Annex D: Bristol seminar notes|
We held a seminar in the Trinity Centre, Bristol
on 2 March 2009 to discuss knife crime in the South-West of England
and Wales. We heard three presentations and held an open discussion
with around 25 representatives from Bristol, Devon and Cardiff.
A summary of proceedings is set out below.
Dr Iain Brennan, Violence and Society Research
Group, Cardiff University
Dr Brennan presented aspects of his research which
used data from the British Crime Survey to highlight the nature
of knife violence and weapon-carrying. He also presented accident
and emergency data to give an indication of the nature of knife
violence in Cardiff.
Incidence of knife violence (British Crime Survey
- Knife assaults account for
5-7% of total assaults;
- The presence of a knife in an incident does not
make injury more likely;
- Regions of highest likelihood of knife use in
violence: London; West Midlands (the top ten are London; West
Midlands; Eastern; South East; East Midlands; Wales; South West;
Yorkshire & Humber; North West; North East);
- Police force of highest likelihood of knife use
in violence: West Midlands, Met/City of London (the top five are
West Midlands; London; Thames Valley; Hertfordshire; Northumbria).
Victim and offender characteristics:
The median age of victims has decreased in recent
years (to around 27):
The key risk factors affecting an individual's likelihood
of carrying a weapon are:
- Being male (though females
more likely to carry weapons "for self-defence");
- Being young;
- Having recently been assaulted;
- Having recently been threatened;
- Being the victim of an assault taking place outside
of own area.
In addition, the drug-weapon link is very strong
in both US and UK studies. In terms of support structures, having
family social support protects; but peer social support can be
a risk factor.
Attitudes to weapons vary considerably across areas
and subcultures and have a contagious effect. Exposure to weapons
and violence at younger age increases likelihood of use, and the
perception that others are carrying increases an individual's
likelihood of carrying. Lack of confidence in Criminal Justice
System is also a factor. Weapon use is associated with earlier
age of first conviction, aggression and other delinquency traits.
A reputation for irrational violence can be an asset
to an individual as it can be helpful in self-defence, in business,
in the commission of crime and can protect against prosecution.
These factors perpetuate weapon-carrying in a violent subculture.
Many young people have limited 'scripts' for resolving
disputes (a series of learned actions that are accessed during
violent situations and which influence individual behaviour and
poor decision-making skills.)
The relationship between fear and weapon-carrying:
- Defence mechanism - constraining
exposure to risk;
- Offensive mechanism - poor risk assessment leads
to exaggerated and irrational responses to danger;
- Self-defence/fear is the most frequently cited
reason for carrying a weapon.
Cardiff Emergency Department findings
- Sharp injuries accounted for ~4% of assault attendances
(118 out of 3,836 in 2008);
- Over half of knife assaults took place in the
street and very few took place in licensed premises (distribution
of knife assaults: street 50%, home 33%, other 14%, licensed premises
2%, work 1%);
- The circumstances of knife violence are relatively
similar to those of other violence:
- - Both are more likely to take
place at weekends (61% for sharp instruments; 58% for overall
- Median age is similar (25 for sharp instruments;
24 for overall violence);
- Proportion of male victims is higher with sharp
object injuries (84% as opposed to 74%).
Possible conclusions about 'knife crime':
- Is 'knife crime' a useful concept?
Many of the characteristics of knife offenders and victims reflect
risk factors for general violence and the fear of knife violence
- There is still no robust evidence to support
a knife crime 'epidemic' in England and Wales.
- There is an over-emphasis on knives and under-emphasis
on youth violence and shifting ages of victims and offenders.
- Are we fixating on the medium (i.e. the knife)
and ignoring a wider problem?
- Supply-side (reducing the availability
of the weapon will decrease its use):
- Limited success in US interventions;
- Some applicability in UK.
- Demand-side (reducing demand for the weapon will
decrease its use):
- Deterrence - 'Pulling every lever'.
- Conflict resolution - decision-making and scripts.
- Safer areas reduce need for self-defence.
Hen Wilkinson, Community Resolve
Hen Wilkinson described the work of her organisation,
Community Resolve, in preventing street violence. Community Resolve
was formed in response to violent youth clashes in Easton and
St Paul's areas of the city. The Bristol Gang Awareness Project
employs 12 staff trained in conflict resolution techniques reaching
2-3,000 young people a year throughout Bristol through workshops
on dealing with peer pressure, bullying and violence.
Last year funding was made available in Bristol for
a project to look at knife and gang issues as they affected 11-14
year olds. The project found that what was missing was work being
done with adults. Currently, young people do not feel safe but
adults are not being held responsible for this. Adults are very
confused about how they should be talking to young people about
Finland replaced a very punitive approach to youth
offending with an approach which penalises responsible adults.
This has resulted in a massive reduction in anti-social behaviour.
In Bristol, money has since been diverted into adult
training, for which they have received very good feedback. They
run parenting courses mirroring the "Strengthening families,
strengthening communities" programme developed in the US.
They have also started working closely with the youth offending
team around a pack for parents outlining the signs to look for
if they suspect their child is involved in a gang"withdrawn,
unhappy, wanting to stay inside, over-anxious, thinking the UK
is a terrible place"and how they should deal with
Garry Brandrick, Positive Role Model Agency
The Positive Role Model Agency is a community organisation
that promotes positive alternatives for young people.
One of their projects is the annual Sharp Shotz Animation
Competition, whereby Bristol school children have the chance to
work with Aardman Animations and the University of the West of
England to produce a short film focusing on the consequences of
guns, knives and drugs.
We watched the two YouTube video made by each of
the 2007/08 winning groups from Fairfield High School and City
Academy, including 10 Seconds, which portrays the realities of
knives. All Bristol secondary schools have been encouraged to
show the films to their pupils.
Open discussion session
In response to Martin Salter MP, Dr Brennan confirmed
that young people are more at risk of carrying a weapon if they
do not have strong family support.
In response to the Chairman's question about the
effect of violent video games on committing knife crime, Dr Brennan
replied that it is a topic of much debate but Tanya Byron's recent
report noted that for people at the bottom of the cognitive spectrum
it could have a negative influence, as they do not recognise the
difference between reality and non-reality.
In response to Gary Streeter, Hen Wilkinson replied
that some knife use is related to gangs in Bristol although we
should be careful of how we define gangs. The recent Joseph Rowntree
publication on territorialism noted that Bristol was more complex
than some other cities as some of the gang identities relate to
geography but some to ethnicity, with people realigning their
sympathies according to the situation.
Participants had noticed that the age of young people
involved in street violence was going down, as with other forms
of behaviour such as drinking alcohol. Primary school children,
for example, are far more aware of gang issues than their parents.
Garry Brandrick agreed with Martin Salter MP that
there are examples of where groups of young people can be a positive
force. He is hoping that his organisation can broaden their apprentice
scheme to allow young people to make more use of their creative
All participants opposed mandatory custodial sentences
for knife possession. One young man considered they might dissuade
some young people from carrying weapons; but it would be unfair
to penalise people who carry because they are scared. He also
noted that young people grow up surrounded by negative influences,
like video games and war.
Patricia Roger noted that many young offenders do
not have positive role models at home and her organisation, Right
Track, is struggling to provide mentors in the absence of funding.
Superintendent Keith Perkin noted that the evidence
from his force (Devon and Cornwall) is that most knife assaults
take place in the home; Dr Brennan confirmed that research points
to this being the case.
Inspector Graham Fox said that in his opinion Bristol
is not doing too badly at dealing with weapon and gang issues.
He considered that the word gang has demonised groups of young
people. One of the issues with street violence in Bristol concerns
the Somali community; he had attended a Somali conference recently
and it had been very positive to witness the efforts the community
was making to find solutions for themselves.
We heard from a prisoner on day release at the end
of his life sentence. In his view, young people are not frightened
of committing serious violence because they are not aware of the
psychological realities of what happens if you cross that line.
If they had witnessed gang leaders who have committed murder breaking
down, as he has in prison, it might make them think again. This
message needs to be communicated.
Dr Nikki McKenzie, of the University of the West
of England, was concerned that organisations are working reactively
rather than proactively. She considered that we need to teach
young children conflict resolution skills.
Fran Harrison endorsed Dr Brennan's point about young
people's "scripts" and the need for better decision-making
skills. Her organisation, Fairbridge, encourages young people
to identify for themselves what is holding them back and to develop
resilience to deal with conflict situations. She considered that
the school curriculum is currently too focused on academic rather
than life skills.
In response to Gary Streeter MP, she explained that
pupils who are excluded or at risk are referred to Fairbridge
by their schools or social workers or homeless workers.
Gladys Gibbs, of the Barton Hill Youth Project, noted
how important identity is to young people. Creative activities
allow young people to express their identity in a positive rather
than a negative way and also helps to build their self-esteem.
Martin Salter MP argued that re-offending rates are
appalling and asked what society should do with young people who
go to prison for the first time. Patricia Roger said she knows
people who have re-offended in order to go back to prison because
of the structure and sense of belonging it offers them. She argued
we need to reconnect young people with their own communities.
Fran Harrison argued that it is about taking the best work that
happens in youth offender institutions and continuing it on the
Jodie Chidgey and Leeanne Nicholls, of Ashfield Youth
Offending Institution, noted the need for solutions tailored to
individual needs and that there should be an increased emphasis
on education and resettlement. Not enough money is spent on work
to change offending behaviour.
Some of the young people present noted that young
people are not scared of going to prison and that it can help
them to move up the "gang chain" afterwards. Prison
should do the job of schools, teaching responsibility and good
In response to the Chairman's question about links
between knife crime and ethnicity, young people, including representatives
from the Somali community, said there are sometimes conflicts
between ethnic groups because Bristol is facing the biggest demographic
changes in the country and problems relate to social cohesion.
Superintendent Perkin argued that gangs and weapons are not linked
to race but to youth culture. He was pleased to see the political
agenda appeared to have moved on from legislation and sentencing
to the issues under discussion today; he did not see a need for