Gun and Knife Crime Conference Speech

In a speech to Liberal Democrat conference on 19th September 2017, Simon Hughes, PPC and former MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark moved the following motion on Gun and Knife Crime:

Conference notes with concern that:

That knife crime is rising – the Office for National Statistics reported a 13–14% increase in gun and knife crime in 2016.

According to the Guardian project 'Beyond the Blade', 21 children and teenagers have been killed in knife attacks this year, with a disproportionate number concentrated in London.

The scale of knife attacks is largely hidden given the focus on deaths alone with less attention being paid to those who are injured as a result of knife crime.

Whilst the Metropolitan police's 'Operation Sceptre' initiative to crack down on knife crime is welcome, it does not look at the reasons why young people carry knives.

Conference believes that:

The number of people, and particularly young people, who are now victims and at risk of knife and gun crime is of growing concern and must be responded to more urgently and effectively.

Gun and knife crime must be a priority concern of central and local government, the police and communities nationwide.

The roots of gun and knife crime are complex, with socioeconomic factors as well as simple criminality playing a role, which means broader social problems must also be addressed.

As with many types of crime, the most effective approaches involve working with a number of people and agencies and with many diverse communities.

A return to overly-broad stop and search techniques risks damaging community relations and threatens the likliehood of successful intelligence-led interventions.

Conference calls for:

Individuals and groups to work more closely together with police, churches, mosques and other faith groups, particularly to engage with 16–25 year olds.

The promotion and proper funding of community led approaches, working with charities such as Redthread and GAV (Growing Against Violence).

The establishment of mentoring schemes and conflict prevention and mediation training for all students before they leave full-time education.

Regular amnesties to provide a safe time to turn over guns and knives.

Additional funding of local police forces to restore community policing which is the best source of intelligence that could be used to target stop and search more accurately


In his speech to Liberal Democrat conference on 19th September 2017 moving the motion on Gun and Knife CrimeSimon Hughes, PPC and former MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark said;

On 17th June 2008, in Tabard Park just yards from his home near London Bridge, 14 year old David Idowu was fatally stabbed through the heart by a boy not much older than him. David, his parents and family were constituents known and loved by many of us in the community. The crime was horrible; the young life gone.

On 5th May 2017, two days after the formal start of this year's general election campaign, I was at the vigil for 26 year old local father, Bilal Kargbo, who had settled with his family in Southwark from Sierra Leone.

Bilal had been stabbed to death just a few days before in Peckham Rye just yards from one of his best friends.  He was the sixth person to die in London from knife crime in that week.

All too often, we have front page headlines like last week's 'Southwark News'  "I'm going to keep trying to find out who killed my son", this one  quoting the mother of 16-year-old Mohamed, who was stabbed to death, his mother still pleading for witnesses to come forward to identify the killer on the second anniversary of the death of her son – an aspiring engineer who had the world at his feet until his life was cut short by a single stab wound to the chest and could not be saved by his terrified friend while he lay on the ground on a Walworth estate.

Conference I want us to think today not about statistics but individuals with knives at their throats or in their chests or guns in their ribs. Each one of these attacks is horrendous and unacceptable.

Southwark Liberal Democrats have brought this motion for decision because as political leaders and activists trying to make our home communities safer, clearly at the moment the actions and responses in our communities are not sufficient.  Southwark Liberal Democrats want to propose some new things we should do and other things we must do better.

Conference, the motion refers to two specific statistics and includes a reminder that focus on fatalities alone hides the much larger number of knife and gun attacks which produce injury but not death. The report in the 'Guardian' is that 21 children and teenagers have already been killed in knife attacks this year, the majority in London.

Crime numbers are still not as bad as they were at the beginning of the millennium, but gun and knife crime particularly, but not only, in London and the south-east is significantly on the increase again.

Our borough of Southwark has overall the third worst crime rate of any of the 32 London boroughs. And the two London boroughs with the highest rate of gun and knife crime are Southwark and Lambeth, then Brent, Haringey, Hackney and Waltham Forest.

In Southwark there were 87 firearm crimes in 2015/16 rising to 128 in 16/17.

Across London firearm crimes went from 1793 in 2015/16 to 2544 this last year.

But when a borough like ours has one of the highest rates of gun and knife crime in London and London has the highest rates in the country we believe we have a duty to reassess what we can do better to turn the tide as urgently as possible. We must try harder to spare mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters and partners from the all too real risk that a beloved family member, instead of coming home safely later in the day, will be fighting for their life in a pool of blood in a local street or park.

In the last full year in England and Wales there were 571 killings, 38 of young people under 16, and while 26 people died from gun crime, nearly 10 times as many died as a result of knives or sharp instruments, more than 1 in 3 of all killings.

There were 12,074 knife crimes in London in 2016/17 – up nearly a quarter from the previous year, and one in five leading to injury.

And last year we had a four year high of 1749 recorded stabbings of people under 25.

The Met Police say that knives were involved in about half of all serious youth crime recorded in London last year and about a quarter of the victims were girls and young women. 

The Met police have said "We know that if you carry a knife you are far more likely to get stabbed, probably with that knife", that most youth knife crime was committed with regular knifes regularly available in the home - and that intelligence led stop and search was critical to removing those knives from the streets.

In the words of Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt this April: "London is one of the safest global cities in the world" but " We're concerned about the rise of gun crime and the rise of knife crime offences committed by young people and the changing nature of the offenders. Young people carrying knives are doing so for a variety of reasons including status, criminality and self-protection, but only a quarter are affiliated with gangs.

While we continue to reduce stabbings by taking weapons and dangerous offenders off the streets, prevention and diversion from knife crime is key. There are complex social reasons why more young people are carrying knives and this cannot be solved by the police alone, we must work with communities to combat knife crime."

So our police are very alert to these issues and do much to reduce, detect, deter and educate and we thank them sincerely.

Recently a senior police officer asked a year six class of ten year olds in a London primary school how many of them knew someone who goes out carrying a knife. Three out of four said they did. Horrifyingly some start carrying knives at the of age of 6. For many young people now the knife carried for self-protection becomes the weapon of defence or attack when a meeting turns into a confrontation.On a graphic single sheet published in the 'Mirror' and elsewhere Police Commander John Sutherland recently drew a typical young knife crime suspect in the middle and listed all the things often present in that youngster's life - like domestic violence and other forms of abuse, broken home, atmosphere of threat, exposure to trauma, poor mental health, drug use, negative role models, exclusion from education, normalisation of violence in film, internet, games and music, and fear and the things often absent from that youngster's life - like a father figure, secure family, positive role models, boundaries, records of achievement, educational qualifications, employment prospects, a sense of hope and an understanding of the consequences of using a knife.

Any and all strategy that is long term needs to take all these factors into account.

My friend Patrick Regan, hugely respected founder and CEO of XLP says 'XLP has seen an alarming increase in young people both carrying and using knives. The impact this has on families and communities is huge, long-lasting and in some cases sparks more fear causing cycles of knife-carrying to begin. Don't tackle the symptoms tackle the causes. This needs long term cross-party and cross agency work, with much better networking, including communication with the police, mapping and sharing of good practice'.

Because of postcode rivalries services have to be delivered locally and because of mistrust by young people of so many institutions like police and local councils. Often the best people to help youngsters back off and move in a different direction are detached youth workers, peer group mentors and others with far more respect, credibility and long-term engagement in these young people's lives.

Patrick says "Bottom line is that kids are scared. Most kids who carry knives do so not because they are in gangs but because they are afraid, and fear makes them paranoid. 'I'm going to stab you before you stab me.' The question is how do we best counter fear?"

If Patrick Regan was here he'd say: "We cannot arrest our way out of our current situation. We need to invest in long term relational strategies that build trust between individuals and communities. Relationship nurtures the belief that change is possible".

So Conference

We ask for much more joined up work in every community, with all relevant groups and individuals, I believe particularly in our churches and mosques and other faith communities, and particularly with their young members and young leaders;

Maximum engagement of those established voluntary organisations with real skill and experience, such as XLP, Kids Count, Redthread, GAV and many others;

Thirdly – and really importantly – the establishment of mentoring and conflict prevention and mediation training for all school students before they leave full-time education;

All year round amnesties for guns and knives to be handed in without punishment, and

The maximum financial support for effective community policing. 

We need to give more support to our young people, more practical help and more skills to be streetwise without being at risk. We need to help them to have more hope and less fear. There is a duty on all of us to do more effectively and to do more now. Safe and secure communities in the future start with safety and security for all our young people.