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PM summit on knife crime

by Mark Rowe

A whole community – or ‘public health’ – approach has been proposed by the Prime Minister Theresa May, to identify more young people at risk of doing serious violence, or being groomed by gangs.

She chaired a summit at 10 Downing Street calling for everyone coming into contact with young people – from the police, health, education, local government and the voluntary sector – work better together to make targeted interventions and steer youths away from violence. Theresa May said: “To bring about lasting change and protect young people from the tragic violence we have seen on our streets, we need to work across society to intervene early and stop them from being drawn into crime. Strong law enforcement plays an important role, and the police will continue to have our support on the front line, but we all need to look at what we can do in our communities, and in every part of the system, to safeguard young people.”

She announced a new Ministerial Taskforce; and a new Serious Violence Team in the Cabinet Office. Among other government proposals, sports such as football will be asked to do more ‘to use sport to engage young people in hard to reach areas’.

Likewise Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Violent crime is like a disease rotting our society and it’s essential that all public bodies work together to treat the root causes. The public health, multi-agency approach has a proven track record and I’m confident that making it a legal duty will help stop this senseless violence and create long-term change. I’m committed to ending this scourge and will use all the tools at my disposal to do so.”

Among those called upon are the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, whose recent report, Keeping kids safe: Improving safeguarding responses to gang violence and criminal exploitation set out how easily, unimpeded by the authorities, gangs are grooming youths to deal in ‘county lines’ drugs; the Met Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, charity heads and the chair of the Youth Justice Board Charlie Taylor.

The Government in a consultation document has proposed making in law a ‘public health duty’ whereby hospitals and schools, police and social services among others will be required to report warning signs that a young person could be in danger, such as arriving in A&E with a suspicious injury, or ‘worrying behaviour’ at school.


Among recent high-profile cases, four people were stabbed seemingly randomly on the weekend of March 30 to 31 in Edmonton, north London. In seven urban police force areas – London, West Midlands, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, South Wales and Greater Manchester – the Home Office has reduced the level of authorisation required for a Section 60 (‘stop and search‘) from senior officer to inspector, and lowered the degree of certainty required for authorisation.

The Police Federation among others has described a recent surge in knife crime as a ‘national crisis‘. A recent report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) into the Met Police’s child protection capability found that ‘outcomes for children at risk of harm have not consistently improved’, since a previous, critical, report by inspectors in 2016. Inspectors found ‘limited capacity in specialist teams, backlogs and resourcing pressures have all led to the force being overwhelmed by cases’.

In a recent letter to the Prime Minister, the Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) urged the Government to take urgent action on exclusions and off-rolling (pupils, typically from vulnerable backgrounds, being taken off school registers without having been formally excluded) to help tackle the causes of serious youth violence.


Among attenders at the Downing Street summit were West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson. He pointed out that the number of excluded children has nearly doubled in his region from 440 in 2010 to 727 in 2017; while across England the number of exclusions in those years rose from 5,740 to 7,720.

He said: “I have proposed that schools should face a substantial financial penalty if they are found to be trying to force children – with low predicted grades – out. That money should be used for the ongoing education of that pupil. Knife crime is a national emergency, and this is one of the ways we can begin to tackle the issue along with additional funding for policing and preventative services.”

Diane Abbott, Labour Shadow Home Secretary, said: “Yet again Tory ministers are talking tough as crime rises, perhaps as part of their leadership campaigns. But this is not a serious crime-fighting strategy. Random stop-and-search doesn’t work, and the Home Office’s own research shows it. That’s why Theresa May dropped it in 2014. It’s now being brought back without any evidence it works. Passing responsibility to our hard-pressed teachers and nurses won’t work either.

“A genuine public health approach does work, as has been proven in Scotland and elsewhere. But the Tories’ entire programme of public spending cuts has contributed to the causes of rising violent crime. And they have axed 21,000 police officers. It is these reckless policies and this government which needs to end if we are going to tackle surging knife crime head-on.”

For more on the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, visit Likewise, last year the Mayor of London set up a Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), seeking a public health, long-term approach.

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