Janet Street-Porter: Knife crime's real perpetrators: parents

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of young people marched through north London this week, urging their peers to shun street violence after 16-year-old Ben Kinsella was stabbed in the early hours of Sunday morning in King's Cross. Four young men have been arrested in connection with the murder.

Ben, the 17th teenager killed in London since the beginning of the year, is another victim in a familiar pattern of youth crime, but tragedies like this won't end overnight, much as Cherie Blair would like to see the streets flooded with police. The irony of a woman who has spent a decade of her life surrounded by police protection in the confines of Downing Street telling a Commons committee that she fears for her own children's safety when they are out in London, is astonishing.

We need to unpick the circumstances in which Ben Kinsella died. What was he doing in a pub at 2am? Attending a birthday party, apparently. By 1.30am, weren't the parents of these young people concerned about their whereabouts, given the number of teenage stabbings in north London?

These are uncomfortable questions, but they need to be asked. There's no point in continually moaning on about the behaviour of the young if no one is willing to step up and take some tough decisions about what constitutes good parenting.

And knife crime is not just a problem confined to the streets of London and so-called postcode gangs. Every Saturday night in Whitstable in Kent, groups of youngsters gather outside pubs and on the beach until the early hours of Sunday morning. Don't their parents care that they may be drinking or taking drugs, intimidating members of the public and causing criminal damage? Or are mum and dad too busy drinking themselves?

The other weekend in Whitstable, some gangs had an altercation, with the result that two of them got cut by knives and ended up being treated in hospital. The police figures for violent crimes in Kent have risen by an astonishing 27 per cent in the year between June 2006 and 2007. No amount of targets or initiative-speak can disguise the fact that the public – and not just Cherie Blair – rightly feel that violence is getting closer to home.

Let's congratulate Ben's friends for going out and demonstrating and attempting to get the message across to their peers that carrying a knife is wrong, but ultimately the responsibility for youth crime lies with parents. They need to impose stricter standards.

Barbara Wilding, the Chief of Police for South Wales, said recently that gang membership resulted from a lack of family role models, and that it was more important to address the social and economic causes of crime rather than impose more and more legislation targeting young people. Locking young people up is no answer – there are some 3,000 under-18s in custody at the moment and thousands more have been served with Asbos. A total of 37 children aged under 14 are currently in prison – a shocking statistic.

According to Ms Wilding, tribal loyalties have replaced family ties for many young people, who leave school with little or no qualifications. Being in a gang has become an acceptable "career" when there is no one at home encouraging you to do anything different.

The structure of a gang then takes over your life, replacing mum or dad, and you begin to see life in terms of a "war" for both respect and territory. Even Ben's mates wore T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Fallen Soldier". We should send useless parents back to school. It's the only answer.

Matt, Luke and a bit of a blender

The thrilling news that Bros are considering a reunion brings back happy memories, including an exciting night at Whitley Bay ice rink at the height of their fame. The boys were surrounded by screaming girls as they strutted their stuff.

Another time I was summoned to the studio at Miraval in the South of France where they were recording an album. Luke rather frighteningly drove his motorbike around the swimming pool while I took a dip, and Matt had all his food mashed up in a blender because he was too busy to eat it! Very rock'n'roll.

Matt and Luke Goss will be 40 this year, and have a lot less hair, but are still very glamorous. Go for it, lads!

* We're in the middle of the London Festival of Architecture, with a huge array of events that range from breakfast talks to a lavish banquet tomorrow night featuring buildings made of jelly.

What constitutes iconic architecture is rather subjective. If you're Prince Charles it tends to be something with Doric columns designed by Quinlan Terry rather than anything by our leading female architect Zaha Hadid, who receives most of her commissions from outside the UK.

Meanwhile, the BBC is spending millions refurbishing its newsroom in White City and parts of Broadcasting House, but it clearly didn't think anyone would mind if it flogged off Television Centre. Hang on! English Heritage are taking steps to get the 1960 building listed, but I can't think why.

Built in the shape of a doughnut, around an arid central concrete area, the offices all overlook each other, and the studios are past their sell-by date, no matter what historic programmes were recorded there. Let's pull it down and build something better.

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