Knife Crime - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witness (Question Numbers 191-199)


20 JANUARY 2009

  Q191 Chairman: Could I call the committee to order this morning, and can I refer all those present to the Register of Members' Interests, where the interests of members are noted. This session of the committee is divided into two parts. In the first part we will be dealing with our inquiry into knife crime, and in the second part we will be dealing with the policing process of leak inquiries, when the Home Secretary will be giving evidence. Can I start with you, Detective Chief Superintendent? The problem of knives has been prevalent in Scotland for some time. What initiatives have the Scottish police enacted in order to deal with this and how does this compare to what we are doing in England and Wales?

  Detective Chief Superintendent Carnochan: Good morning. Thanks for the invite to come along. We have had an issue in Scotland for decades, and we have come to the realisation that criminal justice is the service of last resort, not the service of first resort, and that we continue to fill prisons up. Strathclyde Police has a detention rate for murders of 97.8% over 30 years. Catching Category C murderers is not a particularly difficult thing to do; preventing it is very difficult; so we try to look at it in an entirely different way. Rather than look and wait until after the point of impact, to look and apply a public health notion that would look then at primary prevention issues. So rather than waiting and categorising knife crime, et cetera, from hate crime, et cetera, from all of these things, to try to tackle alcohol by looking at beer and then looking at whisky and then looking at wine to look at what happened before that. So it is about the notion that it is preventable, that there are things that cause it. If you were looking from a public health perspective and you used the analogy of TB, for instance, if you applied a criminal justice model to looking for a cure for TB, all you would do is wait until someone got TB, turned up, identified, put into a sanatorium and, if they survived, they would get out and, if they did not, they would not, and that seems to be what we have been doing. We have been isolating those people who are violent but not treating them and not inoculating those around them. It is very long-term; it is a generational change.

  Q192  Chairman: Is it on the increase in Scotland, or do you think you can it that it is starting to decrease?

  Detective Chief Superintendent Carnochan: The Violence Reduction Unit was established at Strathclyde Police in 2005. Tasked with looking at this, we took on a national responsibility in 2006. In Strathclyde serious assaults involving knives are down 50% on a three-year average, violence overall is down 9% across Scotland—in Strathclyde it is 20%—but the truth of the matter is that there is a danger that we pick into statistics, and I think that has been part of the issue over the years. Statistics will give you an indication of what we are doing. If we stop doing what we are doing right now, it would go back up again. To say that a particular thing is responsible for a particular outcome—I am afraid it is a little more complicated than that and, if we do not try to understand that landscape a bit more, then all we will do is put more cops on the street, build more prisons, employ more lawyers and build more courts, and we will still be coming before your committee in 30 years' time discussing the same issues, because we will not have actually tackled it.

  Q193  Chairman: Presumably you have a lot of contact with Alfred Hitchcock, the Government's anti-knife Csar?

  Detective Chief Superintendent Carnochan: Yes, I was at the Home Office strategic meeting last week, not far from here, about tackling knife crime, the action plan.

  Q194  Chairman: He gave evidence to the committee last week and, unknown to the committee, we read in the newspaper today that he is about to retire from this post. Did you know?

  Detective Chief Superintendent Carnochan: I had absolutely no idea, no.

  Q195  Chairman: So it has come as a complete surprise to you.

  Detective Chief Superintendent Carnochan: I have no idea.

  Q196  Chairman: I do not think it has got anything to do with his evidence to the select committee!

  Detective Chief Superintendent Carnochan: Or indeed me. I have no responsibility for that.

  Q197  Patrick Mercer: Detective Chief Superintendent—you have touched on this already—the ethos and the methods of practice of the VRU: how does it differ from conventional policing in terms of tackling violent crime?

  Detective Chief Superintendent Carnochan: First of all, we recognise, in the terms of the strategic plan, that we have just ten years. The ten-year Scottish plan is that the role of criminal justice is to be as effective as it can possibly be. So you still need a robust criminal justice system, you still need the police to play their part, but it is understanding what that part is and what police can deliver for you. What they can deliver is keeping a lid on it, containing and managing it while we start to look at the other things. We started to gather evidence and frame the problem from different angles. So we framed it from an economic angle, from a health angle, from an education angle, and what we found with the very first graph that we put together—because there would have to be graphs if we have analysts and statistics involved in it—when we looked at areas of high deprivation, that is where the victims of violence lived, that is where the offenders lived and that is where most of the violence occurred. If we used that graph for public health, that is where the low birth weight babies were, that is where alcohol deaths were, that is where cancer-related, lung and heart disease deaths were, that is where low aspirations for school were. We identified a sheer area where people were working and everyone in their own way was doing something about that inequality in a different way. What we tried to do was to find somewhere in that pyramid of delivery where we could say: let us make sure that we join this up, let us make sure that the national policy is joined up through that permafrost to the delivery policy at the front end; so that is about understanding that an alcohol policy by health that would reduce the amount of alcohol in the street would help the police immediately. If we reduce the number of knives in the street, that would immediately help A&E consultants and orthopaedic surgeons, because if somebody is waiting to come for a hip replacement on Monday morning and they cannot go into that bed because somebody was assaulted on Friday or Saturday night, that is a secondary victim; that orthopaedic surgeon should not be doing that. At Glasgow Dental Hospital maxillofacial surgeons deal with a new serious facial injury every six hours, 365 days year, the vast majority as a result of interpersonal violence of varying seriousness. Twenty-five per cent of those are repeat victims. So we asked: "What do you do for the repeat victims?", because if you went to your GP with a cold three times in a year, you would get some advice about exercise, you would get some advice about diet, you might also get some advice about drinking, but nothing was being done. So now we have introduced something that was being used in Cardiff by Mary McMullen, a psychologist—I think she is now in Nottingham—a brief motivational intervention, that teachable moment when a young man is getting his stitches out and a nurse suggests to him perhaps he needs to think about alcohol, he needs to think about risk, he needs to think about anger, he needs to think about how he looks after himself, and so we have started to do that, and nurses deliver that.

  Chairman: Thank you.

  Q198  Gwyn Prosser: Can you tell us, superintendent, a bit more about the 2006 Sentencing Guidelines, the way you use them, the most effective part of that, and what effect they have had on the carrying of knives?

  Detective Chief Superintendent Carnochan: One of the things we did to start with is we would put a mark upon everyone who was stopped carrying a knife, or caught carrying a knife, and we tracked that through the system. We found, for instance, that it was taking us a long time in the police to report that case sometimes, and so we speeded up our system. Sometimes it went to the Procurator-Fiscal, but there would be no proceedings taken, so we challenged that, and what we started to do was say that carrying a knife is using a knife, but you must presume that; you cannot wait until someone uses a knife; that is behaviour that when they use it is a happenstance. If they have got it in their pocket, they will use it, and it has to be treated like that, so we spoke to the Lord Advocate and the Crown Office and we had their guidelines changed so that if you were caught carrying a knife you would be arrested, you would be fingerprinted, photographed and DNA'd, you would be kept in custody until court and we would oppose bail. If bail was granted, we would ask for conditions, which might include an exclusion from a particular area, it might include being at your home, a curfew between six at night and six in the morning, and we policed that hard. If you are caught a second time with a knife, in Scotland it is called a "petitioner indictment", which means you will go to a sheriff and jury and you are kept in custody and in Scotland, by the rules under the prevention of undue delays, you could be kept in custody for up to 110 days. We did that, and what happened is that those who were in custody have increased to between four and five hundred in the Prison Service as a result of that. If you have taken four or five hundred violent young men and put them in there, if they are not on the street they will not be violent for that time, so it has made an effect. I cannot give you definitive evidence if it has actually deterred people carrying knives. I am not absolutely convinced that it has, because young people are invincible, they are very difficult to reach and communicate with, and we need to be better at that, and when they do speak to us—

  Chairman: We will be coming on to some of those points a little later.

  Q199  Tom Brake: On that point, I wonder whether you know whether the four or five hundred men who have been taken out of the system are actually getting the intervention that is needed while they are in prison: because we have heard from other witnesses that it is pointless putting people away for six months and doing nothing?

  Detective Chief Superintendent Carnochan: The short answer is absolutely not. This year there is a new prison opened in Addiewell, in West Lothian, which services Lanarkshire, which is quite a busy area for us, and the Government has sponsored an intervention programme there called COVAID (Control of Violence for Angry Impulsive Drinkers) that will do 100 young prisoners. There is a violence programme in Scotland which has the Gold Standard, it is a cognitive behavioural therapy programme, but I think it is 200 hours long and there are very limited places. Polmont, which is a young offenders prison, their target is to deal with, I think, between eight and ten young men on that programme. There are 700 young men there and 70% are there for non-sexual, violent crimes, so it is a drop in the ocean. So when we speak about mandatory sentencing, we should be thinking about mandatory intervention—that would be much more effective.

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