Knife Crime - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 580-585)


24 MARCH 2009

  Q580  Chairman: There were a number of young people who this committee have met. I certainly met somebody at Aylesbury Prison who was in there for a knife crime offence; he was actually there for five years. He was reformed. He is the only person I have come across in prison who has said, "I am reformed; I am not going to do it again" with such sincerity. Is there a role for allowing some of these young people to go and visit schools and institutions for young people so that they have an opportunity of telling them what it is going to be like if they continue with a life of crime? What facilities and arrangements are there on offer for young people to do that?

  Mr Hanson: Again, I think it is very important that we look at peer group led activity. As I tried to indicate earlier to the committee, we do use peer groups in relation to the knife referral programmes, which we are now extending to 80 areas over the next couple of years. That will involve people who have been through the system explaining to young people how they became involved in gang culture, what it meant to them, what the sentence they have undertaken has meant to them, how that has made a difference to their lives, and why undertaking bravado activity does not ultimately lead to a positive lifestyle.

  Q581  Gwyn Prosser: You have announced a number of initiatives with regard to your work with retailers to reduce the availability of knives into the hands of young people. Given how readily available knives are and every kitchen drawer is bristling with knives, how effective is that part of the policy?

  Mr Campbell: We think it is an important part of what I described earlier as a jigsaw. We have 21 retailers, particularly the big retailers, who have signed up to this. We are very grateful that they have done that. I think it sends out the right message in store if it is more difficult for people to access knives. In some cases, it will have been the way in which people have got their hands on to relatively cheap knives. Some retailers have also taken knives off their internet sales because that was a way in which people could have accessed them too. I take your point that knives are readily available, but I think this is an important step forward. Interestingly, one of the first things that the designer lines that we have in place to design out crime are looking at is a knife without a point, a knife which does the job but which would be virtually useless if it came to doing damage to a human being.

  Q582  Chairman: You are not suggesting we eat our lunch and dinner with those knives? The point Mr Prosser is making is that these knives are household knives. A knife that is useless and cannot cut is of no use to anyone, is it?

  Mr Campbell: The knife that I use to cut my meal with does not have a point at the end; it has a rounded end. The question they started with was: why does a knife need a point on the end? It is the point that obviously begins to do the damage if someone is stabbed.

  Q583  Chairman: The Government clearly is concerned about this issue. You have weekly meetings, three departments with the Children's Department involved. You have a set of benchmarks, which is that you want to ensure that there is going to be a reduction. When can you announce to Parliament and the country that you think you have this issue under control?

  Mr Campbell: We believe that we are making clear progress. However, we accept that there is still concern and that we have learnt lessons in the last year, which is why we are putting £5 million into, if you like, stage 2 of tackling knife crime. I am not sure there will be a moment—I would like to think there was—at which you could say, "Yes, we have cracked the problem". I can say that there will be several moments at which we can say we are making progress, and this is one of them.

  Mr Hanson: There is a real, genuine commitment not just from the Ministers but the officials who attend the weekly meetings to make a difference. The police, health service, justice and clerks are really committed because they recognise that every time we have a death, that is a failure of our efforts and there is a real sorrow and disappointment when that happens, and we have a real commitment to make a difference.

  Q584  Mr Winnick: To the extent that young people are sent to prison, are appropriate steps being taken to prevent them being recruited through extremism—Islamic extremism? A number of cases have come to light in recent years and I am just wondering if the prison authorities are very much on their guard on this issue.

  Mr Hanson: We are very concerned about the potential threat of Islamic extremism in prison. We are trying to ensure that there is proper training for staff, proper support for people who come into prison, an understanding of what Islam is, that it is not related solely to a view that some extremists take, and some great support through the imams in prison dealing with positive engagement with both prison staff and prisoners around the whole area of prevention.

  Q585  Chairman: The Prime Minister has appointed the father of Damilola Taylor—and we all know how the nation was gripped with the death of Damilola Taylor—as his envoy. If there was one thing that you would expect Mr Taylor to do, what is it, one major issue?

  Mr Campbell: I think to provide an authoritative voice which runs alongside but is not part of the knife action programme—to some extent, if you like, an alternative campaign, a trusted source of information, someone who has clearly had a dreadful experience to a member of his family, and I think to bring that experience to bear and hopefully to get a hearing for what is a crucially important issue for young people.

  Chairman: This concludes the session. Our next session is with Rev Jesse Jackson tomorrow. Thank you, Ministers.

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