Knife crime: ‘Tsar’ needed to stop stabbings, says ex-Met chief

Lord Hogan-HoweImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Lord Hogan-Howe led London’s police force from 2011 to 2017

A knife crime tsar must be appointed by government in order to “get a grip” on the rise in youth violence, a former Metropolitan Police commissioner says.

Lord Hogan-Howe said a 93% rise in the number of under-16s stabbed over five years was a “terrifying statistic” and “something has to change”.

It comes after two 17-year-olds were killed in separate incidents in London and Greater Manchester at the weekend.

The home secretary will meet police chiefs this week to discuss the issue.

Sajid Javid condemned the “senseless violence”, saying: “Young people are being murdered across the country, it can’t go on.”

NHS data shows that the number of children aged 16 and under treated for stab wounds in England rose from 180 in 2012-13 to 347 in 2017-18.

Lord Hogan-Howe – who led the Met from 2011 to 2017 – said a tsar should be put in charge of how money is spent to tackle knife crime, rather than individual police forces – especially when it comes to officer recruitment.

“I’d want to know, week after week, when are you recruiting them? When do they arrive? When do they get trained? And when do they hit the streets?” he told the BBC.

“You want to know day-by-day what’s going to get delivered. And I don’t get that sense of grip.

“If it’s not treated as a crisis, it will take another two years before we see action.”

Tsars are unelected independent advisers to the government who help to shape policy on a range of issues from drug misuse to how to reinvigorate the high street.

Image caption Yousef Makki and Jodie Chesney, both 17, were killed in separate knife attacks two days apart

On Saturday evening, Yousef Ghaleb Makki, from Burnage, was stabbed to death in the village of Hale Barns, near Altrincham.

Two boys, also aged 17, have been arrested on suspicion of murder and remain in police custody.

Yousef’s death came a day after Jodie Chesney was killed in a knife attack in an east London park as she played music with friends.

Officers say Jodie’s attacker was a black male in his late teens but gave no further details. There are no descriptions of a second suspect.

Jodie’s family branded it a “totally random and unprovoked attack”.

Next steps

Lord Hogan-Howe said the government and police also needed to:

  • Tackle the supply of cocaine to the UK from Colombia and Mexico. As the supply has increased and the price has dropped, violence between dealers has intensified, he said
  • Deter young people from carrying knives. Too many are worried about being caught without a knife, not with one, he said, and the police need better technology than knife-detecting wands and arches to detect them
  • Combat deprivation, which he said was a common factor in knife crime across the country
Image copyright PA
Image caption Jodie Chesney was killed in a children’s play park

The killings at the weekend follow the deaths of three other teenagers in knife attacks in Birmingham in two weeks, prompting West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson to brand the situation a “national emergency”.

Hazrat Umar, 17, was killed in Bordesley Green on Monday; Abdullah Muhammad, 16, died in Small Heath the previous week, and seven days earlier Sidali Mohamed, 16, was stabbed outside a college in Highgate.

Image copyright Family photos
Image caption Three teenagers stabbed to death within 12 days: (l-r) Hazrat Umar, 18, Abdullah Muhammad and Sidali Mohamed, both 16

Analysis: By BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw

Before you try to solve any problem, you need to know what’s causing it. The Home Office says the spike in knife crime, and serious violence more generally, is largely being driven by disputes over drugs.

So, with the National Crime Agency, it’s set up a co-ordination centre to focus efforts on disrupting supply and catching dealers.

But it’s also clear many stabbings are not linked to drugs – they’re part of a tit-for-tat cycle of street violence between gangs which breeds fear among young people and prompts them to carry weapons.

There’s a consensus that fixing that requires a two-pronged approach. More visible and intrusive policing, such as stop-and-search, to suppress the problem, together with longer-term prevention work (known as the public health model) to identify and support those at risk of being drawn into violent gangs at an early stage.

Where there’s disagreement is whether cuts to policing and other public services have played a role in the surge in violence. For ministers to acknowledge resources are a factor would mean admitting their policies contributed to the problem and providing funding to rectify it.

Meanwhile, figures from an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme suggest the number of children and young people in England and Wales linked to murders and manslaughters using knives has risen by more than 75% over three years.

The number of police-recorded offenders aged under 18 rose from 26 to 46 between 2016 and 2018, the programme found.

In 2017/18 there were 59 homicides (which includes murder and culpable homicide) in Scotland. A sharp instrument was the main method of killing in 34 of those.

The Home Office said it set out a range of actions to tackle violent crime in October, including a £200m youth endowment fund and a consultation on a new legal duty to treat serious violence as a public health issue.

An extra £970m in police funding is also proposed for 2019-20 and the Offensive Weapons Bill, currently before Parliament, will introduce new offences to tackle knife crime and acid attacks.

Home Office minister Victoria Atkins told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme said a week of national action in February took 9,000 knives from the streets and saw more than 1,000 arrests.

She said the #knifefree campaign aimed to make the point “that the overwhelming majority of young people do not carry knives”.

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