Three weeks ago my 16-year-old son and his friend were mugged in Norwood by a gang of seven youths who stole their phones, punched my son and threatened to stab him (Change school closing times to curb stabbings, say doctors, 7 November). Plainclothes police were there within minutes and the whole incident was caught on CCTV. It was 3.30pm on a Friday and the boys who attacked them were wearing hoodies/anoraks covering their school blazers. But they were obviously local (and two of them have been spotted since then on a bus in Croydon). So the police have footage of the boys (none of whom apparently is already in the system), including face shots, but have said they don’t have the resources to go into the local schools and identify them. And they don’t have any community police or liaisons with schools.
Meanwhile, last Thursday a 15-year-old was stabbed in Bellingham, on Friday a 17-year-old was stabbed in Clapham and on Monday a 16-year-old was stabbed in Tulse Hill. I cry in sympathy for their parents and in frustration that the boys who attacked my son have a growing sense of invulnerability and added confidence that they can commit bigger crimes and get away with impunity. Perhaps they’re already out there stabbing people; perhaps they’re just building up to it. Our city continues to serve teenage boys and young men badly. Now the police funding cuts mean the police are unable to get results even when they have the evidence. What chance does anyone have of feeling safe on the streets of London, especially if they’re young and male?
• Staggering school closing times to reduce numbers of pupils allowed out together categorically limits aggressive behaviour, as does a police presence. Walking with my son to his secondary school or collecting him was, without exception, an awful experience. We witnessed inexcusably dangerous, aggressive, out-of-control pupil behaviour towards each other and the public. Once, while innocently walking home amid a running battle between girls, when one couldn’t punch her opponent, she thumped me instead.
Previously, I had been verbally abused, shoved, hit by coins and watched, horrified, as pupils vandalised property. Reports of such incidents were largely ignored but, during a parents’ survey, I suggested staggering leaving times, especially prior to holidays when excitement was heightened. It was implemented and made a positive difference.
Similarly, when a mini-digger was located near the school, a police officer guarded it and our journeys there and back were the most peaceable experienced. Later, it was disconcerting to overhear PCSOs, patrolling locally, say that they would avoid the school because it got “really nasty round there”. Surely this proves my point?
• With the greatest respect for the proposal from our wonderful NHS trauma doctors that schools should “stagger closing times” to stem the rise in tragic teenage stabbings, we should surely look to more radical solutions that could actually try and heal the mindless violence of the perpetrators. How about putting pressure on central government to urgently reverse the awful funding cuts borne by local authorities over the last 10 years, so that the many closed-down youth centres, youth sports clubs, school counselling professionals and youth mental health services could be reopened and adequately staffed? Simply getting schools to reorganise their closing times would be a mere temporary sticking plaster; and secondary schools should not be burdened with the vast administration task that would involve. Let’s not push yet another of society’s ills on to the hard-pressed, underfunded education system to sort out alone.
Scarborough, North Yorkshire
• There is no quick fix to end knife crime (Surgeon’s view: ‘The victims are getting younger and the wounds much worse’, 7 November). My experience sitting as a circuit judge trying serious criminal cases is that, in some areas, it has become routine for youths, sometimes as young as 12, to carry long, pointed kitchen knives on the street. Knife violence is a multifaceted problem and only a public health approach, like that in Glasgow, will work.
Drawers in every kitchen contain potentially lethal knives which any teenager can take on to the street. It is generally the points of eight- or 10-inch kitchen knives that cause fatal or life-threatening injuries, not the blades. In the longer term, injuries and deaths would be reduced if retailers sold such kitchen knives with rounded ends, not points. In the kitchen, we need short pointed knives to fillet fish or pierce meat, but we rarely use the points of longer knives.
Further legislation is always a last resort, but why can’t manufacturers, shops, police, local authorities and the government act together to reduce the sale of long pointed knives and provide an alternative of knives with rounded ends? It might be that an agreed pricing differential – say increasing the price of long pointed knives by £5, in comparison with rounded knives – would reduce the number of lethal knives sold.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
• I think it is time to face up to the uncomfortable fact that we are allowing young children to be brutalised by playing violent video games (Knife crime epidemic will take decade to cure, 6 November). It is common sense that if we allow children to play these virtual reality games involving killing and all sorts of brutality, it will then be a small step to carry a knife and to use it. They have been carrying out “virtual” brutal acts from a young age. Stopping this means tackling a big money-making industry, and this would not be a popular move. How can we be so naive in thinking that a training from a young age in such brutality is not going to impact our society? The figures speak for themselves. Exposing young and vulnerable minds to such a grotesque environment that is repeated time and time again and presented in such appealing captivating packages is bound to have an impact. We need to seriously face up to where we are going and the choices we are making.
• If you close down youth services and take away opportunities and space for young people to be creative and develop skills and interests, should we be surprised when things go very dangerously wrong?
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