Public Forum “Youth Violence and Knife Crime” – 25th May 2022

In response to the concern felt by many Redbridge residents over the recent incidents of youth violence Redbridge Faith Forum arranged an open forum on this topic to follow on from the Annual General Meeting held at the Muslim Gardens of Peace Cemetery in Hainault on Wednesday evening 25th May.

The Forum was very well attended by 48 local residents including the Mayor of Redbridge, Councillor Roy Emmett and several ward councillors.  Guest Speakers were Patrick Green, Chief Executive of the Ben Kinsella Trust and Superintendent Gordon Henderson, CID Lead for East Area.

The Mayor addressed the meeting sharing that he had been a resident of Hainault since 1950 and he was proud of the diversity of Redbridge today and that Redbridge Faith Forum by bringing together a group of faith and civic leaders gives hope for the future. He acknowledged the very serious incidents of youth violence that had taken place recently and that it was important to find a way forward.  Councillor Emmett is standing down from the council but introduced Councillor Shah Ali who had replaced him as a Hainault ward councillor.

Chair of Trustees, and Director of the Gardens of Peace Cemetery, Mohamed Omer, thanked the Mayor for his many years of hard work as a councillor and expressed Redbridge Faith Forum’s very best wishes for his retirement.

Mohamed invited Patrick Green to speak. Patrick spoke about remembrance and said that sometimes people’s names are just remembered in connection with an incident but Ben Kinsella was a talented artist who was so concerned about the high level of youth violence in the community that he wrote to the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown,  about the lack of protection for young people and asked the question “why are young people killing each other just because of their differences”.  A few months later he was stabbed to death in an unprovoked attack by strangers when he was 16 years old and out celebrating the completion of his GCSE examinations in Islington.

Ben’s parents just could not understand the senselessness of this crime and the fact that if Ben had been shot his killer would have been given a sentence of 25 years but because he had been stabbed it was much lighter sentence.  They vowed to work tirelessly for change and set up a charity in Ben’s memory called the Ben Kinsella Trust to educate young people about youth violence.  In 2010 the Trust successfully lobbied central government to raise the mandatory life sentence for knife related murder from 15 to 25 years.

Ben’s family knew however that just arresting a murdered and putting them away was not the answer (as evidenced by ongoing gun crime in USA).  They wanted the Trust to actually add value, not repeat work already being done by others but fill the gaps.

This culminated in a permanent knife crime exhibition which is a series of rooms that young people visit and travel through.  This enables them to find “the missing piece of the jigsaw” to learn for themselves about young victims of knife crime, observe the effect on both the bereaved families left behind and the murderer’s life behind bars, and impact also on his family.  The Choices and Consequences exhibition educates young people in the dangers of knife crime and helps them to make positive choices to stay safe. The award-winning exhibition follows the journey of both the victim and the offender through a series of unique and immersive experiences to show young people how choices and consequences are intrinsically linked.  It also dispels many myths around knife crime.  The biggest being “If I carry a knife I can protect myself”.

Patrick acknowledged that knife crime is a really complicated issue which is often just portrayed in terms of police but can involve many aspects such as :- drugs, gangs, school exclusions, lack of mental health support, parenting issues, deprivation, racism, peer pressure, lack of youth services, lack of employment opportunities, influences of drill music and a lack of good role models.

All these issues need addressing but it is best to start with talking to young people about staying safe and making good decisions.

Mohamed thanked Patrick for his contribution and said that in his experience of Chair of Governors at a large secondary school in Redbridge many pupils can feel that they are not getting the right opportunities in life and feel their aspirations are impacted because of their colour or background.

Mohamed then introduced Superintendent Henderson who spoke about the policing of knife crime and youth violence.  Once a 999 call is received a uniformed response officer will attend – if it is a homicide (the victim is already dead) then the homicide team will be called in.

There are 23-24 homicide teams each compromising of one Detective Chief Inspector, 2 Detective Inspectors and other officers.  The CID will be alerted as soon as a call is received that an incident may lead to a death on the street as these officers are trained how to deal with forensics, crime scene investigation etc.

There are five building blocks to the process:

Preserving Life

To administer first aid and maintain life until ambulance service or HEMs arrives to take victim to trauma centre – often Royal London Hospital or St Georges in Tooting. These specialist trauma centres are one reason why homicide rates are reducing.

Uniformed officers also have to assess other risks to life eg  are there other weapons around?  is there a risk of blood borne disease

Preserving the Scene

It is vital that a decision is made as to how much needs to be preserved at the scene which could be on the street or in a building. This may depend on how many people were involved in the incident, if the weapons were discarded, are there opportunities to reclaim anything that could be used to identify suspects.  If the person is dead the body also becomes a crime scene.  A log will be kept of people going in and out of the crime scene and photographs will be taken. An experienced officer will be appointed as Crime Scene Investigator.  If the victim is dead then the murder team will take over.  It may be necessary for a post-mortem to be carried out by a Home Office approved pathologist – there are currently only 25 in the country and fewer and fewer are being trained.

Securing Evidence

Previously the only CCTV that used to be available was from council owned cameras but now many people have video doorbells, there may also be mobile phone footage which sometimes is uploaded to you tube.  (Mobile phone footage was vital identifying Sarah Everard’s murderer.)  Mobile phones leave a trace behind so give clues as to location - via phone masts, connections to routers, use of Bluetooth.  The police need to build a picture of who was involved in the incident.

  • Identify the victim and notify next of kin

Police will want to get evidence from the family about the victim’s associates and check if there are any problems within the family.  There is a need to  identify the suspect as quickly as possible in order to be able to get vital evidence by swabbing hands, seizing clothing, (there may be spatters of blood on them that can be analysed) – speed is of the essence especially if there is the possibility of violence escalating through revenge – 9 out of 10 times the murderer is male.

  • Identify the suspect

Need to  identify the suspect as quickly as possible in order to be able to get vital evidence by swabbing hands, seizing clothing, (there may be spatters of blood on them that can be analysed) – speed is of the essence especially if there is the possibility of violence escalating through revenge – 9 out of 10 times the murderer is male.

If the five blocks have been completed successfully the suspect will be in custody and the criminal justice process can start but unfortunately it is really slow and it may take months or even years for a case to come to trial and for a family to feel they have received some justice.

There are homicide assessment teams (HATS) employed across London working 24 hours a day 7 days a week to offer support and assistance to a borough once an incident has been reported.  They are employed frequently – in East Area once or twice a week whenever a body has been found in suspicious circumstance or to respond to a serious incident.

Police work also involves dealing with aggressive robbery which can involve knife crime,
domestic abuse as well as street violence.  London had 100 homicides last year which is low compared to other cities.

Mohamed thanked Superintendent Henderson for his input and went on to share his role at the Gardens of Peace Cemetery and confirmed that he works closely with the Royal College of Pathologists.  Delays in the criminal justice process are very upsetting for families including delays waiting for post-mortems but it takes 8 years to train a pathologist to the necessary level and they receive pittance payments for Home Office work.  Mohamed gave an example of a young man named Kashif who was murdered at age 16 and whose family come every day to visit his grave.  They will never have closure and are really still asking themselves if it was their fault – if they could have done anything to prevent the incident.  Mohamed stressed the importance of faith leaders offering advice and counsel to their young people and urged families to communicate openly with their children/grandchildren.  Some families do have complex issues and Mohamed cited the example of an offender whose wife experienced still birth whilst he was in prison – he had to attend the funeral in handcuffs and vowed then having seen the impact on his wife to reform and never cause such pain again.  The consequences of losing a child to knife crime has life long impact on parents.  Some incidents have arisen over ownership of but are material possessions such as a designer coat.

Mohamed then asked both speakers to come to the front to answer questions from the floor.

In response to a question about police numbers Superintendent Henderson said that numbers had been cut drastically during the austerity political period but it is now in a growth period with changes made to provide new ways of entry to policing.  It is now possible to have direct entry of two years training to train as a detective in CID.  Funding for the police is at the mercy of political trends with competing demands on public finance eg NHS, police, cost of living crisis.  Forensic investigations do take time eg it may take 2-3 days to carry out forensics at the scene but in order for bodies to be released more quickly for burial.  Mohamed explained that once a body has been examined it is sometimes possible to take tissue samples from the body and then release it to the family but it has to be remembered that the suspect also had the right to have the body examined.

Patrick explained that youngsters often just don’t understand the consequences of their action which is what the permanent exhibition aims to address through taking them through a series of rooms including hearing from an actor who is playing the part of a convicted prisoner explaining how his life has been ruined by the one act of violence.

The exhibition is open to youngsters from year 6 of primary school as this is a vital stage when children change from being big fish in a small pond to being one of the youngest in a much larger setting.  It is easy for them to make poor decisions with their choice of friends or succumbing to peer pressure.  In the exhibition there are no pictures of knifes – the knives are not the problem it is the way it is being used is the problem.

Superintendent Henderson said knife arches are not necessarily the answer either – they can be useful in train stations, or outside night clubs but if erected at schools it may induce a fear of violence in children believing that a stabbing may have already taken place and that it is expected that pupils will be carrying a knife to protect themselves. The police would rather have early intervention and get access to primary school children to educate them at that stage.

A representative of Lifeline Projects shared the capacity building work they are doing in Hainault running some community schemes such as football, and are looking to develop a community mentoring and rapid response team.

The meeting ended by Mohamed thanking everyone for attending, thanking the speakers for the contributions and for answering questions from the floor