U-turn blunts PM's strategy to cut knife crime on streets

The Government's attempt to reassure the public over knife crime backfired when it was forced to retreat over a controversial plan for offenders to meet victims in hospitals.

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, who floated the idea on Sunday, was accused of making a hasty U-turn yesterday. She said she was talking about criminals who had used knives meeting doctors and other health staff – not patients who were victims of knife attacks.

Her initial remarks provoked a backlash, with doctors warning that victims could be forced to relive their trauma while recovering in hospital. Donald MacKechnie, clinical vice-president of the College of Emergency Medicine, said: "I don't think it is a good idea for ... perpetrators of knife crime to be marched through to see these patients who are extremely vulnerable. It's tantamount to secondary victimisation."

On Sunday, Ms Smith was asked on Sky News whether one of her proposals was "that people caught carrying knives should be taken to see people in hospital who have been stabbed or to meet the families of victims. Is that correct?" She replied: "It is."

Yesterday, she insisted that it was never the intention for young people to be taken to accident and emergency wards to meet victims, but said that doctors might explain the "gruesome injuries" knives can cause.

The Home Secretary said "knife referral schemes" would ensure young people caught in possession of knives faced the consequences of their actions. They would have to attend "weapons awareness workshops", where they would be given graphic and detailed information about what happens when someone is stabbed and about the impact on victims and their families.

"It could include visits to hospitals or doctors visiting them, to talk to healthcare professionals to hear about the graphic impact of knife wounds and to better understand what happens when somebody is actually stabbed," she said.

David Cameron, the Tory leader, said: "I'm completely baffled. Over the weekend we were told by the Government that knife criminals [would] be taken to accident and emergency departments. It sounded like a gimmick. Now they [ministers] are in wholesale retreat."

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman, said: "Thank heavens the Home Secretary has seen sense. This idea is not just bonkers, but has been tried, tested and failed in the United States. She's on her way to a perfectly executed U-turn, and a couple more days should do it."

The confusion overshadowed a drive by Gordon Brown to take the initiative following a spate of killings with knives in recent months. At his monthly press conference, he trailed a £100m "youth justice action plan" to be launched by ministers today. The centrepiece is early intervention to prevent disruptive children in 110,000 problem families turning into criminals, thereby reducing the number of young people in custody. Some 20,000 of these families will be given intensive parenting advice over the next three years – and could lose their council homes if they refuse to stick to their "contracts". A pilot programme managed to cut sharply the levels of antisocial behaviour by children.

Today's action plan will also include proposals to send hundreds of "street-based youth workers" into the country's most crime-ridden areas to make contact with teenagers most likely to offend. Police will be urged to pick up under-16s wandering alone at night and hold them until their parents collect them. More police will be based in schools.

Mr Brown rejected Tory calls for a presumption that anyone carrying a knife should go to jail. He said people using knives should go to prison, and those carrying them should either be given a jail sentence or a tough "community payback" punishment such as 300 hours of community service – including on Friday and Saturday nights.

The Prime Minister said the measures would focus on "prevention, enforcement and punishment". He urged councils to impose night-time curfews for teenagers "where there is a problem". In all cases, there would be a presumption to prosecute, and police stop- -and-search powers would be increased.

Today, the Tories will argue that Britain's "broken society" and its "struggling economy" are inextricably linked. Mr Cameron will call for special measures to help businesses avoid going bust, modelled on America's Chapter 11 system to give companies a breathing space to rescue or restructure during the credit crunch. "This change will ensure that fewer good companies end up in liquidation – and less people lose their jobs," he will say. "But of course, we cannot – save all companies that fail."

George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, will say: "Fixing our broken society is integral to building a strong economy. The crucial insight for modern Conservatives is that in the new global economy you cannot have economic success without social success."

Mr Osborne will argue: "Those who say that the Conservatives spend too much time talking about society and not enough time talking about the economy don't understand that this is a false choice. Reducing educational failure, tackling worklessness and poverty ... are progressive social goals we have put at the very centre of our agenda. But they are also essential economic goals."

The main points

*Anyone caught with a knife will be prosecuted

*Up to 300 hours' community service to be done on Friday and Saturday nights

*110,000 "problem" families with disruptive children to get parenting supervision

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam