Courts must ‘follow through’ over knife crime

A top Scotland Yard officer has accused courts and prison authorities of not doing enough to help police tackle London’s knife crime epidemic.

Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt said young knife users needed to know they would face tough sentences, but would also be given rehabilitation to stop them re-offending.

Mr Hewitt, in charge of the capital’s territorial policing, said: “We do get support from courts, but we are quite challenging when we think a sentence isn’t what was warranted. We will and we have appealed sentences.

Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt says the police alone cannot solve London knife crime

Image: Assistant Commissioner Hewitt says the police alone cannot solve London knife crime

“Our officers are putting an enormous amount of effort into operational activity to try to deal with this problem and that needs to be followed through in the courts.”

He added: “When people go to prison there should be a positive element in terms of rehabilitating them and there is an issue here. Collectively, we need to look at how we can allow those people to come out with a better chance of not going back to the life they were in before.

“It’s about providing education, it’s about providing opportunities around places to live and work. If someone isn’t getting those opportunities….we are trying to divert and offer routes out because otherwise it can become just a cycle.”

In response to last year’s 80 fatal stabbings – the highest number for almost a decade – the Metropolitan Police is increasing its use of stop-and-search tactics, but insisting it will be more targeted at habitual knife carriers and applied in known knife hotspots.

Stop and search is being stepped but will be more targeted

Image: Stop and search is being stepped but will be more targeted

The force also has officers based full-time in youth offender institutions and others who visit schools regularly talking to pupils of all ages about the dangers of knives.

It works, too, with former offenders who advise officers on gang culture and how to talk to gang members.

A relatively new tactic is to have police officers stationed in all hospital emergency departments, encouraging medical staff to share information on evidence of knife injuries.

It’s an holistic approach that has helped reduce knife crime dramatically in Glasgow, a city branded by the United Nations 12 years ago as the most violent in the developed world.

In 2005, Strathclyde Police set up the Violence Reduction Unit with a multi-agency approach that was later given Government funding and was rolled out across Scotland.

Since it began the Scottish annual murder rate has more than halved, from 137 to 61.

The two cities are different in size, ethnic mix, culture and political make-up, but they have shared shocking levels of knife crime and London’s senior police officers believe they can learn from the Scottish experience.

Former detective John Carnochan set up Strathclyde's Violence Reduction Unit

Image: Former detective John Carnochan set up Strathclyde’s Violence Reduction Unit

John Carnochan, the former Glasgow murder detective who set up the VRU said: “We had a homicide rate involving knives that was three-and-a-half times more than anywhere else in Europe. We didn’t know why. I still don’t know why.

“We just knew we had to take the knives out of it. And we did have stop-search, because it’s important, but it’s only important in the context of other things.

“All we did is, we got all the guys who were in gangs, we brought them together over time, and we said ‘we’ve had enough, the community has had enough, you’ve had enough. It needs to stop. And when you stop, we’ll help you do other stuff.’

“And the gang stuff was a huge success. Because we had social work involved, we had education, we had health, we had courts, we had communities, we had youth groups.”

Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Mark Williams explained why the VRU model was still working: “I think now we’re seeing a better understanding of the background to violent crime. We know that it’s hard.

“Violence comes from inequality, it comes from deprivation, it comes from poor housing and education, it comes from adverse childhood experiences, it comes from young men who suffered often physical, emotional, sexual or violent abuse of some sort in their younger years.

“And it comes from a whole host of different causes and we know that the police alone cannot solve that issue. It has to be solved by society as a whole, by politicians and the authorities and by the community themselves.”

A.C. Martin Hewitt said it was difficult to compare London with Glasgow, but he was hopeful that his city could, with the help of many other agencies, achieve the same sort of reduction in knife crime.

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He said: “There is no magic wand, but I’m confident that the more we all talk about this problem honestly and openly and we start to get communities to do that, that we will improve.

“I’m hopeful that by the end of this year we will be in a better position than we were at the end of last year.”