Anti-crime campaigner ‘shocked’ as only a third of knife criminals are jailed
- Credit: Archant/Ruth Leach
An Ipswich anti-knife campaigner was shocked by news that only around a third of knife crime offenders in Suffolk over 18 are receiving an immediate custodial sentence.
Mum of four Roxanne Chudleigh, founder of Ipswich Against Gangs, hit out over the figures.
"I'm truly shocked that it's that amount," said the mum, who launched a campaign against gang violence after Tavis Spencer-Aitkens was stabbed to death in 2018.
"Charges need to be brought and punishments harsher. People are not scared of our justice system. Maybe if we punished the adults appropriately, the children would think twice about committing crimes.
"Knives seem to be the weapon of choice at the moment - a trend, we could say, because they are so easily obtained.
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"Crack down on importation regulations, have harsher punishments, and shops need to have NO knives out."
Jamie Hart of the Suffolk-based Be Lucky Anti-Knife Crime Foundation, said: "A lot more people are carrying knives and there doesn't seem to be enough done about it. I think, with county lines, etc, the problem is, people are groomed into carrying knives. They are using children - telling them, 'you can have a pair of nice trainers.'"
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He did not want to comment on sentencing specifically, but called for more support for anti-knife crime education, adding: "We are a local charity that supports not carrying, and our aim is to educate and support."
The Be Lucky charity was launched by tattoo artist Paul Stansby, brother of Dean, 41, who was killed in Ipswich in 2017. It aims to educate young people on the dangers of gangs, and help families affected by violent crime through financial support for counselling and services.
Knife crime figures for Suffolk and Essex
The Ministry of Justice figures for Suffolk, in the year to September 2019, show that the number of knife crimes in the county resulting in a caution or sentence was around the same as for the previous year, with 198 crimes in 2018-19, compared to 200 in 2017-18.
A total of 133 individuals aged 18 or over received a caution or sentence for knife and offensive weapon offences, with 45, just over a third, receiving an immediate custodial sentence.
When younger offenders, aged from 10 to 17, are included, the full number of offenders for the year is 172, with the full number receiving immediate custodial sentences being 47.
In Essex, the number of knife offences resulting in a sentence or caution was 621, a 14% rise on the figure of 543 for the previous year.
Out of 433 offenders aged 18 and over, 187 - under half- received immediate custodial sentences. The overall number of offenders, including 10 to 17-year-olds, was 546, with the number receiving immediate custody being 200.
'Officers work hard with knife crime suspects'
A Suffolk Constabulary spokesman said: "We carry out regular proactive operations across Suffolk as part of our ongoing commitment to take as many knives and weapons off our streets as possible.
"Officers work hard with knife crime suspects when they are in police custody to raise their awareness of the criminal justice and personal consequences of carrying a weapon. We also signpost offenders to drug and alcohol abuse services that may assist with some of the underlying issues that are often involved.
"We work in close partnership with other agencies to disrupt the activities of criminal groups operating in the county who may carry knives.
"We also work with schools and colleges to educate on the dangers of carrying a knife, delivering awareness messages alongside advice and guidance to children and young people.
"We will take robust and appropriate action against people found to be illegally in possession of a knife. Police are determined to take positive measures to prevent offences by removing knives and offensive weapons before any harm is caused.
"Often young people will have talked about knives with friends or heard stories about those that carry them, but parents/carers should still consider having the conversation, setting out the facts and the terrible impact that knife crime can have. Knife crime is a national, societal issue and we all have a part to play in keeping communities safe so if you know or suspect that someone is carrying a knife, report it."
'Every day, our officers see first-hand the devastating effects of violent crime'
On behalf of Essex Police, Chief Inspector Scott Egerton said: "Nationally, violent crime is sadly on the rise and knife crime is a regular point of discussion on the news agenda, so understandably our communities will have concerns.
"But according to Home Office statistics, the likelihood of being injured by a knife in Essex is around 1 in 4,700 with the national average at 1 in 3,345, making Essex the eighth most safe county in the UK.
"The probability of being a victim of any knife enabled crime in our county is around 1 in 2,100, with the national average at 1 in 1,905."
He added: "Every day, our officers see first-hand the devastating effects of violent crime and the pain and suffering it causes. We are absolutely committed to doing everything we can to drive down violent crime, using the powers and resources available to us.
"We work hard to get offenders off the streets and protect vulnerable victims and additional funding from the Home Office has helped us do even more, particularly in building on our partnership work with other organisations to tackle the complex issues behind why these crimes are committed.
"Since receiving the additional funding from the Home Office, we have carried out an additional 225 policing operations, conducted 2,438 extra hours of visible patrols, with a further 3,437 hours conducted by the Special Constabulary.
"These additional patrols have allowed us to carry out an additional 7,545 stop and searches which have seized 344 knives."
The Chief Inspector said that a Violence and Vulnerability Unit has been established in Essex to challenge this issue with a team including staff from the Office of the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, Essex County Council, Essex Police and Youth Offending. They are working in partnership on a range of activities and interventions to address knife crime and vulnerabilities, with projects to reduce the risks to young people and adults.
"This is a battle that we as a community must fight together. That includes educating our children about the reality of being involved in gangs and the reality that carrying a knife will not protect them, but put them at more risk of being hurt or hurting someone else. It's about showing people there are alternatives to take their lives in a positive direction and helping them to do that."
He also commended Rachel Ojo from Essex and the Youth Select Committee on their work.
Ministry of Justice response
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "Immediate custody is the most likely sentence for those carrying a knife in Suffolk and Essex, with the government doing more than ever to tackle the scourge of knife crime.
"Police are being given increased powers to stop and search those suspected of carrying a knife and bring them to court within days, not weeks."
While judges are independent and their sentences are based on the facts of each case, the MoJ points out that the proportion of those convicted of knife offences receiving immediate custody has increased. It is now the most common sentence in Suffolk for knife possession, whereas 10 years ago the most common sentence was a caution or discharge.
The figure of 34% in Suffolk who were sent straight to prison in 2018-19 is an increase from 22% in 2009, and the proportion jailed in Essex has also risen.
Nationally, 38% of knife and offensive weapon possession offences ended in an immediate custodial sentence, compared with 23% in 2009. The average length of immediate custodial sentences has also risen, from six months in the year ending 2009 to 8.1 months in 2019, the longest since records began.
In December, the Home Secretary announced another £35million to continue funding Violence Reduction Units, which are specialist teams to tackle violent crime in their area.
The Offensive Weapons Act introduces new laws which will give police extra powers to seize dangerous weapons, and the act also includes Knife Crime Prevention Orders, an additional tool for police to steer adults and young people away from serious violence.