Annex A: London seminar notes|
We held a seminar in the King George Conference Centre,
Stockwell on 17 November 2008 to launch our inquiry and discuss
knife crime in London. We heard five presentations and held an
open discussion with around 50 representatives from London and
national bodies based in London. A summary of proceedings is set
Simon Hughes, MP for North Southwark and Bermondsey
Simon Hughes MP introduced our seminar. He said that
most young people are well-behaved and should be seen as a promise,
not a threat.
In the past, the British Crime Survey has excluded
under-16s, which has skewed official knife crime statistics. Crime
has reduced in Southwark at an even greater rate than the London
average, but violence is starting at a younger age and getting
He quoted Patrick Regan, of youth charity XLP, who
says that young people originally carried knives because it was
"cool", then because they made them feel safe, whereas
now they do so because they are afraid.
The response to knife crime in South London is called
ENOUGH, which builds on the good work already being done in schools,
youth groups and faith groups rather than introducing lots of
new initiatives. There is a focus on "speaking and listening"
with parents, as many do not communicate properly with their families.
There is also good work being done on anger management. Peer mediation
in schools can work very well, such as that carried out by the
Southwark Mediation Service. Activity fillers, such as after-school
clubs, also work well.
Simon Hughes MP said that the law has to be enforced
but he does not believe that maximum sentencing will solve the
problem of knife-carrying by young people. It is often difficult
for a sibling or friend to resist when asked to carry a knife
on someone else's behalf.
The Liberal Democrats advocate putting more people
on the street to deal with knife crime, such as Safer Neighbourhood
officers and more youth workers.
Commander Mark Simmons, Metropolitan Police
Commander Simmons spoke on behalf of the Metropolitan
Police. He said that knife crime is one of the most important
issues affecting young people in London. While statistics only
present part of the picture, they do show some positive trends.
Violence against the person is falling, and at a
higher rate amongst young people than amongst adults. There has
been an 8% reduction in young people carrying out serious crimes
and a 7% reduction in young people carrying out all types of crime.
There has been an 18% reduction in young victims of knife crime;
robberies with knives are down 14%. Broadly, half of knife offences
However, the murder rate is very serious. About a
third of victims are under 20. This year the Met has taken action
against 3300 individuals for knife offences; approximately 40%
of these were young people.
The police cannot solve the problem on their own.
Since Operation Blunt started, there have been 150,000 searches
resulting in 5000 arrests and 2000 knives recovered. They have
increased the use of Section 60 searches. Their strategy targets:
"Dangerous places" - the use of stop and
search is guided by day-to-day intelligence, for example significant
incidents that might lead to reprisals. There is widespread use
of screening arches, to which there has been a strongly positive
public response. Police have also recovered 300 weapons through
neighbourhood weapon sweeps on the basis of local knowledge.
"Dangerous times" - the peak time for knife
incidents is 3-6pm; this is linked to young people travelling
home from school or college. Educational establishments are key
to addressing the challenge. Putting officers in schools can help
the police to gain intelligence about potential violence.
"Dangerous people" - 420 people have been
identified as the most serious gang members in South London. 150
of these are currently in custody. Some people carry knives to
help them to feel safer, others for criminal purposes, others
for "respect" or status.
The Met have carried out 600 test purchases and found
over 110 illegal sales of knives.
If someone is caught in possession of a knife, police
policy is to put them before the court; what happens next is a
matter for the court.
Community engagement is very important for stop and
search. There is a strong mandate from communities across London,
with a caveat around the way in which they are carried out.
Question and Answer
The Chairman asked why younger children are carrying
knives and what the solution is. Simon Hughes MP replied that
at primary school level, the solution lies in promoting communication
within families, and at secondary school level, in peer group
The Chairman asked if there should there be weapon
checks at large entertainment events. Commander Simmons replied
that the police work closely with local authorities and venues
to ensure they are well managed.
Martin Salter MP asked about the impact of stop and
search on relations between the police and the community and how
the police balance dealing with those carrying knives for legitimate
purposes and those carrying for non-legitimate purposes. Commander
Simmons replied that stop and search is an intrusive power and
therefore officers have to take care in how they use it. Monitoring
of complaints data is very important. The law regarding the carrying
of offensive weapons and possession of bladed articles is very
clear. Officers assess the nature and size of the weapon and whether
there is a reasonable purposes for carrying it.
David Davies MP asked whether the crime trend data
provided by Commander Simmons were based on recorded crime or
British Crime Survey statistics. Commander Simmons replied that
they were based on both, acknowledging there is currently a gap
as young people have not been represented in the British Crime
David Davies MP agreed with Simon Hughes MP that
mandatory minimum sentences are not the solution. He asked Mr
Hughes whether he agreed that there should be a change in PACE
to allow police officers who have stopped someone for a non-arrestable
offence to be able to search for weapons upon discovery of a recent
conviction for weapon possession. Simon Hughes MP replied that
he would be sympathetic to a change in PACE to this effect and
had spoken to the Borough Commander in Southwark about this. Simon
Hughes MP believed there is a good case for saying that officers
should not have to complete the same amount of paperwork if dealing
with a known person.
Tom Brake MP noted that young people often urge their
parents not to intervene when they have problems with other young
people at school; and asked how this barrier could be overcome.
Commander Simmons replied that it is important that young people
have access to the right support, such as Safer Schools police
officers working in conjunction with youth workers.
Carlene Firmin (Race on the Agenda) considered that
it was necessary to include the use of rape when considering the
kinds of weapons used by gangs.
Dr Marian FitzGerald noted her concerns about the
use of section 60 searches (which are only legally allowed to
be carried out for a 24 hour period, which can be extended in
emergencies), 90% of which produce no results and which predominantly
target young black men.
Peter and Milton, Young Ambassadors, The Prince's
Peter said that young people carry knives because
of fear - if they are going to an unfamiliar area, they might
bump into hostile people; if they are carrying a knife they will
feel better equipped. A lot of young people feel the whole world
is against them, so they can only rely on themselves for protection.
Milton said that young people do whatever it is they
have to do to feel safe and tend to use kitchen knives, often
taken from someone else.
Peter said that it is important to persuade all young
people that other young people are just like them. This process
should start in schools. He also favoured mentoring.
When asked whether he would encourage a young person
with a knife to go to the police, Milton replied that he would
not as this is "snitching" and a young person would
prefer to talk to someone who will understand their situation.
When asked about the underlying causes of youth violence,
Peter said that pride has a lot to do with it. Even too much eye
contact can result in violence. Milton said that it is part of
growing up, trying to prove yourself. Peter said that young people
are wild and see themselves as caged - if you cage a wild animal
and open the cage, anything can happen.
Hannah Adu-Gyamfi (a youth worker from Haringey)
told us that when she asked the young people she works with why
they use knives, they answer that they want to "make a mark"
on someone. She has found that some fatal stabbings were a "scratching"
gone wrong. Almost every one of the young people she works with
know someone with some kind of "scratch". There is a
lot going on behind the scenes that we do not know about.
Young people would rather be stopped and searched
than murdered. Three 16-year-olds she has spoken to have said
that the more that stop and search goes on, the more the fear
of being found out increases.
David Gustave (Kid's Company) said that the focus
should not be on the weapon in the hand, but the mind behind the
weapon. 83% of the young people they work with are victims of
crime, 84% are homeless and 84% have received some kind of trauma
in the past year. Kid's Company has done research about brain
development and the fact that damaged young people cannot empathise
as a result of their experiences. They do not trust adults.
Fiona Blacke, Chief Executive, National Youth
Fiona Blacke reiterated that it is important to keep
things in proportion and remember that most young people are not
involved in violence. Most of those who are come from the poorest
and most deprived backgrounds. About one-third are likely to be
victims of domestic abuse. Young people with a low self-image
will turn to gangs of other young people for their support.
Enforcement is critical. In terms of prevention and
diversion, it is important to have significant numbers of young
people involved in planning, rather than just parachuting in professional
Youth workers are key to delivery, providing challenging
activities to allow young people to develop their identity as
well as mentoring and befriending.
The National Youth Agency is supporting 15 areas
(including seven in London) with additional funding for youth
activities and developing a knowledge bank of what works. Much
of the mapping is based on data that is two years out of date.
It is important to have a systematic evidence-base of what works.
Local groups, supported by the statutory sector, will make a difference
and they need sustained funding. There is also a need for better
inter-agency working and more youth workers on the street.
She was concerned that police officers are not trained
to deal with young people as part of their core training.
Hassan (The Prince's Trust) asked Peter whether stop
and search and prison act as a deterrent to young people. Peter
argued that they do not, as a lot of young people are not frightened
of going to prison.
Michael Strickland (community radio) argued that
the gap between young people and those in authority needs to close.
He considered that it makes community work harder when police
cite statistics saying that crime is going down. As knife crime
becomes more of a social norm, it is easier to ignore. He has
friends who are now at university or in good jobs who carried
knives when they were younger. Young people need to be allowed
to speak out. He trains young people in how to speak. He advocated
regional forums with young people that are broadcast.
Florence Emakpose (World of Hope) argued that young
people need to be empowered and made to understand that their
actions have consequences.
Sean Benson disagreed with the view that young people
are like wild animals and said he did not view prison as a holiday.
He has been stopped and searched by police, some of whom were
"dodgy"; others were fine. In the same way that he does
not generalise about police officers, it is important not to generalise
about young people. Young black people do not have many role models.
Young people do not read books or watch the news and the media
have desensitivised young people to violence. Young music listen
to music every day which is saying 'make money, sell drugs'. Young
black people switch off when talking to middle-class white people.
It is important to invest money in activities that young people
are interested in.
Kit Malthouse, London Deputy Mayor for Policing
In answer to the question of whether knife crime
is going up or down, it is neither going up nor down, but changing.
Young people are generally less violent, but a small group are
more prone to more extreme violence. It is important to look at
specific solutions for specific groups. He feared there is a growing
intolerance of young people in society.
The Mayor of London is tackling this issue from two
- Operation Blunt, which is stemming
the tide but also reassuring communities (parents are accepting
of stop and search); and
- Operation Tyrol, which puts more police officers
on the transport system under the belief that young people who
see a reassuring and calming police presence on their way home
will be less likely to offend.
- Working with the Youth Justice
Board to separate those incarcerated for the first-time from repeat
offenders to reduce recidivism. There is a 78% reoffending rate
for first-time prisoners at Feltham Youth Offending Institution.
- Working with London Councils to target truancy
more effectively by taking parents to court. For example, emulating
Hillingdon Council who currently hand out half of the total truancy
notices for the whole country.
- In recognition of the fact
that 73% of children in the care system are will go on to offend,
assigning them an individual supervisor who follows them from
home to home, school to school and so forth.
- Project Titan - developing self-respect in young
people through programmes like Project You, where young people
on the cusp of serious offending are referred to uniformed youth
organisation such the Scouts and Cadets or sport programmes; for
example the Kicks programme has resulted in a reduction in offending.
- Project Oracle - an audit of what works in terms
of community projects so that local authorities can target grants
towards effective organisations.
- Teenagers do not come from outer space. We need
to think carefully about the messages given through out by the
media, musicians and employers.
Question and Answer
The Chairman asked the age at which schools should
deal with the issue of violence. Kit Malthouse replied that it
should start pre-conception with parenting classes. We do not
need to educate 3 and 4 year olds about knives per se, but rather
about manners and conflict resolution.
Kit Malthouse agreed with David Davies MP that sports
groups like Gloves in the Community have a role to play in reducing
youth crime. He also considered that there was currently too much
focus on entertaining rather than educating young peopleformal
music education, such as learning musical instruments, was another
good form of diversion.
Tom Brake MP asked about school exclusions. Kit Malthouse
noted that the push against truancy also includes work on excellence
in Pupil Referral Units.
Kit Malthouse did not necessarily agree with Martin
Salter MP's view that sentences should be longer, because of the
difficulty in achieving much with a deeply troubled young person
over 12 weeks, but did agree that there needs to be a support
structure in place upon release.
Tom Brake MP welcomed Project Oracle but asked how
it will it work and if it will lead to a cut in funding for voluntary
groups. In response, Kit Malthouse noted the problems of a lack
of sustainable funding and of an evidence base of what works.
Under the new system, a borough council would be able to gain
a quality mark for a project from City Hall.
Professor Peter Squires (Brighton University) noted
the profound inadequacies of data from A&E departments. It
is clear from evidence from the Street Weapons Commission's visit
to Glasgow that they had some good solutions. However, he was
not convinced by suggestions that A&E departments should be
mandated to pass data to the police as this could deter victims
from seeking treatment.
Evan Jones (St Giles' Trust) noted there is a massive
resource in ex-offenders who want to help with prevention work
but who are constantly pushing against barriers, such as potential
Fiona Blacke defended the use of informal music education
as a vehicle to engage young people; following which they could
move towards improving their literacy through formal education.