Anger over failure to cut knife deaths

Joe Sinclair,Margaret Davis,Press Association
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:27

The father of murdered teenage actor Rob Knox said today that the Government was using "TCP on a large open wound" as it was revealed a programme to tackle knife crime failed to reduce deaths.

Colin Knox and his ex-wife Sally have called for a mandatory minimum six-month jail sentence for people caught carrying knives.

They met with the Prime Minister and Home Secretary Alan Johnson on Monday to propose the plans.

Today a report revealed that the The Tackling Knives Action Programme (TKAP), launched in ten police areas in July last year, saw a 17-per-cent reduction in knife-related violence against under-20s.

But the number of under-20s killed by a knife or sharp object did not change. There were 23 deaths during the time the scheme was running between July 2008 and March 2009, the same as during the equivalent period the previous year.

And a total of 103 people aged 20 or over were killed by a knife or sharp object during the scheme, compared to 96 in the same period before the programme was introduced.

Mr Knox said: "There are a lot of good things going on out there, but they're using TCP on a large open wound and they need to stitch it up.

"A mandatory custodial sentence would take the carrier off the street. If you take the perpetrator who carries a knife, and will be tomorrow's murderer, take him into an institution where you change his way of thinking and hopefully when he comes out his mindset has changed.

"Get them off the streets first, get the streets safer and deal with these people. Talk to them and see what they think about, change their way of thinking."

He envisages military-style institutions for knife crime offenders, and says the current threat of a maximum five-year sentence for carrying a bladed weapon does not send a "strong message" because it is discretionary.

Mr Knox went on: "I don't want people carrying knives. I don't want any parent to go through what we have, which is hell on Earth.

"I went to my son's grave on Saturday and I promised him that I would get this through. I owe it to my son to get this through."

Rob Knox was stabbed outside a bar in Sidcup, south-east London in May last year.

He completed filming on Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, in which he played Marcus Belby, days before he died.

The TKAP was launched after a series of high profile teenage stabbings including the 18-year-old's death hit the headlines.

Despite the latest statistics The Home Office-led initiative will now be extended into a second phase, with £5 million available to the 10 original forces and six others.

The programme will now focus on all forms of serious violence among 13 to 24-year-olds.

It was originally introduced to try to stop the carrying of knives and reduce the number of stabbings and murders among 13 to 19-year-olds.

The time period from July to March showed an overall reduction in violent offences, including murder, attempted murder, wounding and robbery, against victims aged 19 and under, of 16.6% compared to the previous year.

The Metropolitan Police saw such crimes drop from 754 instances in October to December 2007 to 657 instances in 2008.

However three forces - Thames Valley, Nottinghamshire and Greater Manchester - saw a rise in violent knife offences.

The overall number of violent knife offences against those aged 20 and over fell 7.7% compared to the same period the previous year.

Chief Constable Keith Bristow, who is in charge of rolling out the second phase of the programme, said: "In any crime reduction approach the first thing to do is arrest the increase and turn that cycle around.

"We're starting to see some very promising signs in the reduction of homicides involving young people.

"It's a mixed picture in the sense that in some places there have been some increases but over all it's going in the right direction."

Assistant Chief Constable Bob Evans said: "It was never a message we were going to be able to switch on over night.

"It's a drip feed, getting that balance right between marketing, punishment, stop search and arrest."

He said turning the tide of teenage knife killings was "like turning the proverbial oil tanker" but the effects of TKAP were beginning "to bite".

While stop and search increased in all 10 areas, there was a 13% reduction in the number of offenders aged 19 and under caught in possession of an offensive weapon.

Admissions to hospital for assaults with a sharp object were down 32%, compared to an 18% drop in non-TKAP areas.

Meanwhile, the length of sentences handed to people found in possession of knives and other offensive weapons in England and Wales increased.

Announcing plans for the expansion of the programme, Home Secretary Alan Johnson said: "It is encouraging to see a reduction in knife related violence and in provisional hospital admission numbers for sharp instrument assaults in the last year.

"We are also seeing in many cases more pronounced reduction in the TKAP target age group and areas.

"This is not a problem we can solve overnight but we remain totally committed to tackling youth violence, that's why we have expanded the target age group for TKAP and why we are rolling out projects to a total of 16 police force areas to address local issues.

"By working together - government, police, families and communities - we can make a difference and tackle the culture that can lead to violence."

The second phase of the programme will include £100,000 for a specialist team to work with local areas to tackle gang-related problems.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: "It is disappointing that this multimillion-pound programme has not had a greater impact.

"But ending the knife culture that has been allowed to develop in some areas is no easy task.

"The key is to provide reassurance through visible policing and more prosecutions of those who threaten others with knives."

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: "These statistics are really depressing.

"It's really important that programmes to tackle knife crime make a real difference - and the fact that the Government's flagship programme is not working is very bad news indeed."