Police failing to solve two-thirds of knife crime as figures soar

Exclusive: ‘This government has got blood on its hands,’ former superintendent says

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Saturday 23 June 2018 19:50 BST
The number of incidents against victims under-25 surged from 3,857 in 2014 to 6,503 last year
The number of incidents against victims under-25 surged from 3,857 in 2014 to 6,503 last year (Getty)

Police are failing to solve 63 per cent of knife crimes committed against under-25s as stabbing incidents soar, The Independent can reveal.

So far this year in London alone there have been 21 youth murders – while knife crime against young victims across England and Wales has surged by 69 per cent in the last four years.

Politicians and youth workers accused the government of failing to act on the rise in stabbings, and warned of the “disastrous” effect cuts to police and youth services were having on young people.

Figures obtained through freedom of information requests show the overall number of knife incidents against victims under the age of 25 surged from 3,857 in 2013-14 to 6,503 in the year to March 2018. The number of knife-related incidents involving youth that led to no further action by police increased in the past four years from 33 per cent to 63 per cent.

The number of these crimes that led to criminal charges plummeted, with the proportion of perpetrators who faced charges falling from more than one in three (35 per cent) to just 15 per cent, raising questions about why a growing number of these crimes are going unsolved despite the rise in young people getting caught up in knife violence.

Other outcomes included youth cautions and community resolutions. Collated from responses by 21 out of 43 police forces, the data paints a stark picture of the knife crime epidemic gripping the nation. All the forces were approached but many refused to hand over their figures.

Ministers have cited drug-related gang culture and social media as key drivers, but police have called for more funding to turn around the loss of thousands of officers while voluntary groups have condemned cuts to youth services.

Cressida Dick: 'Naive' to think cuts to police haven't had impact on rising crime

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott told The Independent the increase in knife crime was “disastrous for our communities” and accused the government of failing in its “basic duty to keep the public safe”.

“With this government’s scathing cuts of 21,000 officers since 2010, it’s no surprise that understaffed and overstretched police forces are struggling to cope,” she said.

Vicky Foxcroft, Labour MP for Lewisham Deptford, who established the Youth Violence Commission, said: “Cuts in police numbers – particularly community support officers – are having an impact in terms of trying to get intelligence on these crimes. Young people need to know that if they’ve got an issue they can go to the police and they will keep them safe.

“The government’s serious violence strategy contains warm words on prevention, but it must back that up with the necessary resources if we are to see a genuine reduction in serious violence.

“That means sustainable funding for youth workers, community support officers, mental health support in schools; you can’t cut millions from youth work and schools funding and sure start and early childhood centres and not expect this to have a knock-on effect.”

In London, the number of youth knife crimes soared by 79 per cent in the four years, from 910 to 1,630, with the number of young people killed by knives more than doubling, from 19 to 40, according to figures provided by the Metropolitan Police.

Yet the proportion of offences that led to charges dwindled from a third (33 per cent) to just 18 per cent over the same period, while those resulting in no further action increased from 62 per cent to 80 per cent of crimes committed, the data shows.

Thames Valley Police showed an even steeper rise in unsolved crimes, soaring from just 4 per cent in 2014-15 to more than half (58 per cent) in the year to March 2018, while the proportion of charges dropped from 44 per cent to just 16 per cent. The overall number of youth knife crimes in the area rose more than twofold, from 150 to 325.

The data also reveals a worrying upward trend in victims who decline to identify the suspect or do not support police action, which youth workers said was due to a fear of retaliation that has increased due to the rise of social media and diminishing trust in police.

In Northumbria, the number of young knife victims who did not support police action rose from just one in 2013-14 to 28 (26 per cent) in 2017-18. In Merseyside, it increased from two (2 per cent) to 26 (22 per cent) in the same period. A similar trend was seen across other police forces.

Leroy Logan, a former superintendent who retired from the Met Police in 2013 after 30 years of service, told The Independent the country was in a “crisis situation that is not showing signs of improving”.

“This government has got blood on its hands because they have allowed vital services to erode and failed to understand the long-term impact of this,” he said.

“When I was in the police, if someone had committed a murder you had a good chance of resolving it. Now, there’s a good chance that person will get away with it.

“But when you cut all the police numbers, young people just don’t feel safe. They don’t have that relationship with the officers so they’re not going to speak to them, and unfortunately they buy into the street justice and feel the need to carry a knife.

“So you get this vicious cycle of young people being sucked into that lifestyle, and it’s not being offset by the safeguarding agencies which, like police, have also been run into the ground.”

Tom Isaac, manager of Oasis Youth Support, a service that offers youth support to victims of violence in the emergency department of St Thomas’s Hospital in London, said he frequently saw young stabbing victims who do not want to tell police about what happened.

“The biggest indicator for many of the young people we work with is the fear factor. They feel it will put them at more risk because if things aren’t solved or they aren’t protected and relocated, they could be labelled as ‘snitching’, and then might be at greater risk of further violence,” he said.

“They feel that police can’t protect them – they tell us they think it will make the situation worse.

“Young people often get direct threats after they get stabbed, often through messages or videos on social media. Things can spread quicker and get filmed these days.”

'Zombie knives', including this one recovered in London, have been used in a series of murders, stabbings and robberies (Metropolitan Police)

Ebinehita Iyere, a youth worker in south London, said she had witnessed many young people taking situations into their own hands, describing a ”cycle of retaliation”.

“We’re breeding kids who are leaving hospital beds, and the first thing they are going to do is pick up a knife,” she said, adding: “There isn’t enough emotional support for these young people.”

In response to the figures, a National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) spokesman said: “Knife crime is on the rise and it is more important than ever for police forces across the country to robustly deal with this heinous crime.

“All police forces across England and Wales took part in the most recent phase of Operation Sceptre, which ran for a week in February. This major police operation saw forces carrying out weapon sweeps, knife surrenders, testing whether retailers are prepared to sell knives to children and holding educational events.”

He claimed that although officers were using a range of powers available to them to crack down on knife crime, it was not something police forces could do alone and that it required a “whole system approach”.

“We continue to work with schools, charities and community schemes to educate young people and explain why carrying a knife is never the right choice. This early intervention plays a vitally important role in stopping young people from turning to a life of crime,” he added.

A government spokesperson said: “This government is taking action to end the deadly cycle of violence that has such a devastating impact on individuals, families and communities.

"Our new serious violence strategy puts a greater focus on steering young people away from violence alongside a tough law enforcement response, and our Offensive Weapons Bill will go further in restricting access to knives.

“Repeat offenders who carry a knife are more likely than ever to go to prison.”

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