London’s ‘infectious disease’ of knife violence leaves five dead in a week and could take years to solve
Jay Hughes, 15, was stabbed in the heart outside a chicken shop on Thursday. (Instagram: KS.2SAVVV)
London has seen a spike in knife attacks that has been compared by anti-violence campaigners to a rapidly spreading virus — and the city’s Mayor says it could take a generation to solve.
- Gangs, drugs and peer pressure are believed to be driving the increase in knife crime
- London police numbers have dropped by 3,000, and 30 youth centres have been closed in the past eight years
- Mayor insists London still a “safe global city”
This week alone five people have died from knife wounds in the British capital, including a 16-year-old boy on Monday night.
The victims range in age from 15-year-old Jay Hughes, who was stabbed in the heart outside a chicken shop on Thursday, to 38-year-old father Rocky Djelal, who was knifed in broad daylight in a park in south-east London.
The first stabbing of the year happened on January 1, and since then there have been 119 homicides in London in total, 74 of which have been stabbings.
The increase in violent crime has put London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan under pressure.
This week he declared it would take a generation to solve London’s violent crime, which he wants dealt with as a public health issue.
The Mayor said the use of knives had been normalised by many young people, and that required a cultural shift.
“To really make significant progress can take up to 10 years and a generation,” Mr Khan told BBC radio.
“Children in primary school, thinking not only is it OK to carry a knife but it gives them a sense of belonging, joining a criminal gang, it makes them feel safer and they don’t see anything wrong with getting involved in this sort of behaviour.”
In the year to June there were 15,000 knife-related crimes in London, up 15 per cent on the previous year, according to the Office for National Statistics. That is the highest number ever recorded.
‘Violence leads to violence’
Peter Green is the manager of anti-violence charity The Ben Kinsella Trust, and he told the ABC knife crime was like a spreading virus.
“In other words, once it is left unchecked it will spread and spread and grow and this is what we are seeing now,” he said.
“Even if we go back to Shakespeare’s time, you know we will see in plays like Romeo and Juliet, violence leads to violence.”
Ben Kinsella was just 16 when he was stabbed to death in June 2008.
Mr Green said since then knife crime had fallen, before rising dramatically again.
“Absolutely it is a crisis,” he said. “We have had five people die across the capital in less than a week, that is a crisis.”
Often it is simple kitchen and household knives used in attacks, but increasingly young people are turning to the internet to acquire large hunting knives and machetes.
Kitchen knives are commonly used in London stabbings but hunting knives and machetes are also being seized by police. (Twitter: Tower Hamlets Police)
What’s behind the spike?
John Poyton founded the youth outreach charity Redthread, which embeds youth workers in accident and emergency wards in London hospitals to speak to victims.
He says people seeking treatment “are really open to their vulnerability and they are able to reflect on the need they have to ask for help”.
Gangs are believed to be the key driver of the spike, but the illicit drug market and even peer pressure are seeing more and more young people carry knives.
But Mr Poyton said it was a complex issue like an “infectious disease”.
“Why is it happening? I think there have been quite black and white ideas in the past and I think those ideas need to start to change,” he said.
“We need to be doing more early intervention.”
He said on average a stabbing victim had been injured four to five times in the past before they presented to hospital.
Mr Khan partly blamed a fall in London’s police numbers, pointing to a drop of 3,000 officers over an eight-year period, and the closure of at least 30 youth centres.
“Anyone who has spoken to, as I have, the parents of a child who has lost his life or to someone who has suffered knife crime, it is traumatic, it traumatises the individual, the family, the community,” Mr Khan said.
Tweet from Lambeth Borough Police: “Call to a female being attacked by two males one armed with a knife. Stop and search carried out by by 462LX and 427LX. One arrested for possession of Cannabis and another male arrested after the below knife was found on him and for the assault.”
Earlier this year, while defending gun ownership laws, United States President Donald Trump compared London’s hospitals to war zones.
“I recently read a story that in London, which has unbelievably tough gun laws, a once very prestigious hospital right in the middle is like a war zone for horrible stabbing wounds,” he said in a speech to the National Rifle Association in May.
“They don’t have guns. They have knives and instead there’s blood all over the floors of this hospital.”
While acknowledging there are more knives on the streets, Mr Khan insists London is still “a safe global city”.