Is knife crime a problem in Suffolk?

THIS week Britain has seen a spate of vicious stabbings, and the launch of a nationwide knife amnesty. The Home Secretary met his ministerial team yesterday to discuss knife crime, as the daughter of murdered headteacher Philip Lawrence said Britain's knife culture is 'out of control.

THIS week Britain has seen a spate of vicious stabbings, and the launch of a nationwide knife amnesty. The Home Secretary met his ministerial team yesterday to discuss knife crime, as the daughter of murdered headteacher Philip Lawrence said Britain's knife culture is 'out of control.

Paramedics in Essex now wear stab vests, and The Evening Star revealed on Wednesday that Ipswich traffic wardens are to receive them. So how big a problem is knife crime here in Suffolk? Crime reporter KATE BOXELL reports.

THE curve of a steel blade is a potentially lethal weapon which can appear in a split second - and police in Suffolk face it almost daily.

Last year officers dealt with more than five offences every week, where knives had, or could have been used. But despite these statistics, and this week's high profile cases of knife crime which hit the headlines every day, police say it is actually on the decrease here in Suffolk.

There were 311 crimes involving knives in 2005, compared with 373 the previous year.

And an Evening Star web poll has today revealed that 1,120 readers (89.67 per cent) are not worried about knife crime, with only 129 claiming to be concerned.

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Yet at the same time, those working in the frontline are resorting to serious ways to protect themselves against knives.

Police in Suffolk have been wearing stab vests since 2003, and on now traffic wardens were to join the flanks of public sector workers deemed in need of protection.

Earlier this week it was also announced that paramedics in Essex, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire were to be issued with stab vests. Jason Gillingham, clinical field operations manager for the East Anglian Ambulance Service said he believed crews in Suffolk will eventually be issued with the vests too. He said: “A stabbing used to be a rare event but we are going to an increasing quantity. It is not unusual for a crew to go to a couple of stabbings on a Friday or Saturday night and they can range in nature.

“I would say with the increasing number of stabbings it is inevitable that ambulance crews here will be issued with stab vests.”

Mr Gillingham said the wearing of vests would be a preventative health and safety measure, rather than a response to knife attacks on crews - because no paramedics in the area have been threatened with knives.

However, in the past 12 months 30 members of staff have been assaulted in other ways, with one person hospitalised after an assault by a mentally ill patient.

Jim Keeble, chairman of Suffolk Police Federation, said although police are well trained in how to deal with people carrying knives, there was an increasing risk to officers both nationally and locally.

He said: “In Suffolk we haven't seen an increase in the preparedness for people to use knives, but there does seem to be a willingness to carry them. It is a great concern to all of us really.

“I think quite a high figure of officers have been threatened with knives. Officers are put in a uniquely dangerous situation every time they go to work.”

In 2001 Ipswich Pc Anthony Owens was stabbed as he investigated a burglar alarm at the Mexi Mix restaurant in the town. A jury ruled that the incident was an accident. Pc Owens suffered an injury to his liver and resigned from the force.

A recent survey by the Police Federation revealed that 28 per cent of the country's police officers had been threatened with a knife at least once in the last two years, but Mr Keeble said there was little extra that could be done to protect them. He said the issue of carrying knives as a status symbol needed to be addressed and was a major concern to officers: “We are concerned that knives are becoming a fashion accessory and in inner cities that is exactly what has happened.

“They are something people must have, otherwise they lose face,” he added.

A national knife amnesty has already seen more than 175 knives handed in across Suffolk so far, but while the Police Federation supports the month-long initiative, it said in an official statement that the amnesty would not solve the social issues behind knife crime.

Critics have suggested those responsible for the majority of knife crime, will hold on to their weapons and will be ready to use them.

Mr Keeble added: “I don't think those people would hand them in. I would think those people are the kind who have a complete disrespect for the law anyway.”

He added that the most volatile situations for officers are often in domestic incidents, where people are in the middle of attacking one another and officers have to intervene. In that situation, peoples' kitchens complete with knife blocks and drawers, are their “best armoury,” and he said officers could face any number of dangers in peoples' homes.

Certainly in Suffolk the majority of knife-related deaths, have happened inside homes, and not on the streets.

They include:

In 1993 21-year-old Karen Hales was stabbed to death in her home in Lavenham Road home with a knife from her own kitchen.

In 2001 pensioner Joan Albert was found dead at her Capel St Mary home after suffering multiple stab wounds.

In 2002 Ipswich man Paul Dwyer was convicted of the murder of 19-year-old drug dealer Peter Brown, who he stabbed to death in a flat in Ipswich.

Last year Derek Henderson-Chittock was stabbed 17 times by his ex-girlfriend in her Salisbury Road home. Rachel Allard was convicted of his manslaughter earlier this year.

Despite these crimes, police say knife crime in our county is rare. Statistics reveal that in 2004 there were three killings in the county where knives were used, and one in 2005. There were also five attempted murders last year, and two the year before.

But the majority of incidents involving knives are possession offences, with many of the culprits claiming they are carrying the weapons for their own protection.

Louise Rosher, spokeswoman for Suffolk police, said: “People say they are carrying them for security, especially youngsters, but that is still a crime. A lot of people carry things like pen knives but if they have a blade over three inches they become a bladed article.”

Possession of a bladed article in public is illegal, and those convicted can face up to two years in prison.

Yet not everyone found in possession is prosecuted - offenders can be cautioned if it is the first time they have been caught and they admit what they have done.

Speaking at the launch of last week's knife amnesty, community safety officer David Dyble said: “All too often it is considered cool to carry a knife and 'makes people feel safer,' when in reality by carrying a knife people put themselves in a much more dangerous and unsafe position.”

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Do you fear knife crime? Would you intervene in an argument at the risk of a knife appearing? Write to Your Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

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If you want to hand in a knife during the amnesty, you can deposit in any of the special red bins located at the front inquiry desks at police stations in Stowmarket, Ipswich, Hadleigh and Capel St Mary until June 30.

There will also be bins at Tesco in Kesgrave until June 7, at Tower Hall in Rushmere St Andrew between June 7 and June 15 and at the bus station in Langer Road, Felixstowe until June 7.

May 22 : A teenager was in court charged with murdering 15-year-old boy Kiyan Prince, a youth team footballer with Queens Park Rangers, in Edgware London, on May 18.

Last Friday: A teenager was stabbed outside a school in Birmingham.

Saturday: 19-year-old university student Tom Grant died after being knifed on a train travelling from Glasgow to Paignton in Devon.

Monday: A 17-year-old was also stabbed in Bristol, while in Nottingham a 26-year-old man was knifed outside a bar.

Wednesday: Police were hunting for the killer of a father-of-three stabbed to death in Bristol

Yesterday: A 19-year-old man was in a critical condition after being knifed at Wood Green Shopping City on Wednesday night. Yesterday also saw the funeral of part-time policewoman Nisha Patel-Nasri, who was knifed to death outside her London home.

LEE Holland was stabbed three times in a street brawl in 2004, and has never seen his attackers brought to justice.

The 22-year-old was with friends at Liquid Nightclub when the group were involved in an argument which spilled out on to the street.

He said: “Knife crime is definitely on the increase and after I was stabbed a lot of people started carrying them or saying they were going to carry them. These days if you are going to get in a fight you have got to be careful because you are not sure if someone is carrying a knife.”

Despite suffering serious injuries, he remembers little about being stabbed and said adrenalin took over. He said: “There were four of us that got stabbed, one more seriously than the others. They are all right now but they have grudges towards the people that did it. They are still out there and they could still be carrying knives.”

Mr Holland, of Fircroft Road, Ipswich said he had needed external and internal stitches following the stabbing, and had feared for his life.

He believes the gang of attackers had left the club and called friends, to bring the knives to the scene.

Two years on, his life has returned to normal, but he doesn't go out very often, and steers clear of trouble. He still has scars from the stabbing and needed seven months off work to recover.

It is illegal to sell knives to anyone under the age of 16.

It is illegal to carry a bladed article unless you can prove you have a valid reason. The maximum term of imprisonment is two years.

It is legal to carry a knife which folds into the handle, such as a Swiss Army knife, as long as the blade is under three inches.

If such a knife is used in a threatening way it becomes an offensive weapon. The maximum sentence for carrying an offensive weapon is six months imprisonment.

The maximum penalty for carrying a bladed article on school premises is four years imprisonment.

Source: gameover4knives.com

2005 2004

Possession 48 66

Criminal damage 34 36

Having an article with a bladed point 29 23

Robbery and attempted robbery (personal property) 25 35

Assault occasioning ABH 25 37

Threat to kill 22 22

Wound with intent to commit GBH 21 19

Affray 20 21

Wound/GBH 15 11

Cause fear of violence 11 20

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