A recent report in the Guardian has highlighted that 35 children and teenagers have lost their lives due to knife crime in Britain so far this year, putting 2017 on target to be the worst year for knife deaths of those under 19 years of age for nine years. The newspaper has been running a project throughout this year called Beyond the Blade aiming to collect statistics on knife crime for children and teenagers, filling the gap on this data within the UK. The project not only aims to collect the numbers but also collate information on who these children were, their lives and the nature of the crimes which killed them.
Their project makes shocking reading. On 14 March 2017, a 5-year-old boy was found dead from stab wounds to his chest inside his home in Faringdon, Oxfordshire. His mother, 40-year-old Emma Jackson, was charged with his murder and is due to appear at Oxford Crown Court in February 2008. On 16 April 2017, 18-year-old Matthew Rothery was stabbed multiple times and found dying on the street. 20-year-old Nathan Towsey was found guilty of his murder and jailed for life. Cases recorded also include the stabbing of a newborn baby by her own mother on 16 January 2017. 26-year-old Rachel Tunstill stabbed her newborn daughter 14 times with a pair of scissors before hiding her body in a bin outside of her home. She lied to her partner as to how many weeks pregnant she was and told him she had suffered a miscarriage.
When the case reached Preston Crown Court in June this year, Rachel Tunstill admitted to the stabbing, however, she claimed she had no memory of the crime and suffered from paranoid thoughts and Asperger’s syndrome. She was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison to serve a minimum of 20 years. A rare conviction for the murder of a newborn by a parent, most often classed as infanticide, rather than murder with underlying mental health issues being the cause of such unthinkable actions.
In what was once mainly a gang culture of knife carrying on the streets, young people are now carrying knives for their own protection and to increase their status amongst their peers. Detective Chief Superintendent Michael Gallagher told the Evening Standard in May this year:
“We are in the business of murder suppression, protecting young people and preventing them from killing each other.”
In amongst the news reports of each death due to knife crime are reports that more and more children are taking knives into school with them. According to The Telegraph there has been a 90% rise in the number of children found on or near school premises with blades on their person or in their school bag over the last five years in London. Whether this reflects an actual increase in children carrying knives inside school or an increase in police officers placed within schools checking for such items remains unclear. What is clear is that youngsters are choosing to carry such weapons with London showing a particularly high increase in the numbers doing so.
Carrying a knife for some young people may be a status symbol, something they think makes them look superior and not to be messed with amongst their peers. Others may have experienced crime themselves or within their close family and friends and choose to carry a knife believing it will offer them a level of protection. The reality is, however, when a knife is present, a fight can turn from harmful to deadly in seconds.
When youngsters carry knives it is not just their social group who can be at risk. On 28 April 2014, 15-year-old Will Cornick took a knife to school with him in Leeds. Halfway through his class he rose from his chair and fatally attacked his teacher, 61-year-old Ann Maguire, stabbing her multiple times and leaving her no chance of survival. Cornick showed little remorse after the murder with evidence gained that he had been planning the attack for some time. After being described as having “a gross lack of empathy for his victim and a degree of callousness rarely seen in clinical practice,” Will Cornick pled guilty and was convicted as a juvenile, sentenced to life in prison to serve a minimum of 20 years. A sentence eight years longer than the usual minimum sentence for a juvenile murder conviction due to the pre-meditation and public nature of his crime.
The Office for National Statistics reported in October of this year that almost 37,000 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument were recorded by police in the year ending in June of 2017, marking an increase of 26% from the previous year. Furthermore, 47% of the recorded increase in knife crimes were reported by the Metropolitan Police force who cover the London area. Chairman of the Met Police Federation, Ken Marsh, told The Telegraph earlier this year, “The increase is also down to the impunity of people who feel they can walk around with a knife and not feel challenged. It’s the norm and that is wholly wrong.”
A great deal of work is being carried out by police, youth and community organisations on the streets and within schools to try and educate young people on the dangers of carrying knifes; work that is facing an uphill battle. It can only be hoped that over time this trend of knife crime with children and teens carrying blades will begin to diminish, reducing the needless loss of life occurring weekly across the country.