24 May 2023
"We must listen and react to what the evidence is telling us about the conditions that lead too often to young people carrying a knife."
As our national knife crime intensification week draws to a close, National Police Chiefs’ Council knife crime lead, Commander Stephen Clayman, writes:
“When considering taking on the national policing knife crime lead role, I reflected on my years in law enforcement. There is no doubt that knife crime has become more prevalent over the years as more ‘extreme’ knives have become so readily available and a weapon of choice for too many young people. For some they are used to protect their criminal commodities, others may use them to threaten, intimidate or harm and for some it is a misguided view that a knife will protect them when they don’t feel safe in their local area.
“Operation Sceptre week is not just about enforcement activity, it is also about education and wider awareness of knife crime. The Ben Kinsella Trust have been running a parallel knife crime awareness week coinciding with Sceptre in May and they are one of many organisations focussed on this important early intervention.
“I took the opportunity to visit one of their permanent exhibitions in Barking and get to see what they are delivering to young people in the form of workshops in the East London borough and beyond, as they have another in Islington.
“I didn’t really know what to expect, what audience they were targeting or how the format worked. I met with CEO Patrick Green who explained that they focused predominantly on school years 6 and 7 (10-12 years of age) during the transition to secondary school. This was a group who would hopefully benefit the most, as the charity has found those older and already on the path of knife carrying often need additional intervention.
“One thing that really struck me about the facility was that there was only one image of a knife. Some may find this odd, but when you hear how they tackle the whole subject and more importantly tell Ben’s story, it all makes sense. They also remind those who live in the immediate area of some of the other young people who very sadly lost their lives as a result of knife crime.
“Every room had a purpose, each video powerful and the walk between each section gives time to reflect and have a break. The room representing a prison cell is purposefully not to scale and would have two actors playing back what it is like inside. When talking about what the law says, I wasn’t surprised to hear that many young people are shocked to learn about Joint Enterprise and how they may be equally culpable for murder if they were present but didn’t actually stab anyone.
“I asked if the workshops catered for those who were already on a pathway of knife carrying. They certainly did, but would do so in conjunction with other types of intervention programmes, such as mentoring.
“As a parent myself, watching the videos was emotional and really tough. It reminded me of the times I had met parents as a senior investigator when they had tragically lost their children to knife crime and once again underlined the awful consequences of carrying a knife that we’re working hard to prevent.
“The day following my visit to the Ben Kinsella Trust, I gave a brief interview on the Radio 4 Today programme. The subject was Op Sceptre, but more widely its value given the context of the two teenagers who had just been sentenced for the murder of 15 year-old schoolboy, Khayri Mclean, in Huddersfield last week.
“Previous speakers on the Today programme rightly made the point that policing alone will not solve the issue of knife crime. Policing deals with the symptoms and there is always a place for enforcement which is something we continue working with Government to review and strengthen, such as in the ongoing machete consultation.
“Op Sceptre intensification weeks are a chance for all police forces to demonstrate collective activity to remove knives from our communities, while showcasing the wider work that continues in education and early intervention but the focus must always be on looking further upstream.
“We must listen and react to what the evidence is telling us about the conditions that lead too often to young people carrying a knife. This isn’t just for policing, but for those that govern centrally and locally, supported by the many charities like the Ben Kinsella Trust who are working hard in our communities to reach those who can be influenced before it’s too late.”
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