Thursday, July 16, 2009 

Your yearly crime stat porn post.

It's that time of year again when the press, politicians and fools like me with too much time on their hands try to make sense of the 195 page Crime in England and Wales document (PDF), which contains both the results of the British Crime Survey and the police's own records. For those unfamiliar, the two compliment each other: the BCS ensures that offences not reported to the police are still recognised, while the police's figures are especially authoritative when it comes to the most serious crimes, as well as providing a snapshot, in these New Labour days of targets, of what they're currently being ordered to focus on.

As always, the figures have thrown some curveballs. After seemingly inexorably rising, murders dropped by a quite astonishing 17%, from 784 to 648. A Home Office statistician suggested that this might be to do with advances in treatment, but if that was the case then we would have expected attempted murders to have either risen or remained stable; instead they dropped too, from 621 to 575. It's worth remembering that the larger American cities often have homicide rates between 300 and 500; New York last year saw 516. The claim only a couple of weeks ago, remember, was that the UK was the most violent place in Europe and also more violent than the US and South Africa.

Both the BCS and police figures, predictably then, show a decline. Violent crime fell by 4% on the BCS, although it was not statistically significant, while it fell by a further 6% according to the police figures, accelerating the falls of last year. As for those all important knife crime figures, apart from a statistically insignificant rise of 1% on the BCS where knives were used in violent incidents, it fell again on all the main measures with one further exception, as it did last year, despite the media coverage which gave the impression that every teenager walking the streets was tooled up and waiting to shank the first person they came across. Murders involving knives declined from 270 to 252, although attempted murders went up slightly from 245 to 271. Robberies involving knives similarly declined from 17,058 to 16,701. Admissions to hospital as a result of assault by sharp object, recorded by the NHS, also fell by 8%. Likewise, gun crime also declined, according to the police figures, by 17%. Firearm injuries also fell by 46%.

Crime as a whole, depending on which you prefer, has either remained stable, according to the BCS, or declined by 5% according to the police's figures. The most interesting differences, and perhaps most revealing, are on burglaries, theft from the person and robbery. Most presumed as a result of the recession that such "property" crime was likely to rise, with those who were previously just making ends meet perhaps being forced into far more desperate measures. Instead, if you were to rely just on the police figures, the only very slight confirmation of that "known known" was that burglaries rose by a not statistically significant 1%, although across the country the figures vary massively. The BCS however, while confirming that burglaries remained stable over the past year, found that there was a 25% rise in theft from the person, compared to a 12% decline in the police's figures, with robbery also down by 5%. The figures on bicycle theft perhaps explain the difference: the BCS saw a 22% rise, while the police figure remained stable. It seems that most no longer expect the police to do anything about the theft of a bike, and that they'll also expect they'll never see it again regardless, hence they don't bother to report it. Other explanations are that some don't report the likes of pickpocketing because they're too embarrassed to do so, or by the time they realise they've been robbed think there isn't a point in doing so. Clearly however this is a cause for concern: it's these life affecting sort of thefts that most influence a person's view of crime, and if people don't believe the police can do anything about them their entire faith in the system is liable to break down.

As last year, the impression of the public when it comes to crime is hugely at odds with the statistics. 75% this year believed that crime had increased nationally, while only 36% thought that it had increased locally. Similarly, 51% thought that they lived in an area with lower than average crime, 39% thought they were about average while only 11% thought the crime in their area was higher than nationally. Even more striking were the figures when it came to knife and gun crime: 93% thought the former had gone up nationally, incredibly unsurprisingly, while 86% believed the latter had. In fact, as we have seen, both had fallen, but you can hardly blame anyone for thinking the opposite when there was so much attention on the number of youth murders in London, which now seem to have been a blip (although the schools only break up this week), however distressing and troubling a blip.

All of this just reinforces the fact that when tabloids, especially the likes of the Sun portray the country and especially the cities as places where the "yob" is in charge or "mob rule" pervades, all they do is make people ever more fearful for no good reason. The chances of becoming a victim of crime remain historically low, even though it increased this year from the lowest since the BCS began of 22% to 23%, down from 40% at its peak. While we shouldn't be complacent, it remains the case that unless we want even more radical policies, either liberalisation (i.e. drug decriminalisation) or an increase in draconian punishments, the crime rate now looks likely to have stabilised, and the scaremongering accordingly ought to be brought into touch.

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Monday, October 27, 2008 

Scum-watch: Katy Perry condones spoon crime!

Katy Perry (or at least her publicists) has provided a master class in how to take on the tabloids and win: don't apologise, and do it with humour. Perry has posted the above picture on her blog along with:

…But I DO condone eating ice cream with a very large spoon.

Dear Sun:

You deserve a time out. Your “journalistic” approach has half the soul of the National Enquirer. Shame on you.

Naturally, the Sun itself doesn't know when to give up. While failing to reproduce Perry's wounding second sentence, it has instead got straight on the phone to all the recent relatives of murder victims, which is getting really tiresome:

Furious Richard Taylor, 59, whose son Damilola, ten, was murdered, raged: “She has lost all integrity by this."

Ah yes, a young woman singing a song about kissing girls and liking it, while mocking "metrosexual" young men on another, whilst formerly being a gospel singer; she had and has integrity by the bucketload.

“It would have been better for her to have apologised. Youngsters would have seen that and taken it as something positive. Instead she has decided to challenge us.”

Yes, quite: how dare someone challenge the apparently perpetually grieving, those who can never let go, those who have apparently sold their own integrity in order to be available a provide an outraged quote whenever a newspaper invents a scandal. That's the real outrage here, not Perry's posing with a knife, but her refusal to take it lying down.

Paul Bowman, 45, dad of murdered model Sally Anne Bowman, 18, said: “MTV should pull this woman off air. She shouldn’t be rewarded with an appearance before billions of youngsters. She’s a bad role model.”

Indeed, they should probably get Snoop Dogg to do it again, like he did last year. He's never done anything bad.

Sylvia Lancaster, 52, whose daughter Sophie, 20, was killed in Bacup, Lancs, for being a Goth said: “It’s tasteless. She shouldn’t be allowed to perform in Liverpool considering that poor lad was stabbed to death only a few days ago.”

The idea that the Sun or its pages will ever have any influence in any case on what goes on in Liverpool again is laughable in the extreme, but hey, it's got to keep up appearances.

Note to Russell Brand: this is how you're meant to do it.

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Friday, October 24, 2008 

Cooking the crime figures.

It's incredibly tempting to dismiss what appears to be little more than a misunderstanding based on confusion over what is and what is not grievous bodily harm with intent when it comes to recording crime as an understandable mistake and leave it at that. After all, the 22% rise in most serious violence against the person which comes from reassessing the figures involves just 1,000 more offences (PDF). As Mark Easton, and almost no one else additionally points out, with that 22% rise, accordingly there is a drop in the other offences against the person stats of 11,000, or 10% in offences with injury or 4% in offences with no injury. The figures as a whole again show a further drop in overall crime of 6% - on both the police statistics and the British Crime Survey interviews. The only real rises are a 28% rise in attempted murder with a knife, a further 8% rise in drug offences, again most likely down to cautions given for cannabis possession and a 17% percent rise in the BCS figures in theft from the person. Overall, the risk of becoming a victim of crime is unbelievably, considering the media coverage, at the lowest it has been since the BCS began in 1981 at 23%. Broken Britain this ain't.

You could however predict what the response would be to what is not lies, not a conspiracy, but honest mistakes, the classic cock-up. The government is not to blame; if anyone is, it's the police and Crown Prosecution Service for the complexity of what both consider as GBH with intent and what is not. No one as a result of the statistical errors was given a lesser sentence or charged with a lesser offence; the only crime committed here has been one of hubris. The government itself has become, quite rightly, it can be argued, increasingly proud of the fact that by both measures crime has dropped by a third since 1995. Why this has happened can be argued over, and whether Labour's policies are responsible is equally uncertain, especially considering that across the Western world over the same period crime has generally fallen, but any government regardless of hue would be trumping what has happened. Last time round however the government went too far, especially in the face of the rise of teenagers being stabbed to death on the streets of London,
and played up the fall in crime to such an extent that there was almost bound to be a reckoning come either the first rise, whether due to recession, which as the figures bear out has not yet happened, or the first mistake, which has come far sooner than they imagined.

Regardless of what any newspaper or politician will say, this will broadcast just one message to the public: that the crime figures can fundamentally not be trusted. It doesn't help when the Sun for example directly accuses politicians of lying and the police of hiding the true figures as if this was a conspiracy rather than the obvious cock-up, but it's the recounting itself that will cause the damage. It also fundamentally undermines everyone who does consider the numbers to be accurate, whether they be the police themselves, who overwhelmingly do not think that crime is rising, or the academics and policy makers that attempt to turn the evidence into something approaching a strategy.

What is not true is
that people do not believe statistics full stop. They do, but only as long as they back up what they think they already know. A fascinating survey conducted for Louise Casey's crime review found that when one group was told that crime had decreased, 21% said they didn't believe it had. When a separate group was told that crime had increased, not a single person challenged what they were told. Overwhelmingly when told that crime had increased, 42% blamed the government. When told that crime had decreased, just 15% gave the government any credit. The conclusion to be gleaned is simple: the government is on a hiding to nothing. It cannot possibly hope to get across its message that crime has fallen, either because of public cynicism and the general contempt for politicians, or because the most popular newspapers, in some cases certainly because it contradicts their narrative of just how bad things are in Broken Britain, will only highlight the rises while playing down the falls. This is exactly what happened earlier in the year. Also wrong is the Sun's claim in its leader column that people locally believe crime is going up: the last BCS yearly figures showed that two-thirds thought crime had gone up nationally, while just 39% thought it had gone up locally. Most think things aren't too bad where they live, but think they're awful elsewhere. Why this is the case is probably for the exact same reasons as why the government cannot get its message across.

Something of an answer to this would be to make the gathering and presenting of the statistics on crime completely independent and also transparent. The government and the statisticians need to stop fiddling around and changing the way the figures are counted so that they're not comparable over the long term, something they seem obsessed with doing, even if it is generally for good reasons. This won't stop the tabloids from screaming blue murder every time the figures go the wrong way, and it won't stop them resorting to the tawdry tactics
of reaching for comment from the highly unrepresentative victims of crime which they always do, but they quite clearly need to be depoliticised. With a government however that is committed to politicising security policy, something on which bipartisanship is vital, and when control from the centre is ever more formalised, this seems ever further away than ever.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008 

Scum-watch: Perry knifes Sun.

Katy Perry's publicist has replied to yesterday's Scum super-splash:

Katy Perry is against all violence. The photo in question was taken in 2005 and is in no way related to the current events in the UK.

Not just two years old then, but three years. This also rather undermines the Sun's "sources" claims that the shots were for her debut album or her website; back in 2005 Perry was working on an entirely different album, according to Wikipedia.

The Sun meanwhile has contacted another relative of a victim of crime:

Ex-EastEnders star Brooke Kinsella, 25, whose brother Ben, 16, was stabbed to death, said: “Celebrities should be role models.”

Quite right. Miss Kinsella's thoughts that "[I]f these evil people want to fight so badly, let them fight for their country" are exactly the sort of thing we should be encouraging.

The Sun incidentally does mention the publicist's comments, but strangely cuts them off mid-flow:

Katy’s publicist said last night: “She is against all violence.”

A case study then for aspiring tabloid journalists: when you need to spice up an otherwise boring report on someone dying, just go to the latest star's MySpace page, grab a photograph of them doing something that makes them seem oblivious or indifferent to someone else's pain, completely invent a "source" to attempt to back the story up, and get a quote from someone guaranteed to be outraged, and you have a front page splash. That you'll be promoting that person at the same time, whilst belittling the victim for sales purposes is neither here nor there.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008 

Scum-watch: I knifed a girl and I liked it.

The invented scandal is undoubtedly one of the very lowest forms of journalism. Alongside the hatchet job on those who can't defend themselves, the trick of getting someone to condemn what someone else has either done or said is not just lazy, dishonest and contemptible, it's also cheap, the first and most important rule of production which now silently governs the press.

Five Chinese Crackers never said it better when he wrote that the tabloids aren't there to report the news; they exist to tell the same stories over and over again in a slightly different way, regardless of the actual facts of the matter, all the time promoting their own viewpoint on just why these things are either happening or what needs to be done to stop them from happening.

You really couldn't get a better example of this than today's front page Sun super-splash, featuring singer Katy Perry holding a flick knife. Juxtaposed with the shot of Perry, apparently taken during a photo-shoot to go with either her album or onto her website, is the fact that in Liverpool another teenager was stabbed to death. The two obviously go together: Perry, by foolishly posing with a knife is glamorising the culture which leads to teenagers carrying knives and then to the inevitable conclusion, the knife being used to injure someone. Ergo, Perry is partially responsible for what has happened, and hence she, along with everyone who has ever held a knife while being photographed, is little less reprehensible than the murderers themselves. The Sun though can't just leave to chance that this is what will run through their readers' heads; they're far too stupid to be left to think for themselves, after all:

POP star Katy Perry poses with a knife — an image which sparked fury last night after another teen was killed by a blade in Broken Britain.

Angry critics said 23-year-old Katy, who sold five million copies of her No1 hit I Kissed A Girl, was “out of her mind” for glamorising knives.

The snap of the singer was taken to make her look “edgy”.

The grieving families of Broken Britain’s young victims could not be faced with a greater — or more baffling — contrast.

This is nothing less than emotional blackmail. How dare someone consider holding a knife in view of a camera while families out there are grieving because other people have used them to stab someone with? Don't you have a conscience?

There is however an obvious contradiction here. If an image of someone holding a knife is so intensely dangerous, so alluring to the average teenager that by just looking at an image of someone fairly famous holding one is likely to lead to them also carrying one, why is the Sun bringing it to such wider audience? After all, in the words of the one person the Sun bothered to contact, or the only one that gave them a suitable quote, Damilola Taylor's father, Richard:

“Any youngsters seeing her will think it is OK to carry a blade.”

Really? Are teenagers so shallow and feeble-minded that seeing one of the most manufactured singers of recent years in the company of a blade that they'll be instantly informed that if she does it in a staged photograph that they can do it in their everyday life? Or is this actually a truly warped view of human nature? As Anorak puts it, if we apply such logic to the Sun's wider oeuvre, we're shortly to be plagued by teenager girls walking around topless, alternately kissing each other whilst plunging a sharp edge into each other's chests.

Such level-headedness though is alien to the Sun's very concept. It treats its readers as infants, therefore they must be infants, therefore they will act like infants when presented with glamour shots of weapons. Any evidence will do to show just how Broken Britain is; it doesn't matter that Perry is American, that the shoot probably took place in America and that the shot in any event was rejected, this is a wider symptom of just how smashed and atomised our society is, as their accompanying "discussion" has it. Anyone would think that the Sun and its owner's other commercial concerns had never glamorised violence, or provided space for similar images.

For a newspaper that so crusades against political correctness, this is an very oddly politically correct line to take. Without wanting to give credence to the idea, it's long been evident that there is either a reverse or a right-wing political correctness, very closely tied to censorship as a whole. This decrees that something must be restricted as a whole because it might be bad to a certain section of society; that adults can make their own choices is irrelevant if children are potentially at risk of harm.

Even the demand for what Perry must do to make amends for her crime is familiar: she must, of course, apologise. Whether she should do it while kissing a girl, or while down on her knees begging for forgiveness from all those throughout the ages that have been the victims of crimes involving knives is unclear, but express sorrow she must:

SCORES of teenagers are stabbed to death each year in Britain.

The latest tragic victim was a 16-year-old Liverpool lad, knifed to death incredibly on his first visit to a church youth club.

So how does publicity-hungry pop babe Katy Perry respond to this massacre on our streets?

By posing for a publicity shot waving a flick-knife.

We need to hear an apology. Fast.

Never mind then that being American, Perry probably isn't aware of this "massacre on our streets", and so isn't responding to it unless you're a Scum leader writer making a story out of nothing, she must apologise and fast. The nation's biggest selling newspaper demands it. The shed blood of our children necessitates it. Nothing less will do.

According to the Katy Perry forum the photograph is years old, so the "source" the Sun is quoting is probably completely made up. It's also quite possible that they might have found the image on Perry's.... MySpace, from where it has since been deleted.

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Monday, July 28, 2008 

How tabloid journalism works part. 94.

It's the silly season, it's a Sunday, and you haven't got anything approaching a front page story. Do you a: put in the effort and attempt to find a new angle to the problems facing Gordon Brown? b: continue to go on alarmingly about the moral decline in society because a rich man who enjoys being spanked has won a court case or c: turn the most innocuous addition to a social-networking site which just happens to be a rival to the one owned by your own proprietor into a super splash?

There's just no contest if you're a Sun "journalist", is there? I'm not on Facebook as I don't have any friends, but even I know there's a whole plethora of "poke" applications, such as giving one of your friends a virtual sexually transmitted disease, as well as literally dozens of similarly hilarious things. There isn't however at the moment a moral panic about STDs, but there certainly is about knives. "TEENS VIRTUALLY KNIFE EACH OTHER ON INTERNET" still doesn't quite cut the mustard though; no, you have to go the classic tabloid route of getting a quote from an organisation or an individual who has suffered through whatever it is you're railing against. Hence the Scum made a call to the uncle of murdered teenager Robert Knox, and what do you know, he's disgusted by it:

“The stupidity of having this on their site is unbelievable. And they deliberately use the street term ‘shanked’, which is even worse. They are targeting the kids who are on street corners carrying knives.”

Yes, of course "they are" gramps; keep taking the pills. This brilliant quote however gives the paper their headline:
Shank’ website is aimed at the kids who carry knives.' And voilà, where there was previously no story, have we now got one for you!

To call this pathetic, shoddy and disingenuous journalism is to put it too lightly. Not even in the wildest of imaginations can anyone begin to claim that this glorifies or is likely to encourage anyone to commit a crime involving a knife; it's nothing more than a joke between friends. It does however serve another agenda, which is the Sun's continuing low-level campaign to run story after story which is either critical of Facebook or an article expressing horror about something that's happened relating to it, while the paper never deigns to mention its humongous conflict of interest. Indeed, when probably the biggest bad news story of them all to do with social networking websites was released last year, involving the number of sex offenders who had profiles on one of them, the Sun strangely didn't run with it. It couldn't have possibly been because the site was MySpace instead of Facebook or Bebo, could it?

Still, perhaps it was worth it for this comment, which is either a quite brilliant piece of satire, or something rather more frightening:

Some of you appear to be missing the point - young people are becoming acclimatised to knife crime as a normal part of life, the more it is treated like a bit of a joke the more it becomes subconsciously acceptable.

We have a group here in Sheffield petitioning to get the Sheffield United's nickname changed from 'the Blades', knife crime should never be associated with fun. Also we want the swords removed from the badge, it's only a matter of time before it progresses from knife crime to sword crime.

Probably even more hilarious though this weekend was the former Archbishop of Canterbury writing in the News of the Screws that the other victim of the Max Mosley judgement was public morality. On the same page as Carey's bilge you can read such enlightening and moral stories as "RONALDO: Blonde had sex with Cristiano in hotel room" and "VICE: Student had sex with 3 men while high on valium." Such reporting is not of course salacious, sensationalist or purely to make money out of other's behaviour, however depraved, but obviously to shame them into altering it.

You can far more effectively make the case that the News of the World for decades has been coarsening the public sphere with its warped sense of what is and isn't newsworthy, or indeed, that its practice of "public interest journalism" has directly led to the celebrity culture which Carey would doubtless decry, but none of this is of any consequence when you're doubtless being paid a hefty sum for only slightly more than 250 words. Perhaps even more humourous than this humbug though is those that have taken it seriously: witness Dave Cole doing such. You have to wonder whether even Carey was pretending to be troubled. The reality is that it is not Mosley, judges or the HRA or ECHR that are "dangerous or socially undermining" as Carey puts it. Dennis Potter never put it better:

I call my cancer Rupert. Because that man Murdoch is the one who, if I had the time (I've got too much writing to do). . . I would shoot the bugger if I could. There is no one person more responsible for the pollution of what was already a fairly polluted press. And the pollution of the press is an important part of the pollution of British political life, and it's an important part of the cynicism and misperception of our own realities that is destroying so much of our political discourse.

The same can be said of the deeply immoral but "moral" Daily Mail, the same Daily Mail that thinks nothing of going after lower-class targets that have just lost their daughters, but which sympathises so deeply when life deals "their people" a bad hand. There is only one freedom in which Murdoch and the Mail truly believe in, and that is the freedom to make money.

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Friday, July 18, 2008 

Crime stat porn and thoughts connected.

Try as they did, opposition politicians yesterday were fighting a losing battle in trying to get some sort of advantage out of the latest crime figures. With the apparent rise in knife crime and teenagers killing each other in record numbers in London, it ought to have been a reasonably easy task. The figures though told a completely different story, and one which is also increasingly difficult to dismiss: after stabilising over the last couple of years, the large falls once again accelerated in 2007/08. Crime as recorded by the British Crime Survey (PDF, references are made throughout the post to the relevant pages), more authoritative because of its huge over 40,000 survey sample showed it to have fallen by 10%, while police recorded crime fell by 9%. In fact, the only figures to show a rise were homicide, which rose by 2% from 759 to 784, drug offences, which were up 18%, mainly because of the continued, possibly soon to end confiscating and warn policy on cannabis and gun offences, which also rose by 2%. Everything else, as recorded by both the police and BCS, either remained stable or fell.

Dominic Grieve, David Davis's replacement as Tory shadow home secretary tried to claim that violent crime had risen by "80%" under Labour, but this ignores the fact that violent crime as measured by the BCS has fallen by an astonishing almost half since 1995, 48% down. Because of the way the police recorded crime changed in 2002/03 figures are now not comparable prior to then, but while the police recorded a 25% rise in violence against the person between then and 2005/06, this has since fallen by 9% to 0.96 million offences (page 21). Where Grieve got his 80% figure from is a mystery.

It was instead left to the tabloids to shriek about the figures which previously they hadn't much cared about. They mostly played down the collected for the first time figures by the police in which knives were used in a crime (attempted murder; wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm (GBH); wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm (i.e. without intent); robbery of business property; and robbery of personal property) which totalled 22,151 attacks or offences in total (page 75), which showed that more than 55% of police recorded crimes involving a knife took place in either London, Birmingham or Manchester, while in large areas of the country there were by comparison a tiny number, such as in Cumbria where there were 73, North Yorkshire in which there were 66, Norfolk 67 and Dorset 47 (the Guardian has a handy interactive map), to instead look at the BCS figures on violent crime involving a bladed instrument.

The BCS in total recorded 2,164,000 violent incidents against adults in England and Wales in 2007/08 (page 62). Of these, 6% involved a knife (page 63). Extrapolating from this, this is where the headlines and leading paragraphs of around 130,000 offences involving a knife came from. Further distorting and potentially worrying people, this was then broken down to 350 a day or to a "knife attack" every four minutes. It doesn't matter that these figures are essentially meaningless when you can't get a full rounded figure in the first place from 6% of 2,164,000, they nonetheless occupied the front pages and screamed about the reality of life in "Blade Britain". What few of the papers bothered to go into was the caveats that are involved in these figures which help greatly in understanding that these are simply not instances of people getting stabbed or even attacked. For example, just over 51% of all violent incidents resulted in no injury whatsoever (page 72), while the most common injuries that were suffered were minor bruising or a black eye (28%), severe bruising (15%) and cuts (13%) (page 73). In only 12% of violent incidents was any form of medical attention sought, with 9% seeing a doctor and just 1% requiring an overnight stay in hospital. Of the 2,164,000 violent incidents, around a third were incidents of stranger violence (page 71), while another third was, more surprisingly, acquaintance violence. Domestic violence accounted for one in six violent incidents. The overall risk of being a victim of violent crime was 3.2% (page 70). The overall risk of being a victim of any sort of crime was 22%, the lowest since the BCS began in 1981.

It wasn't even as if the tabloids could claim there had been any huge rise in knife crime, as the statistics in fact mainly show the opposite. The use of knives in the 2,164,000 violent incidents was actually down 1% to 6% from the 2006/07 survey, although the figure was not stastically significant (page 76). The figure involving knives used in violent incidents has also stayed broadly stable since 1995, hovering around or below 8%. Also interestingly, the Metropolitan police, which have been collecting figures with crimes involving knives separately from other forces also recorded a fall. The Met recorded 10,220 knife enabled crimes in 07/08 (page 76), 16% down on last year, figures which were 4% down on the previous year. As korova on Mask of Anarchy points out, mostly ignored but also in the figures is the fact that 7% of violent incidents involved a blunt or "hitting" instrument, which can do potentially as much if not more damage than a knife, but which have been lost sight of in the current atmosphere. We are not then suffering from a knife crime epidemic. The reality according to the figures is that we're experiencing a stabilising effect and no real rise in knife crime. What is happening without question is that young people, especially in the cities are carrying knives, and are increasingly prepared to use them, as the latest terrible death of a teenager shows. That's the main reason why we're currently having such potentially adverse and over the top media attention, along with the fact that alongside the mostly black victims, three of those who have died have been white, middle class, and either had telegenic, hospitable and eloquent parents or semi-famous relatives.

The problem is, as we all know, that fewer and fewer people believe the statistics. Two-thirds believed that crime had risen over the past year, but as often seems to be the case, only 39% believed that crime had risen in their area. The same pattern seems to apply to those who think that the NHS is nationally getting worse even while they think that their local services are actually fairly good. It's hard not to link this directly with media coverage: faced with the number of young deaths in London, who wouldn't after all believe that crime is rising? With all those front pages this morning, again, who wouldn't believe it also, even if they read the articles in detail, where most do make clear that according to the statistics, if they care to believe them, that crime has fallen apparently spectacularly? This is where Louise Casey's recommendation for a independent statistics board might help, but only if it potentially has teeth which can challenge the media picture.

Also related but also without an answer is exactly why crime is falling so significantly, again, if we are to believe the statistics. This incidentally isn't just happening here but across the Western world, so unless everyone's on the fiddle it's an almost global picture. The Guardian's editorial suggests the reason is that we've all gotten richer but that we've also gotten older, and crime, as the BCS itself shows, is predominantly a young man's game. Criminologists themselves admit that don't know, which in itself is refreshing; others point towards better security. The government's policies also have to be considered; perhaps the record numbers in prison have contributed to the fall in crime? If so, that itself puts those of us on the left who think there are already too many people in prison, let alone without adding more capacity, especially when those inside cannot get adequate treatment for the drug problems and mental health issues which so contribute to crime, in a difficult position.

In summary, there is no knife crime epidemic, or at least one isn't reflected in the statistics. Crime itself is at its lowest point for a generation, and again, although it doesn't feel like, Britain is now probably the safest it's been overall since the early 1980s. The real difficulty is in convincing the public themselves that this is the case, and not exaggerating the real problems we do have into a picture of a broken society. The biggest difficulty of all is that we don't seem to have any answers whatsoever.

Related posts:
Richard Garside - Knife crime: perception vs reality
Little Richardjohn - I live in Peckham. I feel safe.
Cassilis - You can't just ignore the inconveinent numbers

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008 

The youth crime action plan.

After the understandable explosion of coverage over the weekend after the deaths of 4 men in London alone on the same day, including the 20th teenager to have been killed in the city this year, the reaction to the actual Youth Crime Plan itself, which has been long in the drawing up, has been almost entirely muted.

Partly this was because over the weekend the government managed to yet again get itself in a frightful muddle of its own making. Spurred into action by the immediate howling that something must be done from the newspapers, and also to respond to the Tories' pledge that anyone caught carrying a knife would be sent to prison, Jacqui Smith toured the studios on the Sunday making clear what the tough community punishments would be, as opposed to locking the miscreants up for God knows how long. This would involve restorative justice sessions, taking teenagers into hospitals to see victims of violent crime, face to face meetings with victims, and community sentences of up to 300 hours to be carried out on Friday and Saturday nights. Because Jacqui Smith was suitably vague, doubtless because all these measures had been thought up incredibly quickly, she gave the impression that teenagers were going to be taken into accident and emergency wards to see victims almost as soon as they had been wheeled into be patched up. The media ran with this, and then also got a father who had lost a child to knife crime in one instance saying that he would have nothing to do with seeing the perpetrators of his son's death face to face. It was apparent this wasn't what the government was suggesting, with them instead giving the possibility that offenders would be taken onto normal wards to see victims of violent crime, and only then if it was agreed with the individuals themselves and the doctors, and that only those who wanted to take part in such restorative face to face schemes with those who had carried knives would be considered for such sessions, but the media screamed U-TURN when Jacqui Smith stood up on Monday and gave a more substantial account of the proposals.

The whole avoidable escapade overshadowed the fact that this was actually a far better and more likely to work scheme than the blunt instrument of the Tory prison for anyone who carries a knife nonsense. No one challenged the Conservatives over the very basics of such a plan: with prisons already overcrowded and close to total capacity, how on earth would they provide the spaces needed for such a draconian policy? The completely useless answer to this is that the Tories plan to sell off some of the Victorian prisons and build new ones (as originally proposed by our friends at Policy Exchange). That this doesn't solve the problem at all, makes you wonder who wants to buy the prisons in the first place, especially in the current climate, and is in the neverland realm of time doesn't seem to matter. How exactly would prison solve anything anyway? We already know that prison for the young either doesn't work, or in fact equips them for an entire life of crime rather than deliver the sharp shock that might be necessary to get them out of carrying a knife, but it's a populist, easy proposal which you can make in opposition and not get called upon for.

The Youth Action Plan generally seems to have understood for the first real time under New Labour that the tough talking, eternal crackdowns and constant new initiatives have not worked. All they have done is just wetted the appetite for more of the same, and given the consistent impression that it's what we're going to get. This change in tact is almost certainly the work of Ed Balls, who's managed to persuade, with the Supreme Leader's help, the more Blair-inclined Smith and Straw of the virtues of a welfare based approach. Out has gone the distraction that was the ABSO, first introduced by Straw but not really used habitually until David Blunkett was home secretary, and in has come the view that targeting of those most at risk of turning to crime, the crucial involvement of parents and the setting up of dedicated local youth offending teams, involving all the local services, from the police to the social services to the schools, all involved in monitoring progress and intervening if necessary.

As identified by Mark Easton, the real heart of the report itself is not in the new measures proposed, but in the research behind it to back up its own suppositions. Hence 5% of youth offenders make up 50% of the actual crime committed, the hard core that do so much to give the vast majority a bad name. Equally, it identifies the factors that so increase the chances of someone being a prolific offender rather than one who might get in trouble once or twice during their childhood. Predictably, being a member of a "delinquent" group vastly increases the chances of offending; what doesn't however is a person's temperament, with both infrequent and prolific (high rate) offenders having broadly the same chance. What does make the difference is maltreatment as a child, if a parent is convicted of a crime, ADHD diagnosis, and low socio-economic status. Nothing ground breaking there either, but it has the useful effect of confirming what you already think that you know. This might be where specific targeting and targets can get over their deservedly bad name: specifically intervening where there is potential trouble ahead can in this instance make all the difference. Understandably, this does raise concerns about the nanny state, interfering in the family structure and the potential demonising of individuals; if however we are to make progress and as a result stop the mindless impression that everything is permanently getting worse and that the next generation are going to bring us all down, it might well be a necessary evil.

There are, as Lee Griffin especially has noted, some of the more harebrained ideas still in the plan. The eviction of families from council houses should they consistently fail to comply with successive orders, parenting ones as well as ASBOs, is a barmy idea which either just puts the problem somewhere or potentially makes the family homeless which makes a bad outcome even more likely. It simply isn't going to happen, and is probably only in there for the benefit of the tabloids and to make the whole deal same harsher than it otherwise is. Lee also objects to "unpaid work in the community" on Friday and Saturday night for child criminals, which I think is actually not so bad an idea. It's clearly just another harsher way of saying community service, and carrying it out on the nights when most teenagers go out will be the sort of punishment that might just get through to the minority that if they decide to act like morons or plague people to death that they'll have their leisure time to do so taken away. The only problem is just who will supervise it and given up their own weekends. Where I do agree with Lee and others is on the completely disproportionate mass curfew orders which the government is encouraging, which stigmatise youth as a whole rather than dealing with those who are a pain. Most the time it's not even that they're actually committing any sort of offence, it's that they're daring to be on a street corner or outside at all. There was a local news report the other week about anti-social behaviour where one guy who didn't want to be identified's chief complaint was that some of the youths had "called him names"; for fuck's sake people, grow some sort of a backbone. Especially illiberal is the Redruth saga, where kids who dare to be outside after 9pm during the school holidays are to be marched back home and their parents potentially given orders to keep them inside and otherwise, when they haven't broken any rule but have transgressed over the threshold of being young and outside at night.

On the whole however, the plan is mostly sensible, level-headed, backed up by evidence and might just well actually confront some of the most intransigent problems in some communities that we face today. It's a break with the tough on crime without being tough on the causes sense that has blighted policy for the last decade. The real tragedy is that it's likely to be thrown out the window by the Conservatives before it's even had a chance to work.

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Monday, July 14, 2008 

Lily Allen's war against knife crime!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

The BBC doesn't help itself against accusations of dumbing down when it opens its report on knife crime on the news at 10 by quoting Lily Allen asking everyone to stop stabbing each other on her MurdochSpace blog. In case you were interested in what else La Allen was telling people about in her post, here it is in full:

got bored of the pink , I can't believe i'm posting a blog about my hair , sooooooo " the hills" kinda sorta finished the album , hopefully a single out soon , but i'm definitely gonna post a new song or two this week . I'm starting Bikram yoga tomorrow , YAWN . . That pic of me up there is in my new flat , i've been in for a week and it's been an OK move , I've been sofa surfing and living in hotels for two years , so it's really weird being in this place alone , and don't get too excited burglars , i've got metal roller blinds that go down at night and a panic button by my bed , no panic room though . food for thought . it has been a tough week though , you may have heard my nan passed away , last weekend , we were close and even though she had been very ill for the last few years , it was a big shock , and surreal to find out at Glastonbury . But i went up to see my grandad in Kings lynn (where they lived) and drove him down to Wales where we will bury her on friday. All very sad , but he is doing well and being very brave . I love my family . Anyway the point is my nan would have killed me if I went to her funeral with pink hair , so there is another reason . Anyways in other news , I'm getting a dog from Battersea dogs home , i found her on the weekend , and after a visit from a rehoming officer hopefully, i'll have her by next week . She's called Honey and she's quite fat (insert dogs like their owners joke here) , but very sweet , she's a mongrel . There were so many Stafforshire Bullies there it was so sad . People should really think about getting puppies from breeders or breeding them for that matter , if you saw all those poor dogs without a home with their sad little faces , you wouldn't even think about buying dogs from people who profit . I'm starting Bikram yoga tomorrow , YAWN . . please can everyone stop stabbing each other in the UK , it's really sad , my thoughts are with all the families affected by these heinious crimes . we need to have a knife amnesty , we should put on a big concert to raise awareness and stop the violence , Boris , if your listening , call me man speak soon peeps x xx

Now, if someone took it upon themselves to stab dear old Lily, then that might just be a incident of knife crime we could all unite around the positive benefits of.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008 

If we churn, churn, churn, churn, churn, churn, churn....

We haven't looked at any examples of transparent churnalism in a while, and on a day in which there is one which is deadly serious and another that is not so, it seems as good as any:

THESE chilling pictures of teenagers brandishing guns and knives were found in just ONE DAY on the Bebo website.

The users’ homepages glamorise gang violence — despite 19 young people dying in vicious attacks in London this year.

Incredible as it may seem, teenagers tend to do a lot of stupid things, and posing with weapons in a feeble attempt to look tough or hard is not exactly a new development. The only difference is that now with the rise of the social networking, on any slow news day the put-upon hacks on both local and national papers can easily put together a story purely through browsing Facebook/MySpace/Bebo and exposing some new scandal of the how the young live so dangerously.

There are just a few problems with this story. First, the Sun provides absolutely no evidence whatsoever that they even were on Bebo to begin with: there's no screen grabs of the pages with the profiles showing the images, so we have to completely take the Sun's word for it that they were on the site. You also can't now go and attempt to find whether they were or not because Bebo has now "frozen the profiles", again, something you have to take the Sun's word for, although the only profile name they give in the article, "Craks Capone" did exist, and is now "unavailable" (At least one of his "friends", again a rather loose term on social networking sites, lives in Norwood/Heath). Then there's the fact that nowhere does the Sun mention whether the images they've exposed are of individuals actually living in this country; it's not as if Bebo isn't a global site, even if it is especially popular with school age children in this country.

With all that in mind, we then have the relatively slight problem of this not exactly being just an issue on Bebo. Amazing as it may seem, there are doubtless pictures of youths with weapons on Facebook, and shock, horror, MySpace. You know, the social networking website that just happens to be owned by the Sun's own parent company, and which mysteriously never receives any bad press while Bebo and Facebook have in the past been criticised on a large number of occasions in the Sun. Perhaps there's also a clue to why the Sun's chosen Bebo to embarrass on the front page of Bebo itself, which currently has as one of the featured profiles the "STOP Knife Crime" campaign group. Meanwhile, over on MySpace, second in the blog charts is this thoughtful piece: Are All Women Whores Till Proven Otherwise???

Far be it from me to suggest how Sun hacks do their job, as that's obviously what Red Rupert and Rebekah Wade are paid for, but it would have been just ever so slightly fairer if they'd investigated all three of the major social networking sites, took screen grabs of the profiles with individuals showing off their weapons, also proving that they happen to live in the UK, and then presented the shocking evidence to the salivating public, i.e., you and I. This would however have taken far more time than simply banging out 250 words accompanied by photographs you have to take on trust are from Bebo and feature UK youngsters, precious time that may simply have not been available to Vikki Thomas. This is of course also the tabloid media we're talking about, where too much effort, rather than attempting to make the best of the medium available to you, is simply trying too hard.

Trying too hard is not something that afflicts the PR industry in attempting to get the most daft references to their company into the press. Previously we had the ridiculous story of the teenager that wanted a taxi but ended up with a cabinet because of her mockney patois, which just so happened to also advertise the company that provided the cab, innit, that the teenager didn't want. Today there's the equally preposterous story of a woman who put her bra on "while in a hurry" who just didn't happen to notice there was a baby bat nesting in it until five hours later. Now, never having needed to wear a such a constraining item of clothing I wouldn't personally know, but somehow the idea of not realising there's a living creature in an item of clothing next to your skin, and such a sensitive area of epidermis to boot, for five hours, doesn't wash. Luckily, not only is the woman in question attractive and willing to pose in just her bra, she's also more than willing to make clear that all this occurred while she was working at the
Holiday Inn near Norwich International Airport.

The Churners were on the spot, tipped off by none other than 5cc, but the story has spread far further than even the tabloids now, also infecting the Independent, Torygraph and the BBC, as well as numerous other news sites worldwide, although it appears to have started via the Eastern Daily Press. You have to credit whoever thought the story up, as it's been one of the most viewed reports throughout the day. 5cc speculates it might have something to do with the new Batman movie also, but that part of the original article is one of the few parts of it that hasn't been copied and pasted into all the subsequent ones, so it seems far more likely this was an attempt to get trade over to see the famous Abbie Hawkins at the
Holiday Inn near Norwich International Airport. The fact that this is lazy journalism of the lowest kind, with apparently no one actually bothering to check whether this isn't a pathetic attempt by Holiday Inn to bypass advertising costs doesn't seem to matter when it's a story apparently too good to be true and gives the excuse of being able to show a woman in the flower of youth with large breasts either in your newspaper or on your website. Still, at least it shows more creativity than yet another "worst lyric" poll, which is where this post's title comes from.

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Friday, July 04, 2008 

Even more thoughts on knife crime and the Sun.

ChrisC objects in the comments on my previous post on all things knife crime, saying the statistics do not say that crime is falling. Going by the police statistics on violence against the person, he's right, which have been rising exponentially since the way they were recorded was changed in 1999. The past couple of years have seen this level off and the figures become stable. I am correct however when I refer to the British Crime Survey figures, considered more authoritative, which paint a completely different picture, with violent crime have fell by 43% since 1995. The police figures he links to conclude there were around 1,000,000 offences against the person in 2005/06 as reported, while the BCS for the same year measures over 2,500,000, a drop from a peak of 4,000,000 in 1995. Crime itself by both measures has also been falling since 1995 (PDF), but as we know all too well, it doesn't feel like that and very few outside police/political/judicial circles believe it.

The major flaw in the BCS when it comes to the current apparent epidemic of knife crime is that it doesn't survey under-16s, who are also those who are in the front-line of muggings for expensive gadgets, such as mp3 players and mobile phones. This is to change, as was announced by "Wacky" Jacqui Smith, but for now it is still the best measure we have. Also to consider is that increasingly those who are the victims of violent crime are turning up to hospital without reporting it and giving asinine stories when asked what happened to them. There have been trials in Scotland in hospitals that have attempted to link the numbers of those admitted to A&E with stab wounds etc with the eventual number of crimes reported, and to highlight how big the discrepancy is. This is something that most certainly needs to at least be considered south of the border, as the only way we'll ever get to the bottom of how the deep the problem is through valid, unquestionable statistics from all sources, police, BCS, hospital, even schools, as Lee Jasper(!) argues very eloquently on CiF in an excellent post which has a number of good suggestions of how to tackle knife crime without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Also vital is that the independent body Louise Casey recommended in her report for crime statistics of all varieties is established, which will hopefully put a stop to the selective and partisan reading of the crime figures.

Also very interesting on the statistics score is this post by the BBC's Mark Easton, who's digging on hospital patients with various wounds is rather eye-opening:

Between the years 2002-3 and 2006-7, the number of these children admitted to hospital with knife wounds in England "almost doubled" we are told. From 95 cases to 179. A rise of 88%.

However, over the same period, the numbers of under-16s admitted to hospital with gunshot wounds has gone down from 253 to 181. A fall of 28%.

So, 84 more children were admitted with stab injuries than five years earlier. But 72 fewer children were admitted with gunshot injuries.

If no distinction is made between knife and gun injuries, the headline might read "teen violence stable.


Given the particular anxiety over youngsters with knives, I looked at the most recent data for under-16s and spotted something quite surprising. Of those 179 children admitted to hospital last year, 72 or 40% were in London.

Knife fights appear to be a particular and growing problem in the capital. Juvenile disputes are too often resolved with a blade.

It is a different story in the North West of England. In Manchester and Liverpool it is gunshot wounds that the hospitals are predominantly dealing with.

Between 2002-3 and 2006-7, London doctors treated 33 children with wounds from firearms. In the North West, medics patched up an astonishing 251.

During the same period, London A & E departments admitted 225 children with stab wounds compared with 117 in the North West.

What do we conclude from all this? Well, I don't think these figures tell a story of increasingly ferocious juvenile violence sweeping the land. Instead, they offer clues to the nature of predominantly urban gang culture.

If you don't believe me, consider this. In 2002-3, not one school child was treated for a stab wound anywhere in central and south east England outside London. How many victims were there in this large and populous region last year? None.

This is what I've been arguing here on the previous post and before. While there are serious, apparently intractable problems in London involving knife crime, and gun problems in Manchester and Liverpool, of which we've heard relatively little since the tragedy involving Rhys Jones, outside of the major cities there is not some huge crisis involving weapons, especially not "a Dark Age of lawlessness" as the Sun so hyperbolically put it. The emphasis on London is understandable - it is the capital city, reflects England and Britain as a whole and is where the media is encamped, and so of immediate concern to them and their children. For those of us outside of it however who simply don't recognise this picture of a land in constant fear of teenagers carrying blades, it rankles. While it would be crude to describe what's happening in London as a moral panic, as 18 teenagers this year already have lost their lives, what is noticeable is pattern of coverage. A couple of years ago the main concern was guns. At the beginning of this year it was drunken feral teenagers kicking adults to death for little to no reason. At the moment it's knives. The circle will probably square before too long.

The Sun itself, predictably, is in no mood for introspection or such analysis. Like with previous victims of crime where it's difficult to determine who's using who, the Sun is relying on emotion, this time from Ben Kinsella's distraught and clearly in mourning sister Brooke. Her suggestion is for national service to be brought back seems to be more one of desperation than of complete seriousness:

“I want politicians to consider bringing back National Service. If these evil people want to fight so badly, let them fight for their country. If they want to pick up a weapon, let them fight for a good cause.

“We’re losing hundreds of innocent boys in Iraq and Afghanistan, so we may as well send these criminals overseas to fight. The only way to stop this is to do something extreme.”

It doesn't seem to have been put gently to her by the Sun journalists responsible for the interview that the last thing the army needs are "evil people" when they're fighting what is not a typical war but one against an insurgency where public support of those in the area is crucial, and that training already violent young individuals to been even more ruthless in survival tactics is not the greatest of ideas, but then the paper isn't interested in realism. It simply wants her words to move minds for its own agenda.

There is this rebuke to the Sun's continuous demands for more prisons without thinking of the consequences however:

“I want to see proper prisons brought back,” she said. “It’s like a badge of honour for kids to be put in prisons these days. Inside, they gain more respect and make contacts which they use to become even harder criminals when they’re released. They’re in for a couple of years and when they come out they’re treated like heroes.”

Although what a "proper prison" is is anyone's guess.

Again, not that this alters the Sun's editorial view:

EACH day seems to bring more horror than the last.

The Sun warned yesterday that we are sinking into a Dark Age of crime.

And now we learn of the ghastly slaughter of two fine young French students in a London bedsit.

Even in the current climate of violence, the savagery of their murders leaves us numb with horror and revulsion.

Those murders are clearly an exceptional case, and as PDF reflects, it would be a major surprise if burglary really was the primary motive when such extreme violence and brutality was used. As we've seen though, to call this a "Dark Age of crime" is to ignore the evidence in front of your face.

As The Sun has repeatedly said, our political leaders, the police and the courts must show they grasp the seriousness of the crisis we face.

That means more arrests, stiffer sentences, more jails.

But more must be done to break up the gang culture.

Many will agree with grieving actress Brooke Kinsella, who calls in The Sun today for a return of National Service.

Quite. If there's one thing that'll break up gang culture, it'll be ordering them about and splitting them into regiments.

Brooke, whose brother Ben was killed by a knife gang, believes a tough spell of compulsory military life would stop teenagers drifting into street crime.

She believes it would instil in them discipline, respect and common decency.

Actually, she doesn't say anything like that all, or if she did it's not included in the interview write-up. The only thing she says about it is what I've quoted above. Looks like the Sun is trying to develop the idea for her or put words in her mouth. Either way, it's still an unworkable suggestion.

National Service was created to prepare a generation of young men to defend us from an enemy abroad.

Now the enemy is within.

Now the language is similar to that regarding the terrorist threat. Of course, if there was now a successful attack, the mood would swiftly swing from concern about knife crime to exploding brown people again. In both cases talking of an enemy within is over-the-top and unhelpful, but again that doesn't seem to matter.

Decent young people would feel outraged that they were having to suffer because of a mindless minority.

But the crisis we face is engulfing everyone.

That means nothing — including National Service — can be ruled out in our battle to end the savagery.

As we've seen, the crisis is not engulfing everyone, and it would be nice if the Sun could admit that it isn't. Once you've built your prospectus around eternal terror or insecurity on the streets though it's difficult to back down. Using such potentially counter-productive and discriminatory tactics will do nothing to solve the crisis that does exist, and will instead embitter a whole generation out of the desire that something must be done.

Then again, it could be worse. You could think that giving kids PlayStations for telling us what their lives are like is a good idea, as does the completely brainless Polly (what is it with that name?) Hudson via Anton Vowl.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008 

Scum-watch: Yet more on knife crime.

It's a brand new day, it's time for another brand new hysterical Sun leader on knife crime. First though, the Sun is urging every one of us to join in their aptly named "crusade" against knife crime by wearing a stylised "K" designed by Ben Kinsella himself. A noble venture, but as usual it's worth wondering whether the Sun would care so much or be pushing this so hard if Kinsella hadn't happened to have a semi-famous sister, or had been a colour other than white, as most of the victims of knife crime have been. It has been discussed here somewhat before, but it's taken the deaths of white "good" middle-class kids for the press to start shouting at the sky over street violence.

The Sun leader is as always a classic of the genre, hilariously over-the-top while proposing a solution which is no better if not worse than any which a politician has championed:

STABBING someone again and again until they die is the purest form of evil.

Those are the heart-rending words of actress Brooke Kinsella as she launches a campaign — backed by The Sun — to end the curse of knives and gangs on our streets.

It's a good thing we've decided on what the purest form of evil is. Maybe we can get down to agreeing what the less pure forms of evil are - leaving the toilet seat up, stealing candy from babies, etc. That this is the umpteenth campaign by the Sun to end the curse of knives and gangs doesn't seem to suggest to the hacks that it will do precisley nothing to stop the next jumped-up kid from sticking silver into the chest of another; or maybe it does, and they know full well that sales come from constant overreactions and scaremongering.

Our society is at a crossroads.

We are sliding rapidly into a Dark Age of lawlessness where human life has no worth and the only rule is the rule of a bloodstained knife.

That the number of murders has fallen recently, and that outside the major cities where there are undoubted serious problems life continues much as it has for decades doesn't seem to get in the way of the tabloid writer's reaching for the hyperbole. As a recent BBC in-depth look concluded, the number of knife offences overall has remained largely static over the last few years. What has changed is the age of those carrying them, with the age of those dying after knife attacks also falling. A couple of years ago the moral panic was about guns; while that is still a problem too, the subject has now changed to knives. In another couple of years it'll probably change again. The number one reason given for carrying weapons is insecurity, the sort of insecurity which the media itself has a hand in establishing. City and town centres at the weekend are lawless hellholes filled with binge drinkers; hoodies stand on every corner just waiting to do you over; every young person is potentially carrying a knife. If you get the impression that everyone your age is carrying a weapon, you might be inclined to as well.

This is why the Sun's proposed solution is so completely daft. Its coverage has helped to fuel a vicious circle, and now it proposes automatic jail sentences for everyone caught carrying a knife. It doesn't seem to matter that innocents and the scared will be caught up in this crackdown, those inspired to carry one for protection. While such behaviour can't be condoned, giving them a four year prison sentence, especially when you're below 16 for carrying a knife is the criminal justice policy of the madhouse. Four years' stay in a young offenders' instutition, alongside the genuine criminal fraternity and the other deeply troubled, mentally ill youth that make up the population is about the last thing that's likely to lead to someone deciding not to be so foolish again. It's the kind of thing that robs someone of their little remaining faith in society, embitters them and takes them out of the world at the precise time when they're maturing through social contact with those not just their age. Fines similarly are not the answer - hefty community service punishment, restorative justice sessions with those who have been victims of knife crime and help to get out of the gang culture if they're part of one is far more likely to have results.

The Sun however just wants the circle of going permanently in and out of the prison system to go on and on:

Those knives are out there because thugs have no fear of the consequences of carrying one.

The price of carrying a knife on the street HAS to be automatic jail.

Not a caution or a fine but JAIL.

That means we need to build more prisons.

Not next year or in five years but NOW.

We are looking at a catastrophic breakdown of law and order that threatens every family.

Of course, the crime statistics as we've noted time and time before say the opposite - it's just now that the serious problems which are still there beneath the surface have started to hit those who previously avoided them. Similarly, "thugs" don't carry knives because they know they can get away with it, they carry one because of either fear or status. It also doesn't matter that the Sun has consistently demanded new prisons without once providing an answer to where they're to be built, where the money to do so is to come from, or who's going to run them, it just wants them NOW.

His sister is haunted by the fact that the last faces Ben saw were the gloating brutes who murdered him.

That thought should haunt our politicians too.

Which again feeds into the idea that politicians can protect us from such crimes. They can't. All they can do is attempt to control it - and the controls which the the Sun wants are unlikely to help with that.

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