Shock Tactics For Knife Carriers
Young people who carry knives will be made to visit hospitals where stabbing victims are treated, in a bid to shock them into changing their behaviour.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said seeing “gruesome” injuries would be a tougher deterrent than sending all knife carriers in England and Wales to jail.
A spate of stabbings was making people “nervous” about going out, she said.
The Tories said more knife carriers should go to prison and the Lib Dems called Ms Smith’s plans “half-baked”.
The home secretary’s proposals for England and Wales will be outlined in more detail when the government publishes its youth crime plan on Tuesday.
Ms Smith unveiled the plans hours after a man in his 30s was stabbed to death at a pub in Bolton, and a man in his 40s died after being found with knife wounds in Bristol.
Another man is in a serious condition in hospital after suffering multiple stab wounds at Scotland’s largest music festival, T in the Park, in Balado, Perth and Kinross.
And on Thursday, four men were stabbed to death in London and a fifth died after a knife attack in West Bromwich.
One of those who died in London was 20-year-old student Yusufu Miiro, from Stratford, who was stabbed in the head and chest in Walthamstow.
Mrs Smith’s proposals will see young people caught carrying knives being made to go to accident and emergency wards, to see the consequences of stabbings. I’m concerned about the way in which those who are carrying knives and those who are the victims appear to be getting younger
They will meet victims’ families and make prison visits to people convicted of knife offences.
The measures, overseen by senior Metropolitan Police officer Alf Hitchcock, will focus on a number of areas including London, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire, Essex and the Thames Valley.
Ms Smith told the BBC: “I’m concerned particularly about the way in which those who are carrying knives and those who are the victims appear to be getting younger.”
She said the hospital visits would “make people realise that there is nothing glamorous about carrying a knife, it doesn’t help you to be more safe and you will end up in serious trouble.
“I just think that’s a better way of making people face up to the consequences of action and making them more likely not to carry knives again in the future.”
Earlier she told Sky News it was “tougher” than imprisonment to make people “face up to the sorts of implications of young people carrying knives on our streets”.
Conservative home affairs spokesman David Ruffley said a lack of custodial sentences for knife carriers “simply doesn’t send out the right message”.
He added that the government’s plans were “Ok as far as it goes”, but that there was also a need for “more cops on the street”.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne described Ms Smith’s plans as “half-baked”, and said the government had been in denial about the scale of the knife crime problem.
He told the BBC News Channel that following similar trials in the United States “there was no evidence” that showing young people the consequences of their actions through “prison tourism” or “hospital tourism” actually worked.
He said: “In fact, that was an idea that was tried in the States – it was called ‘Scared Straight’.
“And we know from the evidence that actually in the areas it was tried, it put up knife crime – it didn’t put it down, it actually put it up.
“So this is a half-baked proposal, frankly, from the home secretary.”
According to the British Crime Survey (BCS), overall violent crime has decreased by 41% since a peak in 1995.
Knives are used in about 8% of violent incidents, according to the BCS, a level that has largely remained the same during the past decade.
But the BCS figures do not include under-16s, something which Ms Smith recently announced would change.
She said on Sunday: “I think all of us understand, whatever top-level statistics might say, that this [knife crime] is a serious problem – that even if it isn’t happening down your street makes you feel nervous and unconfident – and that’s what we need to address”.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Friday that recent knife deaths were “shocking and tragic”.
Anne Oakes-Odger, whose son Westley was stabbed to death in 2005, expressed doubts to BBC Radio 5 Live about the shock tactics.
“It all sounds rather cumbersome and not particularly cost-effective and I can’t help but wonder how the actual stab victims would feel about that [hospital visits],” she said.
Ms Smith has written to all 43 chief constables in England and Wales, reminding them of their powers to require pubs and clubs that are associated with knife or gun problems to search customers on entry.
Ministers are also looking at how hospitals might work to help the police identify offenders without breaking patient confidentiality.
In Scotland, the maximum prison sentence for carrying a knife was raised from two to four years in 2006.
A Police Service of Northern Ireland spokeswoman said there were “no plans” to bring in hospital visits like those announced for England and Wales.