Mother's call for tougher knife laws

A LEADING knife-crime campaigner from Essex last night called for tougher sentences for those repeatedly caught carrying bladed weapons.

Elliot Furniss

A LEADING knife-crime campaigner from Essex last night called for tougher sentences for those repeatedly caught carrying bladed weapons.

Yesterday, Ann Oakes-Odger, whose son Westley, 27, was stabbed to death in Colchester in September 2005, demanded a firmer approach to dealing with the worrying rise in fatal stabbings.

She was speaking as new figures released by the Conservative party showed that in 2007/08 there were more fatal stabbings in England and Wales - 277 - than in any period since records began in 1977.

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The figures showed that three people died from stabbings in Essex while the same period saw two fatalities in Suffolk.

Ms Oakes-Odger, who runs and works with the Home Office, said first-time offenders found in possession of knives should undergo an awareness course but repeat offenders should be treated seriously by the judicial system.

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“If it's a first time offence and it's a young person then they should immediately have a weapons awareness course to understand the consequences of carrying a knife,” she said. “But once they have had that chance, we have to have a strong message of enforcement. We can't keep having people endlessly having cautions and being rapped on the knuckles.”

She said many people carried knives out of “ignorance” while others did so for “bad reasons” but there needed to be a wider focus on protecting law-abiding citizens.

She added: “They (repeat offenders) must be put in prison and serve these sentences.”

Ms Oakes-Odger said she would be addressing a home affairs select committee looking at knife crime on January 20.

In the past 12 months there has been a high-profile rise in the number of teenagers falling victim to knife crime, including 16-year-old Ben Kinsella, who has family in north Essex.

His aunts Mary and Gilly-May visited schools in the area with Ms Oakes-Odger after his death to warn pupils about the risks of carrying knives.

The figures, which reveal an almost 40% increase in fatal stabbings in the past 30 years, were released by the Conservatives after freedom of information requests to police forces.

The Government has announced plans to hand out curfews and community work orders for unemployed people found in possession of knives.

Last night a Home Office spokeswoman said she could not comment on the accuracy of the figures circulated by the Conservatives as she had not had access to the response to the FOI request.

She said: “The Home Office publish official figures, which show that violent crime has fallen by a third in the last ten years and the overall number of violent crimes is down by 7% - almost 18,000 fewer crimes. We remain concerned about serious violence and in particular knife crime.”

She said targeted action was being taken in 10 areas under the Tackling Knives Action Programme (TKAP) - including Essex.

The spokeswoman added: “Already this is showing results - 17% fewer serious knife crimes against young people in TKAP areas, more than 2,200 knives have been seized following targeted stop and search operations, and since May the proportion of people sent immediately to prison for weapons possession in the TKAP areas has increased by almost a third.”

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