Croydon MP Sarah Jones made an important speech in parliament last night to call for a 10-year strategy to stem the rise of knife crime. And this morning, in the borough Jones represents, a retail store is flogging weapons in its shop window. KEN LEE reports
A Croydon MP has described as “shocking” the use of large-bladed hunting knives in a shop window display in the Thornton Heath branch of Poundland.Sarah Jones, Labour’s new MP for Croydon Central, reacted to a video circulating on social media this morning which clearly shows a display of the weapons for sale in the store.
The Thornton Heath Poundland is just a short walk from Green Lane, where last month 15-year-old Jermaine Goupall died after being attacked by youths armed with a knife.
Four people, including two minors, were arrested and face a pre-trial hearing at the Old Bailey in November with a murder trial scheduled for January.
And only last week, there was another stabbing on Thornton Heath High Street.
There is no suggestion that the weapons used in the attacks were bought from Poundland. But it remains a matter of grave concern to residents, politicians and anti-crime charity workers that such weapons should be so easily available on the high street.
Since being elected as MP, Jones has made the rapidly rising rates of knife crime in Croydon and across the nation as a priority. She has already established a cross-party committee on the subject and yesterday led a debate in parliament on the worrying crime trend which has seen 15 people in London killed in the first eight months of this year.
In Croydon in the 12 months to June, there were 108 injuries to people aged 25 or younger, a 66 per cent increase on numbers for the equivalent period up to June 2016.Today, journalist Lorraine King posted a video which showed the shop display of the large knives, which had been recorded by a friend and Thornton Heath resident who claims that, when she asked about the display, the store manager was “dismissive”.
Other residents responded by saying that they have complained to the same store over the course of several years.
After having the video brought to her attention by Inside Croydon, Jones’s reaction was unequivocal. “Shocking,” she said. “I will write to Poundland about this.”
Jones also said that she felt that the window display goes against national guidelines agreed between the government and retailers, including Poundland, over the display and sale of large knives. The agreement states, “Retailers will ensure knives are displayed and packaged securely as appropriate to minimise risk. This will include retailers taking practical and proportionate action to restrict accessibility and avoid immediate use, reduce the possibility of injury, and prevent theft.”
Yesterday at Westminster, Jones introduced a debate on what she described as “the devastating impact of knife crime”.
It was an important speech, in which Jones mentioned the death of Jermaine Groupall.
“Jermaine was the 15th teenager to die in a knife attack in London this year—15 young lives wasted,” Jones said.
“These devastating stories are in the news every time we switch on the TV or open a newspaper, but behind every headline is a family ruined; a local community in shock; more parents afraid to let their children out of their sight; and, tragically, a generation of young people who are becoming increasingly anxious and, in many cases, desensitised to the existence of dangerous weapons in their communities.
“I asked for this debate because I believe, as I am sure everyone in this House believes, that every single life matters and that the epidemic of youth violence in this country will continue to escalate unless we do more to intervene.
“I spent much of the summer talking to people in Croydon about knife crime, trying to understand why it has almost doubled in the past year. I spoke to young people involved in criminal gangs, youth workers who work with young people, local organisations that go into schools, mentor children, help provide advice and support or just give some love, and to the police, the local council, football clubs in local communities, large charities and tiny, two-person organisations in Croydon. I want to thank them all for their time and for what they do. They are all incredibly inspiring and strong.
“I heard stories which broke my heart, including about policemen battling to save a life by putting their fingers in a wound to stop the streaming blood. The boy survived only to be picked up the very next week while out looking for revenge.
“I heard about young people who have been in care all their lives and find their only sense of love and belonging when they are in a gang; girls whose boyfriends ask them to carry their knives, and they do it because they believe that is what is expected of them; and horrific images of stabbings, of strippings, shown far and wide on social media.
“I was told of older men grooming young boys to carry drugs or commit other crimes with the promises of great riches that never materialised.
“But this summer I also met towering figures who are giving their all to fight this problem, and some amazing young people who, against the odds, have turned their lives around. I was inspired and I learned a huge amount.
“This is what I know: first, knife crime and knife carrying are increasing, and although they are greatest in London, they are increasing across the country. They are up by one-fifth across England and Wales, according to recent statistics provided by the Office for National Statistics…
“The second thing I know is that the age of the young people involved is getting lower and lower. Every single agency I spoke to over the summer said that it was used to seeing young people between the ages of 16 and 24, but that the age of the children it saw was dropping to 12, 13 and 14…
“The third thing that I discovered over the summer is that the problem stretches beyond the children who are involved in crime and who carry knives themselves. Teenagers are growing up attending the funerals of school friends, with parents who are under-supported or overworked, and often both. Those children have growing anxiety and fewer ways to express it.
“A counselling service in my borough described deep-seated traumas among a growing number of young people, with half of the people who made up its case load having experienced suicidal thoughts. Many of our children now see the carrying of knives and the exploitation of men and women as normal. They see a world that, in many ways, we do not see.
“The fourth fact that I learned is that the issue is complex. We cannot just say, ‘This is about kids in gangs who want to make money.’ In fact, most knife crime is not gang-related. The causes range from policing, to jobs and training, to education, mental health and youth service provision; from silos in the care system to social media, parenting and street design. Every crime is different, every cause is different and every response must be adapted.
“My fifth finding is that we know what works. A lot of people are already showing us the way, working hard and finding the answers. Although the picture is complex and the scale of the problem pretty big, there is a lot of evidence about what works and what needs to be done.
“I would not be standing here today if I did not think we could develop cross-party consensus about what needs to happen and how to tackle knife crime. The case that I want to make today is that we are simply not doing enough to tackle this blight on the lives of individuals and communities. I say that while welcoming the Home Secretary’s recent promise to crack down in law on the online sale of knives. I also welcome the continued commitment to Operation Sceptre by police forces up and down the country.
“When I was walking around with the local police looking for knives on a local council estate, I talked to them about the impact of the cuts on their job, and they said the impact was very severe and that they could not do the things they wanted to do. For example, one of the things they do not have the resources to do is to go into schools to normalise the relationship between children and the police so that a bit more trust can be built up between them. Such interventions are absolutely crucial, but at the moment they are not happening in the way they should.
“I welcome the Mayor of London’s recent knife crime strategy, as well as the work of many colleagues, such as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), in setting up the Youth Violence Commission. The Home Office’s flagship scheme on ending gang violence and exploitation is well-intentioned, but with just under £100,000 of funding for this year, it does not have enough money, and it also focuses predominately on gangs. It does not reflect the complex reality that has developed during the past few years, and it requires cash-starved local authorities to fund half the cost of the programme if they want it to be implemented in their areas.
“I want to press the Minister to give this issue the breadth of focus it deserves. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, has herself said that, ‘we absolutely cannot deal with this problem through enforcement alone’.
“Specifically, I am calling on the Government to develop a coherent, 10-year knife crime strategy that co-ordinates work across departmental and party lines, puts preventive and acute resources on an equal footing, and recognises the interdependent nature of the public services in play. The hugely successful teenage pregnancy strategy implemented by the previous Labour Government resulted in record lows of teenage pregnancy, with a 51 per cent drop over 16 years. Two things characterised that programme: the first was the length of time devoted to it—10 years; and the second was the recognition that no single department could solve the problem alone.
“I will not set out tonight, nor could I, what a 10-year strategy should look like, but I know plenty of people who could help us to write one. I want to highlight four things that must be part of the mix.
“The first is resources. At many stages of a young person’s life, the help they need is to be shown that they have choices, that getting involved in violence is not the way, that they can have a future and that people care, but such interventions simply do not exist. Such interventions might be in schools, to teach people about positive relationships and emotional responses, or through child and adolescent mental health services. They might take the form of a conversation with a policeman or a youth worker, or someone who can help them to think about their CV and their job options. Funding cuts across our public services — policing, youth work, education and health — have left a huge vacuum that social media and criminal gangs are filling, so we cannot duck the issue of resources or the lack of them. It comes up at every turn when we talk to anyone with first-hand experience of the problem.
“My second point is that when I ask young people what has changed over the past couple of years, the conversation repeatedly returns to social media and the online world. Social media is undeniably fuelling an escalation in the cycle of violence among young people. There is a growing trend of documented attacks and threats between rival groups, of violating others and of widespread bullying through tools such as Snapchat and Instagram.
“We should look not just at hosting sites such as YouTube, but at channels that share and spread this content, often distributing it to thousands of people without consideration of the messages behind it or the age of those viewing it. All this provides the catalyst for an ever more extreme and condensed revenge cycle of violence. The smallest violation can now be broadcast to hundreds if not thousands of people, and it can escalate to face-to-face confrontation in a matter of hours. I urge the Minister to raise this issue with the Home Secretary. The Government have taken a strong approach to extremist content online, but this type of content is in many ways equally alluring and damaging.
“My third point is that there are widespread concerns that schools are being overwhelmed by the scale of the issues they face and, as with the police, the spill-over issues of other services not being able to cope. Funding is absolutely key in that respect, but there are also increasing pressures to do academic attainment.
“We have to ask whether some schools are bypassing their broader social responsibilities in the drive to make good on their bold claims about pass rates. There is particular concern about some academy chains.
“Every single agency that I have spoken to over the summer reports increasing levels of managed moves or expulsions, often for children with undiagnosed behaviour or mental health disorders, when the school simply cannot cope or does not want the child there.
“Moving children to other schools or pupil referral units is a worrying trend. One organisation described to me the straight line between PRUs and gangs. We should look hard at whether there is sufficient accountability, particularly in academies, before condemning a child to a PRU.
“Voluntary groups are an important bridge to young people, but they report increased difficulties in accessing schools. Again, academies seem particular culprits, preferring internal processes and systems to the learned experience and cultural competence that many voluntary sector organisations offer.
“My final point is that we might look at the growing body of evidence that suggests we should view knife crime and youth violence as a public health issue. There is much good work on that in this country and abroad. The Minister will know that in America, across major cities such as Chicago, Boston and New York, youth violence is approached as a major public health issue, and tackled as an infectious epidemic.
“That includes interrupting activity at source, with people from the local community trained to intervene and work with young people; outreach workers working intensively with young people for six months or a year; and a programme of community and education activity to shift the norms around behaviour and expectation.
“Let me end by returning to my original plea to the Minister for a cross-Government knife crime strategy. Governments have the job of deciding where and how resources should be allocated, and that is not an easy job, but this issue has been sidelined by the present Government for too long, and the consequences are very real.
“I hope that the Minister will commit herself to considering the proposals that I have outlined, meeting me to discuss them further, and hearing about the work of the APPG that I have set up and will be launching next week.
“There are people here tonight who are working on the front line with children in Croydon to give them routes away from violence and crime. If we can match their commitment and bravery, we shall be doing a good thing.”
And as for Poundland and its placing of potentially deadly weapons in its shop window in Thornton Heath in its efforts to make maximum profit, a spokesperson today told a Sutton-based freesheet: “Our strict policy is that knives are only sold in the home aisle, under CCTV where it’s in place, and in sealed packaging.
“Any deviations from this we will address quickly – thanks for bringing it to our attention.”
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