When his Dad arrived at the hospital the doctors told him to expect his son to die. He was just 16. Severed tendons, stab wounds to his stomach, legs, back and side. By the grace of God (or whatever your preference is) this young man came through.[/vc_column_text]
This week, once again, the news has been riddled with the latest cases of children (and adults) that have been murdered through knife crime. Birmingham, London, Manchester. A 17 year old female stabbed so hard that the knife broke leaving the blade lodged in her back. Three knife-related murders in one week in Birmingham. Sunday the Government announce that they will be dealing with the issue as a ‘national emergency’.
When we have national emergencies the Government often offer thousands, if not millions, in aid and funding to support the issue. More often than not that money leaves the UK. It’s amazing that we can support other countries so quickly in their time of need. But here, the numbers keep rising.
Knife-related crime, stabbings and murders as well as weapon-related crime is at an all-time high. Murder victims get one day of press (if they’re lucky) before they are having to report the ‘next in line’. Family after family after family literally gutted, their lives destroyed because of someone deciding to use a knife. Certain communities where children climb over ‘home-made’ memorials to get to school where flowers are left to rot and cards signify another tragic loss of life. So used to seeing those areas laid out they don’t even notice them anymore – as normal and routine as a road sign or post box.[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading text=”“Five young people I have worked with or known lost their lives from knife crime.“” font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left|color:%23ef7e21″ use_theme_fonts=”yes”]
I cannot fathom why people choose to put a knife into another person. What are they thinking? How are they feeling? Yet, on a daily basis, over the years I go to work and work with young people that do exactly that. I’ve heard all of the excuses – self-defence, I didn’t mean to, it just happened, him or me, etc. But why? Sometimes we’re lucky enough to get to the bottom of it. Sometimes I see the young person question their actions daily, feel regret and remorse daily but then some also never, ever take any responsibility.[/vc_column_text]
Do you know how many young people I have dealt with in Court over the last ten years go to prison for carrying a knife – two! And one of those immediately, and successfully, applied for bail pending an appeal against his sentence which he later went on to win as the sentence (six-month DTO) was considered ‘manifestly excessive’. In addition, not a single one of those cases that I can recall (and I have an excellent memory – ask anyone that knows me) came to Court with bail conditions.
Additionally, the amount of young people across the England and Wales still being offered Youth Cautions/pre-Court intervention for knife or weapon-related offending is staggering. I can’t comment on the adult offenders but I am sure there will still be adult offenders being offered Cautions.[/vc_column_text]
A few years ago, the press was rife with reports of acid attacks. Around two years ago there were three sentences of significant length that genuinely shook the offenders/carriers up. One of my lads said ‘there’s no way I’m carrying acid now – it’s the same as an ‘m charge’, I’m not spending ten years in prison for that’. And those offences dropped.
Another of my lads who is now over 18 told me that he carries a knife regularly – not for protection but because ‘everyone else is’. It’s as routine as the ‘keys, wallet, phone’ check – people regularly leaving home with a knife or weapon concealed in their waistband (or some other place – I’ve seen it all including one who carried a crutch everywhere with a large sword concealed inside). In Court, the top three excuses are usually – protection, ‘I found it’ and ‘it’s my friend’s coat/bag/jeans’. This is often followed by ‘I was going fishing’. My favourite was ‘I was cutting onions, had to go for a wee, my friend called over and I went out but forgot I put it in my pocket when I went for a wee’ (I kid you not!). When you ask what they need from protection from the stock answer is usually ‘just in case’ followed by ‘I wasn’t going to use it’.
For those I have known that have used the knife, they say ‘I didn’t plan to – it just happened’ yet more often than not they can’t appreciate how had they not carried a knife that day, they wouldn’t have used it. I talk about those cases to the ones who come to me for possession – they all say they wouldn’t use it but in the heat of the moment how can anyone be sure. We’ve all done things in the heat of the moment when in anger, in drink or if a situation arises and we’ve all questioned our actions later. The same applies to those who carry knives. I don’t care what any of them say, if the situation arises, there is a very high possibility they will feel the need to use the knife.[/vc_column_text]
On a side note, I’ve seen videos on social media of police undertaking CPR on children that have been murdered and watched while the victim’s friends stand around filming, yet all saying nothing about what they saw or who slayed that child laying motionless on the concrete. I’ve spoken to hospital staff who have desperately tried to save the lives of these victims, having to tell the families their loved one has gone, listening to that horrific scream that they will never, ever forget of a parent whose world has just collapsed. I spare a thought for all of those who carry out those jobs without any thanks and often up against a barrage of abuse.
Now, as a YOT worker, our roles (and Probation too) are somewhat ‘in the middle’. Tasked with protecting the public but also rehabilitating offenders. Additionally, mindful that we are working with children so it ups the ante a bit. With every passing few years there is something new to consider – a new ‘buzz word’, a new issue to be mindful of – county lines, CSE, CCE, traumatic brain injury, adverse childhood experiences, etc. The whole welfare versus justice debate is a very fine line to walk.
So as much as I am actively saying we need harsher sentences for knife carriers, increased police and Court powers, mandatory sentencing etc, I have also stood up myself, many a time, and argued against custody for a young person who has carried a knife. I am sure many of my YOT contacts on here do the same – day in, day out. Why? Because we deal with the side that not many see. The vulnerable side, the side where we’ve worked with a young person for many years and have watched them grow and navigate life throughout all of their difficulties, the side where we wholly appreciate how hard it is to be a teenager now and how terrified they must be stepping out of their house every day worrying whether they’ll make it home that night. The side where they are grieving the loss or serious injury of a friend or family member – where they are so angry, they can’t put it into words. The side where they are ‘cast offs’ – by their own families at times, by their peers, their schools, professionals tasked to work with them. We see a different side. We’re not naïve by any stretch but we are often the only people that see that raw side. Additionally, we see kids go into prison, we see the system buckling, the kids who come out worse, more criminally-minded, more frightened and angrier at the world, institutionalised and we know it doesn’t always work – because of so many cuts – there’s no stable education, no stable association time, nothing constructive to do, limited valuable family time, limited valuable time with their key workers. Just caged. Caged with every other kid who might be in there for rape, murder, violence or just breaching their Order for a minor offence.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”4307″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]But, there comes a time when even after all of that, enough is enough. We’ve done the niceties. We will still all be there to support these offenders because we care about what we do. I am sure that if the message gets out that anyone carrying a knife will go to prison the message will be heard – it might take a while but it will be heard.
We need to retrain this generation of young people – carrying a knife has serious and lifelong implications for offenders, the victims, the families of both and the public. A national emergency it might well be. But why are we still asking for someone to do something – how many more people need to be stabbed or murdered before action takes place? We keep asking and nobody seems to be hearing us.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]This is a guest blog by Ceryl Marsh, Case Manager, Southend Youth Offending Team.[/vc_column_text]