Anti-knife crime campaigners shut down Westminster bridge after spate of London stabbings

Action comes as separate climate change protests cause widespread disruption in London

Andy Gregory,Adam Forrest
Wednesday 17 April 2019 18:05
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Anti-knife crime campaigners protest outside Downing Street

Anti-knife crime campaigners including bereaved parents blocked Westminster Bridge as they called for political action to stop further bloodshed.

The demonstration – dubbed #OperationShutdown – saw supporters initially gather near Downing Street on Wednesday, demanding greater funding and a Cobra meeting to tackle the surge in violent crime in recent years.

They spent almost two hours in Whitehall before holding a minute’s silence near parliament in memory of PC Keith Palmer, who was stabbed to death by a terrorist in 2017, before moving onto the bridge.

The action came after extensive disruption caused by a seperate climate change protests, which has seen environmentalists on the Tube network, at Parliament Square, Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus and Marble Arch.

The organisers of #OperationShutdown said in a statement the government had “yet to give this crisis enough care, or the proportionate attention it deserves, or allocate substantial measures and funding to effectively tackle this head-on, as a matter of emergency – hence we demand a Cobra now.”

Grieving parents including Tracey Hanson, whose 21-year-old son Josh was murdered at a bar in west London in 2015, took part.

One of the organisers, Lucy Martindale – whose cousin was fatally stabbed, said: “We would like a Cobra meeting now. We don't understand why Cobra hasn’t been called.

“If there is a terrorist attack and one person is killed there is a Cobra. Several people daily are being killed on our streets, why is this not being treated as the national emergency that it is?”

The group is also calling for an independent investigation into school exclusions, better rehabilitation of prisoners to stop them going on to kill, and for full jail terms to be served for murder and manslaughter.

Some of the country’s most senior police officers have already said the highest levels of government need to come together to deal with the causes of violence.

Former National Police Chiefs Council chairwoman Sara Thornton said co-ordinating the response was a job for No. 10, while Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said all official bodies need to “step up” their efforts.

The government held an anti-knife crime summit earlier this month and granted an extra £100 million for police in the areas worst affected by knife violence as well as giving officers beefed-up stop and search powers.

Anti-knife crime campaigners in Whitehall today

But plans to make police officers, teachers and nurses accountable for failing to spot the warning signs of violent crime were criticised.

Chairman of the Police Federation John Apter called the proposals “a bit of an insult”, while Royal College of Nursing acting chief executive and general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said the duty would put increased pressure on frontline staff.

#OperationShutdown organisers said the summit was “non-inclusive, tokenistic and with responsibility being passed onto hard working, already under pressure, nurses, teachers, police and charity front line workers”.

Sajid Javid admits he worries about his daughters becoming victims of knife crime

Earlier this week home secretary Sajid Javid defended the use of controversial stop and search powers.

Explaining the government’s decision to give police officers more freedom to use the searches, he said: “I know that this is not universally welcome – there is concern that in enforcing these powers, Bame communities will be affected disproportionately.

“Stop and search saves lives. There are people who are alive today because of stop and search and I cannot say this clearly enough.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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