Life at the sharp end in the fight against carrying arms

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It served as both a chilling reminder of just how easily wounds can be sustained and how lethal implements can be concealed for the purpose of committing crime and injury.

The fact that it resulted in a young woman receiving a three-year prison sentence gives some comfort that she will be removed from the streets for a short period of time, but is little reassurance that the next report of harassment or bullying won’t also involve the use of an offensive weapon.

If there is one set of statistics you don’t want to be in the vanguard with, it’s crime figures. Luckily, this Island remains a relatively low-crime environment, so when the acting police chief warns that knife crime has appeared on the radar to a significant enough degree to warrant calls for a new law to curb the carrying of knives, we have to sit up and take notice.

Seventeen reported incidents involving knives over the past year doesn’t seem much when compared to the 322 fatal stabbings recorded by UK police last year, but one stab to the body, however intended, could mean the end of a life.

It is important to keep all crime in perspective. Despite her clumsy attempts to doctor statistics in order to suggest that the rate of knife crime had fallen on her watch, when discredited former UK Home Secretary Jacqui Smith felt she couldn’t walk safely down a Brixton street without being swathed in body-armour, the message that such a gesture displayed to the nation sent every tabloid editor rushing for the doom-and-gloom phrase book.

Furthermore, it has become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Newspaper headlines now regularly scream Armageddon as they eagerly ratchet up the grisly total of youngsters slain on the street, accompanied by politicians’ hand-wringing and relatives exhibiting by turn desperate pain and superhuman forgiveness. So we are faced with a formidable raft of contradictions. Children can’t now watch films in which cigarettes are shown, so why can they still see movies where the protagonists use knives? A bloke can be fined £30 for smoking in his van in his own time, but how come no one has been prosecuted for selling knives to kids since the new laws came in?

In the UK it is against the law to carry a knife in public with a blade longer than three inches. Offenders face a four-year jail term. Yet to the despair of the police, a loophole in the law means that when brought to court, rather than confiscate them, court officials are bound to hand weapons back to their owners. Moreover, they cannot seize knives with short or retracting blades such as penknives, or indeed the sort of craft knife which inflicted the aforementioned horrifying injuries meted out in the St Helier flat.

Meanwhile, law-abiding citizens have become accustomed to have anything resembling a whiff of sharpness confiscated at airport check-ins, and Scouting, we are told, will be immobilised if the lads and lasses are forced to surrender their penknives. We have come a long way from the two-dimensional gun-toting, knife-slinging cowboys of primitive Hollywood, but today there is a culpability to be faced by advertisers and suppliers whose internet reach can bring lethal weapons within reach of any user.

As we have seen, there is no need of sophistication to inflict injury, but manufacturers continue to produce ever more gruesome weapons which turn the instruments of butchery and jungle survival into fashion accessories.

How intelligent was it that a few issues back, the men’s fashion advertising spread in a glossy magazine featured chefs as male models clutching an array of sharp kitchen knives?

Those studying the rise of weapon carrying and the consequential social effects point to what they call the knife crime arms race – carrying a weapon for fear that others will be doing the same.

So how are we tackling this potential epidemic? On the same day that the head of our own Criminal Intelligence Department vowed that serious assaults, especially those involving the use of weapons, would not be tolerated, the UK government announced that the minimum sentence for knife murders would go up from 15 to 25 years. Clearly much of the emphasis is being directed towards the young, but it’s the whole village that educates the child.

It is too serious an issue just to shrug shoulders and declare that it’s their problem. Yet there may be more to peer pressure than critics would give credit. In a recent survey conducted for the BBC’s Panorama programme, 57 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds backed tougher sentencing for those convicted of carrying weapons, including an automatic custodial sentence.

It’s a tricky subject, but there is certainly no shortage of initiatives under way. If you negotiate the clunky titles, the message is sound enough. Under Southampton’s Game Over 4 Knives campaign, children are urged to text the names of classmates who carry knives to police. The national Knife Crime Prevention Programme is to employ shock tactics which involve doctors and nurses explaining the damage inflicted by knife injuries accompanied by graphic photographs.

Here, as part of the Prison! Me! No Way! initiative, youngsters are being professionally guided through the life-long consequences of choices they may be confronted with, and warned about the whole gamut of carrying weapons – including guns.

Now, that’s another concern altogether!

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