Dr Neil Shastri-Hurst is a former British Army Officer, doctor, lawyer, and a senior member of the Conservatives in the West Midlands
There is a knife crime epidemic in the United Kingdom. And whilst the headlines are often focused on such attacks in London, it is no less of an issue in many of our urban areas. This morning The Times reports that:
“The prime minister will take personal charge of a new cabinet committee to tackle surging levels of knife crime and violence, with a particular focus on “county lines” gangs that are abusing and exploiting children.”
I worked for several years at the frontline of trauma care, at a Major Trauma Centre in the West Midlands. Code Reds, the term used to alert the trauma team of an incoming patient with major haemorrhage, were and still are, sadly, increasingly common. Stabbings are a frequent cause.
There is nothing quite like the surge of adrenaline one encounters when the call comes in the early hours of the morning and the team rushes down to Emergency Department Resus. Nothing quite like working with an exceptional group of highly skilled professionals who, together, make an even more exceptional team. And nothing quite like the rush of endorphins one gets when a young gang member, stabbed in the heart, not only survives the insult but walks out of hospital a week later with a second chance at life. However, for every heroic tale, there are many others where the outcome was so much bleaker: families and communities shattered by needless and senseless actions.
In 2010/11, in England and Wales, there were five Police Force Areas with a knife crime rate of between 50 and 77 per 100,000 population, one Police Force Area with a rate of 77 to 118 per 100,000, and one (London) with a rate of 118 and 171 per 100,000.
In comparison, by 2018/19, twelve Police Forces had a knife crime rate of between 50 and 77 per 100,000 population, eight Police Force Areas a rate of 77 to 118 per 100,000, and two with a rate of 118 to 171 per 100,000.
And whilst, of course, victims of knife crime can befall anyone, we cannot ignore that this is primarily a “disease” of younger people.
Put simply knife crime represents one of the biggest public health issues facing our younger generation.
As with any “health intervention” there are three distinct phases:
- Treatment; and
Tackling knife crime on our streets should be no different. As a Conservative Government, with a strong tradition on law and order, it is imperative that we grip this issue. With the uncertainty in Parliament behind us we can focus on the forthcoming Mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner elections, to ensure that we have strong local Conservative representation to work with central Government and give this critical issue the attention it deserves.
So how do we develop that three-pronged approach?
We can deliver the first part, effective prevention by:
- Making family units stronger so that they can provide a stable upbringing that young people need to avoid slipping into crime;
- Ensuring we have more good schools in deprived areas so that young people have the education and opportunities to lead them away from a life in crime;
- Providing mentorship and educational programmes for our school-aged children to deter them from gang culture. Expanding the liaison work our Police Forces do and increasing the role of NHS Violence Reduction Tsar, Dr Martin Griffiths, to help break the cycle of violence; and
- Removing the unhealthy reliance on the welfare state and getting young people into work.
The second part, tougher enforcement and sentencing, can be achieved by:
- Having a greater police presence on the streets; and
- Making it clear that anyone convicted of carrying a knife should expect to receive a custodial sentence.
Thirdly, we can rehabilitate young offenders by:
- Reforming our prisons and Young Offender Institutions so that they reduce re-offending by making governors accountable for re-offending rates;
- Engaging with the voluntary and private sector to provide drugs and educational programmes to help young people make positive life choices; and
- Supporting young offenders upon their release with mentoring and work programmes to help them get into employment and contribute to society.
Whilst, at first glance, this all appears pretty simple stuff, it can only work if we have the resources to fund it. With a Conservative majority Government we have the building blocks to do that. This could be a real legacy. The next step is to ensure we have the local representation to dovetail with central Government and deliver results at the coalface.
Over the years I have told a generation of parents their children won’t be returning home with them because of knife crime. Let’s not allow that to happen to another generation.