by Patrick Green
In the last few weeks, the families of Grace O'Malley-Kumar, Barnaby Webber, and Ian Coates, who were all killed in a knife attack in Nottingham, gave victim impact statements at the sentencing of Valdo Calocane. Their statements were harrowing to read, and their media interviews were heart-breaking to listen to.
On Wednesday, I accompanied the actor and campaigner Idris Elba to separate meetings with the Home Secretary and Leader of the Opposition to push for an immediate ban on machetes and zombie knives. The meetings were the result of a four-year campaign by the Ben Kinsella Trust and others, including the National Police Chiefs Council, and catalysed by Idris Elba, to close the loopholes that allow online retailers to sell these weapons. On Thursday the government set the wheels in motion for the legislation to start its journey through parliament. The opposition have also promised not to obstruct the bill’s passage. This means that the legislation will be pass through parliament relatively quickly and it is expected to become law by September.
Also on Thursday last week, the Office for National Statistics released the latest knife crime figures, which show a 5% increase in England and Wales over the last 12 months. One of the biggest single increases was in London, where knife crime offences increased by a heart-breaking 22%.
Knife crime has been steadily increasing since the pandemic restrictions were lifted. The figures are a grim reminder of how knife crime continues to be one of the most pressing issues facing this country. At the same time as the ONS figurers were being released the tragic news was breaking about the murder of 19-year-old Tyler Donnelly in Feltham, London. Over the weekend Max Dixon (16) and Mason Rist (15) were stabbed to death in Bristol. The murders serve as a stark reminder that knife crime is not about statistics; but is a tragedy beyond words.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the events of the last few weeks - or indeed the last 15 years - and feel that this is a problem that will never go away and will only get worse. But I haven’t given up hope, and it’s important that we collectively we don’t give up hope. Working alongside Idris Elba, Yemi Hughes and Faron Paul on the Don’t Stop your Future Campaign has given me renewed hope that we can bring about the changes that are so desperately needed. The banning of machetes and zombie knives is a positive start for this campaign, as it shows what can be achieved when a group come together who have the influence and determination to bring about change.
But this law change alone is not enough. To stem the increase in knife crime we need to push for more.
The solution starts at the top, with action and commitment from the Government to tackle this issue. The Ben Kinsella Trust contends that the solution lies in a sustained, cross-party, cross-government coalition, made up of experts who understand the issue, with a commitment to a comprehensive policy framework. Rather than implementing short-term measures, which we so often see being introduced with grand announcements and high expectations but lack lasting impact, we need a strategy that spans a decade, ensuring longevity and a consistent focus on eradicating knife crime.
This lasting policy must focus on ensuring that funding is ring fenced and delivered for policies which help young people, with a reversal of the tragic cuts we have seen to youth services. These crucial support systems provide safe spaces, mentorship, and opportunities for young people, offering an alternative to the allure of gangs. As the All-Party Parliamentary Report highlighted, the areas which have endured the highest rate of youth service cuts have also seen bigger increases in knife crime. Restoring funding to youth services is not just a financial decision; it’s an investment in our future generation’s safety and well-being.
Whilst a far greater focus must be placed on preventative measures, we know that knife crime is a complex issue. Ensuring adequate police resources must also be a priority. Understaffed and under-resourced police forces struggle to effectively combat knife crime. The Ben Kinsella Trust calls for increased neighbourhood policing, early intervention programmes, and effective investigative capabilities.
Finally, whilst our focus must lie on investment in the causes above, we must also acknowledge the influence that large tech companies bring to the social landscape, and in particular social media companies. We must call upon these companies to recognise their role in knife crime prevention. While social media has brought many benefits, it is important to acknowledge the potential dangers that exist on these platforms. The spread of harmful content, such as that which promotes or glorifies violence and knife carrying, and the open sale of knives and weapons with little or no age verification, are having serious real-world consequences. Tech and social media companies must work to find solutions to these problems; not simply sit back and take the profits. They have a moral and legal responsibility to play their part in stopping knife crime.
While the recent campaigning progress and law change is promising, the journey to eradicate knife crime demands a sustained, comprehensive approach. It is a collective responsibility that requires ongoing commitment from everyone: Knife crime is everyone’s problem, and therefore is everyone’s responsibility. By addressing the root causes and implementing lasting solutions, we can work towards a safer and more secure future for young people.