Q 430 Back

198   Ev 149 Back

199   "Schools install metal detector to screen for pupils' knives", The Independent, 30 April 2009 Back

200   Q 462 Back

201   Dr Carol Hayden, 'Staying Safe and Out of Trouble': A survey of young people's perceptions and experiences (University of Portsmouth, 2008) Back

202   Q 437 Back

203   Q 463 Back

204   Lemos&Crane, Fear and Fashion: The use of knives and other weapons by young people, 2004, p 17 Back

205   Annex C [UNCUT meeting notes] Back

206   Q 124 Back

207   Qq 431-2  Back

208   National Audit Office, The Home Office: Reducing the risk of violent crime, February 2008, p 7 Back

209   Q 204 Back

210   11 MILLION/YouGov, Solutions to gun and knife crime, March 2009, Summary p 5 Back

211   Ev 125 Back

212   Ibid Back

213   Ev 148 Back

214   Q 350 Back

215   "Partners in crime … prevention", The Independent, 12 February 2009, p 18 Back

216   Home Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2007-08, Policing in the 21st Century, HC 364, paras 46, 56-9 Back

217   Dr Bob Golding and Jonathan McClory, Getting to the Point: Reducing gun and knife crime in Britain: lessons from abroad (London: Policy Exchange, 2008), p 6 Back

218   Lemos&Crane, Fear and Fashion: The use of knives and other weapons by young people, 2004, p 21 Back

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