Violent killings of teenagers by their peers have spiked dramatically in London since the start of the year, claiming 16 lives and prompting action to prevent the spread of “knife culture.”
Most of the victims were male, with the youngest a boy of only 14. The latest victim was a 15-year-old girl, found dead on Monday in a pool of blood at an appartment block near Waterloo railway station in London.
“Where’s it all going to end?” asked Kevin May, the uncle of 18-year-old Rob Knox, an aspiring actor who had a minor part in the new Harry Potter film who was killed in London last month. “When is this violence and the carrying of knives by young people going to stop? Something’s got to be done,” he said.
Community worker Shaun Bailey, who runs a charity for disadvantaged young people in west London, said knife crime has long been a problem but said it was clearly inching into new, and younger, hands and more areas of both the capital and the country.
“It’s spreading out. The big change is that it’s going down in age,” he said. “It’s happening in London, Glasgow. With poor kids, rich kids, young, old.”
Bailey is convinced that “if we don’t address it, it will get worse. There’s a point when kids and adolescents think [carrying a knife] is the only way to protect themselves.”
London’s Metropolitan Police insist that knife crime is falling in the British capital. But with the spate of new deaths — and the grief of each victim’s devastated family and friends increasingly played out on television and in newspapers — the government and authorities in London have been forced to respond.
London’s new mayor Boris Johnson appointed a commissioner for young people and announced plans to search people for deadly weapons using portable “knife arches” — airport-style metal detectors — at busy transport hubs.
Last week a novel, £3million (US$5.9 million) government advertising campaign was launched, using graphic images of real injuries inflicted by knives.
The radio, Internet and mobile phone campaign will run alongside another series of ads encouraging parents to talk with their children about the danger of knives.
British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has also pledged £5 million to police, local authorities and community groups to tackle knife crime.
Lyn Costello from the charity Mothers Against Murder and Aggression charged that lenient sentencing by the courts for those caught with or using knives has sent the wrong message.
“What we really need to be addressing is why our young people are violent,” Costello said. “We’ve given them no deterrent. We have given them a free rein.”
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