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“He won’t be the last”: What did a mother whose son was fatally stabbed tell Theresa May?

In a private Downing Street meeting, Roseann Taylor, who lost her 18-year-old son last year, warned the Prime Minister about Britain’s escalating knife crime crisis.

At 5.20pm on a Thursday afternoon last March, a teenage boy was stabbed up to 20 times in broad daylight. The 18-year-old Azaan John Kaleem, known as AJ, had been walking with his girlfriend in his hometown of Luton on the way home from a family funeral. He died later in hospital; he had been fatally stabbed in the heart.

The random attack came after the “wrong” look was exchanged with a stranger minutes beforehand, and a group of young men rounded on him. Three 18-year-olds were found guilty of murder, and a 20-year-old of manslaughter, with their prison sentences adding up to 63 years.

A CCTV camera on a nearby house captured the incident, which is horrifying to watch. Along with bodycam footage from police officers at the scene, it can now be viewed on Channel 4’s 24 Hours In Police Custody series, in an episode called “Knifed”.

As Britain’s knife crime crisis escalates, with a record 285 deaths from stabbings in England and Wales in 2017-18, Kaleem’s mother Roseann Taylor wanted audiences to see the reality.

“I thought about it long and hard; you never want to display your grief to the whole nation to see,” says Taylor, 47, who lives and works in Luton and is speaking to me over the phone. She is raising money on this JustGiving page for Luton and Dunstable Hospital, where intensive care doctors tried to save Kaleem’s life.

“People have often asked me what was it like when you arrived at the scene, and I say I can’t describe it to you, words are not sufficient, they won’t resonate with you. So I decided that the best thing I could do was let people see, let people watch the devastation that happened.”

Downing Street, planning this week’s serious violence summit, saw Taylor’s story last week, which also featured on a BBC One documentary called Stabbed: Britain’s Knife Crime Crisis.

She was invited to a private meeting at No 10 with Theresa May on Monday, along with four other families who had lost children to knife and gun attacks.

Taylor describes the meeting, which lasted over an hour, as informal. It took place in “a very nice room, with sofas and we were all drinking coffee. But as you can imagine the room was filled with a lot of grief and a lot of trauma, so it was a difficult situation to be in.”

One man broke down in tears and the Prime Minister “just jumped up off the sofa and rushed over to him and gave him the biggest hug ever”, says Taylor.

“If you take away the element that she was actually Prime Minister, she’s just a normal person as you and I, and it was that human element of listening to mothers’ and fathers’ grief… She had a first-hand glance at real grief.”

Taylor – whose son had been attacked a year earlier and was carrying a knife without her knowledge – took the opportunity to tell May about “elements you probably wouldn’t be aware of”.

“The media and general public just see that a victim’s died of knife crime; they see a poor girl or boy who’s been murdered. But what they don’t realise is the devastation that comes after that,” explains Taylor.

This includes the difficulty of affording a burial, stretched funding for support workers allocated to families by police homicide teams, and the need for numerous autopsies.

“In my case there was a suggestion that there would’ve been six autopsies because there were five perpetrators, and we managed to get it down to two,” says Taylor. “We need to look at that being brought down, because it’s really invasive.”

Taylor suggested to May that autopsies are filmed for future use, and then victims’ organs can be used to “give the gift of life” to someone else. Despite giving her permission, her son’s organs could not be used because of the police’s requirement for future autopsies.

There was also discussion during the meeting about showing the Channel 4 documentary in schools as part of the national curriculum, and of a viewing in parliament.

“When I was a child, we had Stranger Danger – we need something that is really visual and really graphic and really poignant for young children in schools to see, and it being something that is non-negotiable, in a classroom setting,” suggests Taylor.

“You could see her [May] prick up when I mentioned about Stranger Danger, it was like a little lightbulb had gone, ‘Oh, I remember that’. So hopefully that's something she's going to look at,” she says.

Taylor also describes the Prime Minister as being “really horrified” when she mentioned that zombie knives – lethal weapons the government has tried to crack down on – are “very easy” to buy. “There are loopholes and people are still doing it. She said that’s something that she would definitely look into, and she was always going to look into,” reveals Taylor.

In a “place of forgiveness” of her son’s killers, Taylor is concerned about long sentences and “learned behaviours” young people pick up in prisons. She told May that there is “not enough rehabilitation for perpetrators inside the prisons”, and warned: “If we’re thinking of just locking them up and throwing away the key for 20-30 years, in 20-30 years we’re going to have a whole new national epidemic of people coming out… they hadn’t had any help, with either past trauma before the crime or help with what they’ve done, then we’re fighting a losing battle.”

Though Taylor felt the Prime Minister and her advisers present were “100 per cent taking on board” her suggestions, she described the meeting as “purely” a listening exercise. “You have to remember that Theresa May is only human, she’s just done a summit meeting, she’s got Brexit going on, and I think she didn't want to shut any of us down, so it was purely listening to us.”

Rather than pointing the finger at government, she gives a range of reasons for the recent epidemic, from internet addiction to older generations failing to empower young people. While she says some responsibility lies with inequality and cuts to public services, she feels a cultural change is in order – rather than a focus on deprivation.

“I wouldn’t say it’s poverty now, I wouldn’t say it’s just all single parents, I would say it’s all across the board now,” she says. “The fault is when we, as human beings, turn away when somebody’s being attacked on the street. That’s being irresponsible, that’s being partly to blame for the culture that’s now growing.”

As the government consults on a “public health” approach to knife crime, treating it more as a health crisis than a law and order issue, Taylor’s “heart bleeds” every time she hears of young people being fatally stabbed on the news.

“It just makes me realise my son wasn’t the first, and he’s certainly not going to be the last. It’s heartbreaking.

“You know, before my son passed away, it was not really something that I thought about. Knife crime really wasn’t my issue because I never, ever thought my son would be the victim of knife crime,” she tells me. “So I was one of those parents who were quite desensitised. But as it happened to my son, the one thing I haven’t done is just blame parliament, or blame the police, or blame schools, or blame parents. My understanding is we are all responsible.”

24 Hours In Police Custody continues on Monday at 9pm on Channel 4. This episode is available to watch on All4.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.