Police make knife crime top priority

Knife crime has replaced terrorism as the police's highest priority, Scotland Yard said yesterday after six people were stabbed to death in just five days.

The change was revealed by Deputy Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson as Shakilus Townsend became the 18th teenager to die on the capital's streets this year.

The 16 -year-old was lured to his death by a girl in a floral dress he had arranged to meet via text message. When he arrived, he was confronted by three youths. Witnesses said his dying words were: "I don't want to die. I want my mum."

Police believe the stabbing was gang-related. One police source told The Independent that youths were starting to wearing red bandannas, signifying that they had "blooded" their first victim. There are believed to be more than 250 gangs in the capital; violence can be triggered by someone being in the wrong postcode.

Sir Paul said a 75-strong task force would be deployed to worst-affected areas with immediate effect, on a code "Blunt 2". "These measures reflect that tackling knife crime is the number one priority for the Met at this time." He added: "Sadly, in recent days, more young people have lost their lives to knife crime. This is not tolerable and clearly the message is not getting through."

In a month, 1,214 people have been arrested for possessing weapons and knife-related crime; 26,000 people have been stopped and searched and 528 knives recovered.

Shakilus, of Tanners Hill, south London, died on Thursday after being stabbed in Thornton Heath, south London. Dee Bamina, 35, attempted to stem the bleeding with a bath towel after another neighbour took him to the communal door of her block. She said: "I think a group of boys must have been after the boy. All I heard was them saying 'Get him from the other side'. I tried to ask him his name and to tell him to calm down and lie down because he was trying to get up and go."

Ms Bamina said the boy was saying, "I don't want to die", and "Where's my mum, I want my mum". He told her he did not know his attackers. Witnesses said the girl in the floral dress was in the crowd when Shakilus was stabbed.

Detective Chief Inspector Cliff Lyons, of the Homicide and Serious Crime Command, said Shakilus was the victim of "a planned and targeted attack".

The attackers wore hooded tops and bandannas so only their eyes were visible. They beat him with a baseball bat and stabbed him more than once. Two knives were recovered.

Yesterday, Shakilus's parents Nicola and Derek identified their son's body. His grandfather, Wayne Dyer, said: "I'm hurting deeply. At the moment my daughter is out identifying the body. I cannot think how bad it is for her."

A 17-year-old boy who lives near the scene of theattack said: "If he hadn't died, no one would have cared about this; it would have just been another stabbing."