Why is Middle England avoiding the fact that youths are dying every week at the hands of a youth and a blade?
Many readers won’t like my blunt approach but unless middle class parents in Middle England start to understand the harsh reality of knife crime, their sons and daughters are at risk. Knife crime is a problem and kids across the UK are dying from the blade. The usual comments to the press by a grieving parent is ‘They were a good child, with a great future ahead of them which has been cruelly taken away’. These are the youths who were talented footballers, or aspiring doctors, or just those who went out to a friend’s house for the evening and never came home.
The sad thing is that many of the deaths don’t even make the media anymore, just a common everyday occurrence, and for the majority of the public it is believed to be something which only happens in inner city estates between gangs. Well this is a naïve view. Anyone, anywhere can die or be seriously injured at the hands of someone with a knife.
Part of this naivety comes from the fact that the media doesn’t report it. Schools don’t want to tell the parents about the number of knives being found during knife sweeps in school grounds as they don’t want the parents to question the safety of their children while at school. Many police forces actively discourage any mention of knives being found and knife crime, for fear of the community complaining that the police are not protecting the community and making it safe. Some of the police officers who have the courage to promote their knife findings face criticism (and worse) from their superiors, for speaking out. Fortunately, I can speak out.
And not to overlabour the point, but while this problem is being kept in the shadows, kids are still dying. I know of at least 5 deaths of teenagers around the UK at the hands of the knife in August and September. Put that into perspective, in a class of 30 students, that’s one sixth of the class dead in the space of two months!
I work with kids who are involved in gangs and who carry knives. For them carrying a knife is for status, the gang requires them to carry a weapon, and it is for protection. These knives are usually not just a small blade – machetes, double serrated edge 15 inch blades and flick knives are regularly found by the police during searches of people and cars, at crime scenes and during weapons sweeps in public places. But these are not the only ones carrying knives, and it is the unknown and unsuspected ones who are most at risk.
There is a huge increase in youths carrying knives or blades as they feel the need to do so for their own protection. Youths who have never been in contact with the police before, who are doing well at school and who have a stable home life, but still feel the need to place a knife in their backpack. And these are also the youths who are dying at the end of their own blade, or who are sitting in a police cell for the first time having been found with a knife on them.
It is the parents of these youths who tell me that they had no idea their son or daughter was carrying a knife, and they can’t understand why. And they don’t like my answer which is that ‘it’s what youths do these days, carrying a knife is now commonplace‘. The sad thing is that we are usually having this discussion in a police station or courtroom, by which stage their son or daughter is facing a spell in a young offenders institution.
The question which comes next from most parents is ‘where did they get the knife?’
The answer to that is usually simple, either from the kitchen or from the internet. The first time knife carriers will probably have taken the knife from the kitchen drawer. It may have been noticed missing but the parents never think to question their son or daughter, why would they, they are a good kid. The progression is then to purchasing a knife on the internet, often using a parent’s Paypal account or credit card. A large gutting knife, with a double serrated edge, can be purchased for £9.99 on the internet. Less than £10 can take a life or ruin a life.
The next thing I hear is usually ‘but why didn’t the school warn us?’
Well, firstly it’s not the school’s responsibility to educate the parents, and I usually tell them so. And secondly, knives are not usually taken into the classroom. That would be too easy to detect. Knife sweeps of school grounds, gardens, drainpipes, hedges on the way to the school are all areas where knives are hidden for the day at school and then picked up on the way home, or left there for longer, with the youths safe in the knowledge that if they need to use it at school they know where to find it.
I regularly hear the comment ‘He/she didn’t have it at home because I would have known.’
Again that’s rubbish. Most youths are not even very sophisticated in their hiding places at home as they know that parents will not search their back pack or boxes under their bed. The more sophisticated ones will hide the knife in the places which are harder to spot, back of a Playstation, inside socks in a drawer, strapped underneath an outside window-ledge, or in the hedge in the side alley. But make no mistake, even an unsophisticated knife carrier can easily hide a knife if their parents have no idea that they should look for it.
Staying on the home front, it is also unlikely that many parents would understand their son or daughter was talking about a knife even if they overheard them on the phone or caught a glimpse of their internet chats. Common words for a knife or blade which are more readily known by parents include ‘Shiv’, ‘Shank’, ‘Switch’, ‘Blade’, ‘Sharp’, and ‘Dagger’. But the lesser known slang words include ‘Jammer’, ‘Ox’, ‘Hawk’, ‘Skeng’ ‘Wep’ and ‘Tool’. In a recent case, my client was a young lad arrested for possession of a knife after an off duty officer noticed the lad showing his knife off to his friends just outside the school grounds. I asked him why he had referred to the knife as ‘Skeng’ and he said he didn’t know but he’d looked up the slang words for knife on the internet, and ‘Skeng’ came up so he decided to use it so that his parents wouldn’t know what he was talking about and so that he could look good in front of his friends.
It’s not just young lads who are carrying knives, girls are increasingly carrying knives. The same reasons apply, for their protection and to look good in front of their friends. If their friends are carrying a knife, they don’t want to be the odd one out. The knives carried by girls are often smaller. My female clients have hidden a knife in their make up bag or in a box of sanitary towels. One commented to me that hiding a small folding blade in a bundle of sanitary towels is the easiest way to avoid detection as most teachers or parents won’t search them for fear of embarrassing the girl.
Some of the youths I represent in the youth court have found themselves on the periphery of a gang as they are easily led. These are often the youths who do not have a large circle of friends at school, are perhaps socially awkward or just want a bit of excitement. Gangs will quickly identify a youth who fits into these categories and use them. The youth may be encouraged to purchase one or more knives using their parent’s debit card or Paypal account. Websites may encourage purchases by offering 2 for 1 on knives, so it will not show up as a large amount on the debit card. The youth may be encouraged to hide the knife or carry it as they are not known to the police and will be less likely to be stopped. These youths are usually the least street wise and will hide the knife in their backpack or their locker at school, and will be the most likely to be caught. An excuse of “I was carrying the knife for someone else” is not a defence. The gang members won’t be facing court, but the duped youth will be facing custody.
The harsh reality of these youths carrying knives is that they are either likely to be killed or injured by their own knife or face custody. I hear many youths in the police station or court who now say “Oh, but I didn’t think the police were searching us anymore so I thought I wouldn’t get caught.” Wrong, stop and search is still being carried out by a lot of police officers, and there are other ways of being caught, the off duty officer who witnessed the knife being shown around, was picking his own daughter up from school. Knife sweeps at schools and in public areas are being carried out more frequently by the police and other authorities and a quick check on the school cctv can often identify who has hidden the knife behind the drainpipe or in the bushes at the back of the car park.
The Law on Knife Carrying
Anyone caught carrying a knife for the first time can receive a community or prison sentence. But under the Criminal Justice Act 1988, since July 2015 a youth over 16 who is guilty of carrying a knife in a public place on more than one occasion must be given at least 4 months’ Detention and Training Order, so that means the youth will serve at least 2 months in a young offenders institution and then at least 2 months under close supervision when they are released from custody. Anyone over 18 must be sentenced to at least 6 months in custody. This has created a two strikes rule in relation to carrying knives. Anyone caught with a knife for a second time will be locked up!
In reality, for many of the youths carrying knives, this could mean the end of aspirations of college, apprenticeship, or a job, for a moment of stupidity, by a youth trying to fit in with their mates or thinking that they will protect themselves from a gang attack by carrying a bread-knife!
So what can be done to combat this increase in knife carrying by those who have no previous contact with the police or courts? Parents and family members should speak to youths about knives, and the harsh reality. If a knife goes missing from the kitchen, question it. Listen out for the slang words, challenge a change in behaviour and increased secretism. Schools should be challenged about whether there is a knife problem, not just in school, but outside the grounds, are knife sweeps being carried out, if so what is being found? This will help to highlight the level of the danger to teenagers at that school.
Most police forces offer a knife amnesty bin, which provides a safe disposal of the knife with no questions asked. This should be used by parents who find a knife in their son or daughter’s possession, merely placing the knife elsewhere may result in the youth finding it and taking it back or giving it to their mate. Knife amnesty bins also help the police to gauge the amount of knives being carried in their area, and the types of knives.
Don’t ignore the knife crime problem. It sounds dramatic, but the harsh reality is that ignorance can cost a life.
“I didn’t ask for a lawyer as I have not done anything wrong”
“The police said that it would take a while for the duty lawyer to arrive and I just wanted to get the interview over and done with and get out of the police station”
“I took the caution as I wanted to get out of the police station”
If I had £1 for every time I have heard these comments from a client, I would be sitting on a beach somewhere hot and sunny now rather than writing this!
The Police and Criminal Evidence Act provides the right to a lawyer, either one that you request or a duty lawyer. The reason for this is not just to advise on the criminal law it is to protect your interests in the police station. Sadly the TV only ever portrays the work of a lawyer in the police station as sitting in on the interview, but in reality your interests are much more than just making sure you are dealt with fairly in interview.
The way police interviews are portrayed on TV, is very similar to what happens in real life. The interviews are all audio recorded and many are video recorded as well, and you can request copies of the tapes from the police. Hence, although I would recommend that anyone who attends an interview has a lawyer present, it can often be more important to have a lawyer representing you outside of the interview room.
The interview is only one aspect of a person’s time in the police station. The length of time spent in the cells, the bail conditions, whether a caution or fixed penalty notice is offered (and whether the offer should be accepted), are all matters that a lawyer can help with. In general, people who have a lawyer spend less time in custody in the cells, have less strict bail conditions, or are more likely to be released and bailed to attend court instead of being held in custody to attend court.
While it is possible to challenge police bail in court, it can take a few days for the court to list the matter and in the meantime the bail conditions may be so strict that a person effectively cannot go outside their front door for risk of breaching their bail conditions. Hence, it is better if a lawyer makes representations to the police at the time. Conditions such as ‘not to enter a town X’ or ‘not to travel on public transport’ are commonly imposed on those who are unrepresented, and are so easily breached especially if a person has to enter the town or use the train or bus to get to work or to visit family.
The person who accepts the police bail conditions just because they want to get out of the police station will often not realise the consequences of such restrictions, and that if they breach the bail conditions, not only can they be arrested, but they can end up in front of the court. On a breach of bail, in certain situations, it is open to the court to decide that the detainee should be remanded in custody…they are sent to prison on remand until the case is dealt with by the court.
This sounds extreme and for most who are given police bail, this never happens, but in general it is more likely to happen to those who did not have a lawyer at the police station, and who didn’t think it could happen to them.
Likewise, the quickest way to get out of the cells is to ask for a lawyer. Once booked into the cells, there is a time limit on the amount of time a person can be held in custody. This is known as ‘the custody clock’. It is worth remembering that the custody clock starts ticking from the time a person enters the custody suite at the police station and not from the time the lawyer arrives, so in general, the police will make the call to the lawyer straight away, and will chase if the lawyer has not arrived within a reasonable period of time. Waiting for a lawyer is highly unlikely to extend the amount of time a person is held in the cells.
Although a caution or fixed penalty notice will seem like ‘no big deal’ when it is being offered, in reality it can be a huge deal. A caution can affect employment, will show up on a Criminal records Bureau check, and can be used against a person in the future. I see many cases where someone has taken a caution or fixed penalty notice merely due to their haste to be released from the cells, they are then arrested for another matter a few years later and this caution or fixed penalty notice is used against them to show their anti-social nature. These cautions and fixed penalty notices show up on a police national computer and can be used in court as evidence of previous criminal history.
Alternatively it may be that an offence has been committed, but that it is quite minor, and the lawyer can make a request for a caution in circumstances where the police would not readily offer one. This means a person avoids being placed under bail conditions and avoids going to court.
For those of you wondering if this is just a promotional post from a lawyer trying to get more work, it is actually the opposite. I am not a police station representative, and the work I undertake in court is often in response to people not having representation in the police station.
But if you are ever unfortunate enough to be arrested, please think of me in my ‘you have the right to a lawyer…so use it‘ T-shirt!