Knife Crime - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 534-539)


24 MARCH 2009

  Q535 Chairman: Ministers, thank you very much for coming to give evidence to this committee. This is the final session in the committee's inquiry into knife crime. We have sought, as you have probably just seen, to ensure that in conducting this inquiry we had a long hard think about the way in which we could deal with the scourge of knife crime and we wanted to make sure that we explored this issue amongst a variety of stakeholders. That is why we also invited the Opposition to come forward to give evidence to us. We are today, in your session, concerned primarily with the Home Office's response and of course, as it is part of the criminal justice system, with the Ministry of Justice. We have a lot of questions to get through, so I ask colleagues to be as brief as possible in putting the questions to the Ministers. Could I start with you, Mr Campbell? You have extended the tackling knives crime initiative for another year and you have added Kent and Hampshire to the list of those focused areas. Has it been a success so far, in your view?

  Mr Campbell: I think that it is certainly work in progress and that we are genuinely making some progress. I hesitate to use the word "success" because of course the programme was set up against the background of rising concern about youth violence and in particular the use of knives. Throughout the period in which the programme has been running, of course there have been a number of tragic incidents that have put back into focus the importance of the programme's work. I would, however, say that we are making progress. I would point, for example, to the recent provisional figures produced by the Department of Health that showed in the first period of the programme from June to November of last year that the fall in admissions to accident and emergency of the target group of individuals, 13 to 19 year olds, with reported stab wounds had fallen by 31%. I think if you compare that to the figures for the non-TKAP areas, which is 18%, we can begin to draw conclusions about the success of some of the work that has been done.

  Q536  Chairman: Have we dealt with the controversy surrounding the publication of those statistics? In December there was concern that the publication was premature. You have now had the full set of statistics. Are you satisfied that these are statistics that can form the basis of a proper debate for those who are involved in these concerns?

  Mr Campbell: Yes, we are. The Home Secretary apologised for what happened. I think it was one part of the fact sheet which was produced at the end of last year. I think the desire was to get information out to inform the debate, but of course there was that row over the statistical process which had been gone through. The figures which were produced earlier this month by the Department of Health are provisional, but they are only provisional because individuals are accounted for as they leave hospital as to what was the particular reason why they have been admitted in the first place and therefore the 31% we believe is robust. If anything, it could actually go up slightly.

  Q537  Chairman: Tomorrow afternoon this committee will be taking evidence from Rev Jesse Jackson about the situation of knife crime in urban America. Has the Government looked at any other country and at any other comparative set of proposals which might enhance our view as to what to do to tackle knife crime?

  Mr Campbell: I think the simple answer is that we are willing to take evidence and look at research and look at the experiences that happen anywhere else, including the work that has been done throughout the United Kingdom, including the Scottish work, which I know the committee has heard about, but this has been a very practical programme based on originally ten police force areas, concentrating on police forces to ensure that we have a robust enforcement message but also of course making sure that other departments are signed up too. It is not just about enforcement; it is about supporting families; it is about getting an education message out. We are willing to learn lessons from anywhere.

  Q538  Mr Streeter: Mr Campbell, understandably one of the Government's approaches to changing attitudes to knife crime involves a media campaign. One of the excellent young witnesses we have heard from during the course of this inquiry said something like this. "Instead of wasting resources just doing another workshop or another photo campaign, or a £1 million advert campaign, half the kids you want to reach are not going to be watching it on TV; they are on the road, they are at a bus shelter or whatever." What is your response to that? Do you think there is a group of youngsters out there that the media campaign is not going to reach?

  Mr Campbell: First of all, let me say in general that I think the media campaign has been remarkably successful and acknowledged as such. We have expended resources on a media campaign. It is one in line with other campaigns that we have run within the Home Office which started by asking young people about the message that would be most effective, and that is not just in terms of content; it is in terms of the medium which is used too. I have to say that how young people are contacted and how the message is run is probably better shaped by them than it is by a middle-aged Home Office Minister. I think the evidence, particularly the "It doesn't have to happen" campaign, has been very effective in at least getting the message out there. Around three-quarters of respondents who have seen the campaign said that it would make them less likely to carry a knife; four out of five said it made them more aware of the risks. I think critically a similar figure said that they were particularly aware that carrying a knife can put them in danger rather than put other people in danger. Of course, this has been a critically acclaimed campaign. However, does it get to the right people? We do cast the net as widely as possible. There are other ways of course of getting at these young people. You will be aware that part of the media profile which the Tackling Knives Action Programme had was to invite celebrities to take part. That undoubtedly raises awareness, and for many people it catches their attention to the issue. I believe it helps to inform the debate. However, for the people that you are talking about, the harder to get at people, the evidence is that it is local champions and local people in their community that they can look up to—it might be a family member but it might be someone in the wider community—which is important. As part of our education and communication campaign, we also have to inform parents and the wider community about the issues involved in the programme so that young people can draw from a wide variety of sources for their inspiration

  Q539  Ms Buck: One of the themes that emerged I think from some of the evidence and particularly from talking to the young people who have given evidence to the committee has been the scope for having a dialogue with ex-offenders, people who have themselves actually been through this process and been inside. I think this is really a question more for David Hanson. There are all kinds of risks to that because, amongst other things, some of the very difficult and hard to reach young people are the ones who are least afraid of prison. I wonder what you thought about that as a strategy and what the means are by which it could be done in a safe and structured way.

  Mr Hanson: I think it is very useful if we can do it in a safe and structured way, as you have indicated. One of the things we are currently looking at is a number of knife referral projects for young people in different parts of the country organised by youth offending teams. At the moment, that is a very structured way in which they look at the challenges of knife crime, the reasons why people carry knives, the damage knives can do and interaction with victims. It is possible to build into that interaction with people who have themselves been convicted of knife-related offences, have been through the system and have been reformed or have seen some of the difficulties that their behaviour has caused. I think there is a way in which we do that but it needs to be done in a very structured way to show the impact of knife crime not just on victims, which is extremely important, but also on people who have been perpetrators of knife crime in the past. That is certainly something that we will be looking at and looking to develop as part of the overall knife referral projects that we are currently undertaking, and indeed are expanding.

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