Knife Crime - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 217-219)


20 JANUARY 2009

  Q217 Chairman: Mrs Oakes-Odger, if I can begin with you, we will come to Mr Levy in a second. You are the mother of Westley, who was killed in Colchester on 12 September 2005 at the very young age of 27. He challenged a man who pushed in front of him at an ATM queue, who later returned with his brother, and Westley was stabbed in the neck and he died.

  Mrs Oakes-Odger: That is correct.

  Q218  Chairman: Two people were subsequently found guilty of manslaughter and murder. After this horrific attack, you set up your own anti-knife resource and you now work in partnership with the police and other organisations. On behalf of the whole committee, of course, we express our deep condolences at the loss of your son at such a very, very young age and we commend you on the work that you are doing. In the work that you are doing with schools and school children, can you tell the committee anything about the attitudes that lead young people to carry knives?

  Mrs Oakes-Odger: I think the biggest contributing factor to young people carrying knives is, firstly, ignorance and, alongside that, fear. Throughout young people's years coming through their school education, we know that young people experience a certain amount of bullying and peer pressure, and often those people that have experienced that bullying go on sometimes to become bullies themselves. Personally, from the work that I have been doing, I feel that those particular children run a serious risk of being those that can become involved in crime. They are potentially the ones that will be affected by fear and carrying a knife, and we all know that within an altercation a knife, potentially, is a serious killing weapon. During the time of going into the schools and speaking mainly to 11 and 12 year olds (that is Year Seven, first year senior school) what actually comes out of speaking to those young people is that they have no real understanding of what death means. When a family member dies they are usually older, they are usually grandparents or aunties and uncles and when they die they do not see them any more, but in terms of death that has no relevance to them as people. At 11 and 12 years old they are never going to get old; older people are almost another species and death is something that happens to everyone else. Talking to those young people, 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 would also concur with the previous evidence that we have heard today that looking at the issue as a health issue allows us to proceed down the road of more prevention.

  Chairman: Thank you.

  Q219  Ms Buck: The evidence you have given is very powerful. On the basis of your experience and also, judging from the feedback you are getting from young people that you have worked with, what is the right balance between the story you tell them that allows them to engage with a young person who has lost his life. The shock tactic approach, maybe the approach that has taken young people into offending institutes and prisons to actually talk to people who have been convicted? What is the right balance? What gets through to people? Or is it actually that we do have to have that continuum of all of those different approaches?

  Mrs Oakes-Odger: I think we need all of those different approaches, but certainly, from my experience of working, not just within Essex schools, within London schools, Leeds, Manchester, as far up as Cleveland, we know that different counties have different dialects that they speak about, but the bottom line is young people all have a simplicity of what they need. They need to feel safe, and the right balance when speaking to young people is 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?"

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