Page last updated at 06:00 GMT, Sunday, 13 July 2008 07:00 UK

Knives fears out on the town

By Niki Cardwell
Communities Reporter, BBC News

Following a spate of fatal knife attacks, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is to unveil new plans to teach young people about what impact stabbing has on its victims. So what do young people on a night out feel about the threat of knife crime?

A man being searched
Mobile knife arches can be used in different locations, like tube stations
It is nearing midnight on Saturday and Watford town centre is heaving.

There are hundreds of young people milling about, drinking outside bars, and queuing to get into nightclubs and fast food restaurants.

In the middle of it all is a young man of about 20. He has got a cut to his head and the blood is pouring down his face, staining his shirt.

He says he has been the victim of an unprovoked attack with a bottle. He thinks he is lucky it was not a knife.

His mates think the man who did it was a coward, because he used a weapon rather than his fists. This is the reality of a Saturday night out for many of Britain's young people.

People I know carry knives - they have to protect themselves because there are other people out there who want to harm them
Vala Saedi

The police in this town have actually been very successful at cutting down violent disorder, and in particular knife crime.

Hertfordshire Police recently used a Home Office grant to purchase two mobile knife arches which are used around the town centre at weekends and at any big events.

PC Nick Surridge is part of the team working with the arch.

He says: "We choose our locations by looking at crime statistics or if there's anywhere having a special event. We'll also go back on a fairly regular basis to deter people from continually bringing knives or any type of weapon into the town centre.

"People are more than happy to be searched because they then know they're going into a safe venue.

"We'll probably see a few thousand people go through each knife arch and from that we'll have two or three people that we'll stop and search, and then possibly arrest.

"People know that if they bring knives into the centre of town they will get caught."

Stab vests

But despite the crime figures, there is still a perception that our streets are becoming more violent.

Tim Whiting is the managing director of a security firm which provides doormen to many of the pubs and clubs in Watford.

He says: "Things are getting worse. You do see a variety of different objects being used as weapons, from sticks, to bottles, to glasses, knives, a little bit of everything.

"There's a been a big increase in the last six months all over the country I would say. We do advise our staff to wear stab-proof vests.

"It's not compulsory but it is getting to the stage where if things get much worse we will have to make it compulsory for all our staff to wear them for their own protection."

PC Nick Surridge
PC Surridge says people feel searches improve the safety of venues

None of the young people I spoke to objected to passing through the knife arch or being searched.

Although none would admit to ever having carried a weapon, they all said they knew someone who did, and all knew someone who had been a victim of knife crime.

"It's getting worse ever day. Everyone's getting crazy," says 18-year-old Vala Saedi.

He said: "People I know carry knives. They have to protect themselves because there are other people out there who want to harm them. They have to have some sort of defence against it. I wouldn't do it though."

Max Hamilton says he just accepts that people carry knives. "I reckon about 40% of people carry blades.

"A lot of people do it in case a knife gets turned on them. It's not the right way, but it's the way it is.

"I know a couple of people who carry knives. I don't need to ask them why. They need it for protection."

Otis Williams, who wants to be a professional footballer, admits that he sometimes doesn't feel safe.

Knives are a big part of life. Everyone's getting stabbed these days, everyone's carrying knives
Ashley Levine
"They need it just in case something happens on that day. It can happen any time, anywhere to anybody. People do it just to get a phone or to get some money."

Ashley Levine is an 18-year-old junior football coach, working with children from the age of eight. He says even they are concerned.

"Knives are a big part of life. Everyone's getting stabbed these days, everyone's carrying knives.

"The kids I teach, they don't carry knives because they're so young, but they do have an understanding of what it is and what it means to carry a knife."

But he is not sure that the police tactics will solve the problem.

"They need youth clubs, football clubs - anywhere they can have fun to keep them away from gangs and fighting.

"Kids need parks to play in but instead they tear them down and build houses. Where are the kids supposed to play?"

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