MPs warn of knife crime "arms race"

Young people carry knives because of perceived threat from others, says committee

An influential committee of MPs has warned that a knife-crime “arms race” is developing among young people, as they carry knives to protect themselves from the perceived threat from others.

The Home Affairs Select Committee said that the majority of those who carried knives did so for their own protection. The committee’s extensive report warned that in deprived inner city areas, knife carrying had become normalised. They also warned that older teenagers were increasingly using children as young as 7 to carry knives for them.

But they also condemned “sensationalist” media coverage of knife crime and said this often created unnecessary fear. A rise in deaths from stabbings in 2007 and 2008 has led to increased attention on the issue.

The Committee supported the police’s increased use of stop-and-searches tactics but also called for more prison programmes to rehabilitate young offenders and for earlier intervention with children from dysfunctional families.
Committee Chairman Keith Vaz, said: “Young people carry knives because they fear that others are carrying knives.

“This spiralling of knife possession puts all young people at risk. Too many tragic deaths have occurred because of this. We have to stop this arms race.

“We need a new tack here, at least partly based on making young people feel safer and reducing the exposure to violence in their lives.

“We were impressed by the work of the 'gang exit' groups we spoke to, and by the success of Youth Inclusion Programmes.”

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, suggested that the government was making progress in reducing the number of deaths from knife crime.

She said: “This report recognises the hard work taking place up and down the country.

“It is also encouraging to see that the latest statistics show that the number of deaths from stabbings fell from 59 in the last quarter of 2007 to 52 in the last quarter of 2008.”

Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling called on the government to adopt a strategy based on the “broken windows” theory, popularised by former New York mayor Rudi Giuliani. The theory argues that by cracking down on low-level crime early on, the authorities prevent individuals progressing on to more serious crimes, such as gun and knife crime.

Grayling said: “The committee is absolutely right to say that we need to tackle the root social causes of knife crime.

“But we've also got to be much tougher on those committing acts of anti-social behaviour to prevent them from going on to commit more serious offences, like knife crime, later in life.”