Knife Crime - Home Affairs Committee Contents

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 out below.

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 more serious.

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 involve robbery.

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 mediation schemes.

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 Survey.

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.

Open discussion

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 Trust

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.

Open discussion

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 Agency

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 ideas.

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.

Open discussion

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 directions:

Policing solutions:

  • 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.

Longer-term prevention:

  • 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 people—formal 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.

Open discussion

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 employers.

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.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 2 June 2009