Stories in the news
Exposed: True scale of knife epidemic
THE knife crime crisis gripping Scotland is up to three times worse than police figures suggest, a leading accident and emergency consultant has revealed.
Doctors at Glasgow Royal Infirmary say they treat between 700 and 1,100 victims of stabbings and slashings every year, far more than the 400 officially recorded by police.
Dr Rudy Crawford, who leads the GRI team, says the scale of knife crime is massively under-reported because hundreds of injured people refuse to involve the police.
Glasgow was declared the murder capital of the UK last month after new figures showed there were 81 killings last year. The city’s murder rate was 58.7 per million people, double that of London and one of the highest in Europe.
The revelation that the number of knife-related incidents is two to three times higher than the official figure increases the impression that violent crime is out of control. Experts believe the under-reporting of knife attacks is repeated across Scotland, meaning hundreds more casualties than are officially acknowledged.
GRI medics have told Scotland on Sunday they see two to three stab victims every day and that there is about one knife-related death a week in hospitals across the city, the majority at the Royal Infirmary. They estimate only a third to a half of the surviving victims make a complaint.
The GRI’s upper-range estimate of 1,100 knife victims in 12 months is difficult to square with official figures. The police division which covers the hospital’s main catchment area of the east end has recorded 36 knife murders or attempted murders, 99 knifepoint robberies and 269 serious assaults involving knives in the 11 months to the end of November - a total of only 404.
Crawford said that when he compared an official figure of 18 knife-related incidents in Glasgow over Christmas with the infirmary’s own tally it revealed 39 stabbings.
"Probably, the true prevalence is two to three times what the reported statistics show," he said. "Many victims simply do not make a complaint."
Doctors are not under any obligation to report to the police any injuries they suspect are the result of crime. They would have a legal duty to do that only if they believed another crime was going to be committed, such as a revenge attack by a victim.
Former GRI accident and emergency doctor Mike Simpson, who now works at Monklands Hospital in Airdrie, said: "Glasgow people just love their knives. You’ve got your 13-year-olds with switchblades coming out of every pocket."
"You’ve got your hand axes and your machetes. It seems to have started with the razor gangs in the 1960s, and just gone from there."
Chief Superintendent Kevin Smith, who is in charge of Strathclyde Police’s E division, which includes the Royal Infirmary’s main catchment area of the east end, questioned doctors’ estimates of the amount of under-reporting.
He said the hospital’s figures were likely to be boosted by some city centre victims, who ended up at the GRI but did not appear in the E division statistics.
Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Tories’ justice spokeswoman, said: "This is a staggering allegation. It is deeply worrying if the already high levels of violent crime in Scotland are as high as this consultant claims."
The latest figures for Scotland as a whole suggest knife crime is at an all-time high. The number of recorded incidents of handling an offensive weapon, the majority of which are knives, rose 12% from 8,671 in 2001 to 9,691 in 2002.
A spokeswoman for the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary said: "There are cases where patients do not want to involve the police."
A Scottish Executive spokesman said last night: "While we cannot comment on these claims, we regard knife crime as a serious matter of concern. We are committed to reviewing both the law and the enforcement of knife crime."
Concern about violent crime in Britain has swung back to knives and their availability to children. But has so-called "knife culture" risen while the media's attention has been so fixed on gun crime?
It's a shopping list likely to send a chill down the spine: kitchen knives, axes, razor sharp "cat skinners" and Ninja-style throwing knives.
Yet these and other potentially lethal weapons can be easily bought by children, according to a new national survey.
Almost half of shops tested broke the law by selling knives to children under 16, according to the Trading Standards Institute. And internet traders are even more of a push over because of the anonymity involved in buying something online.
Sceptics, however, might comment that it has always been thus. There's nothing new about youngsters seeking to boost their street cred by carrying a blade.
It used to be the lore of the playground that flick knives - illegal in the UK - could be effortlessly picked up across the Channel (and so retained a status as the ultimate souvenir from a French exchange trip).
So are we really witnessing a rise in so-called "knife culture" or is the recent coverage afforded to the issue in newspapers just a spot of media hysteria?
Evidence shows knife seizures are on the increase. The number of people convicted of carrying a blade in public rose from 2,559 in 1995 to 3,570 in 2000, according to the Home Office.
Reports from hospital A&E departments indicate a rise in stab wounds, particularly among young men aged between 14 and 25.
One expert with street-level experience is convinced more young people are arming themselves with knives these days.
"We are seeing more and more stab wounds - even five years ago, these were pretty rare. Young males in particular are carrying knives on a daily basis, and if they carry them, they use them," says John Heyworth, of the British Association for Accident and Emergency Medicine.
Those young men are often of school age, according to a survey by the Youth Justice Board this year. It found that of the crimes committed by young people, carrying a knife was the most common offence among children excluded from school (62%).
Undoubtedly, the problem is a predominantly urban one. Julie Jacobs, of the Streatham Youth Centre in south London, says some young people begin to carry knives from about the age of 11, when they first begin to venture out of their home patch.
"There is a sense that they need some sort of protection. It is a turf thing, a territory thing, but I don't think it is getting any worse."
So have youngsters themselves seen a rise in knife brandishing?
John, a 17-year-old at the Charter House Youth Club, in Southwark, London, believes the problem is "getting worse" although he does not know anyone who carries a knife.
He was once been threatened by three boys with kitchen knives, while on a bus.
"They were trying to jack me. They wanted my mobile phone and my money. There is nothing that can be done about people getting hold of knives. Everybody goes to the market and buys kitchen knives. They say they want to use them in the kitchen, but they don't."
Suspended from school
One 14-year-old from Peckham thinks there's a lot of bluster from kids trying to appear harder than they are.
"I know people who brag about carrying knives. They say they have a great big butcher's knife. People say silly things."
He says a boy at his school was suspended after a knife was found in his bag. But generally, he says, the situation is getting better at his school.
"Maybe one day out of seven someone will say 'give me you money' or something, but I never have been threatened with a knife."
Of those that do brandish a blade, many justify it as in the interests of "self defence", says Unun Seshmi, who runs a charity called Boyhood to Manhood which is dedicated to steering young black people away from crime.
"They are walking around in fear of being stabbed. They feel there is nobody there to protect them. They don't want to go to the police. But they don't want to use the knife either."
Some of your comments on this story:
I carried knives while at school in the late 70s/early 80's. There was
a need for protection in a school known for its violence. I still carry
one today, every time I leave the house. I don't do this to intimidate
people, and I've never used it - in fact I do my best to steer around
trouble situations - but if caught in a dangerous situation I need to be
able to protect myself, and I believe I have the right to.
In the late 1950s Mr Barnet-Janner, MP for Leicester, introduced a law
against carrying offensive weapons during the Teddy Boy era. (Razors and
knives were carried and used at that time by delinquents). The law was
passed and rigorously enforced by the police. It was successful! So what
We still circle the problem - the penalties for carrying a knife should
be severe as the only reason for doing so, whether or not in self-defence,
is the intention of causing harm.
I think it would be a shame to see politically correct hysteria over
knives. My father, a respectable and now retired gentleman, has carried a
small pocket kife for many, many years, but as the blade is fraction over
two inches long I believe he is guilty of carrying an offensive weapon.