Page last updated at 12:35 GMT, Wednesday, 22 July 2009 13:35 UK

Deaths up during anti-knife drive

Knife crime
Courts are giving out tougher sentences for knife possession

The number of knife deaths in areas targeted by an anti-knife crime scheme has risen, the Home Office has said.

The government's Tackling Knives Action Programme started last July in 10 police areas in England and Wales.

In its first nine months, 126 people died after being attacked with a knife or other sharp object - seven more than in the same period the previous year.

Overall knife-related violence fell by 10%, but the number of deaths among teenagers remains unchanged.

The Home Office-led Tackling Knives Action Programme (TKAP) was triggered by a series of high-profile teenage stabbings.

Police have stepped up searches and patrols in knife crime hotspots and are running courses to highlight the dangers of carrying the weapons.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson: "It is disappointing"

A second phase of the scheme, focusing on all forms of serious violence among 13 to 24-year-olds, will now be rolled out. About £5m will be made available to the 10 original forces and six others.

Warwickshire Chief Constable Keith Bristow, who leads TKAP, said "public angst" over knife crime was understandable but added that there were some "promising signs" in the reduction of killings among youngsters.

He said: "It's a mixed picture in the sense that in some places there have been some increases but overall it's going in the right direction.

"This is a long journey. Success when you're dealing with these sort of problems might be measured in generations, not weeks or months."

The figures also showed the number of offenders aged 19 and under possessing an offensive weapon fell 13% despite an increase in stop and search measures in all 10 police force areas.

Robberies with sharp instruments against those aged 19 and under also fell by 13%. According to provisional figures knife-related hospital admissions fell 32%, compared with 18% in non-TKAP areas.

Metropolitan Police
West Yorkshire
West Midlands
Greater Manchester
South Wales
Thames Valley

And the length of court sentences increased for people caught in possession of knives or offensive weapons in England and Wales. However, a significant number are still being cautioned.

The families of some of those killed were invited to 10 Downing Street on Monday for a knife crime summit hosted by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Home Secretary Alan Johnson.

Mr Johnson told the BBC it was important the overall number of stabbings had decreased.

He said: "The fact that a stabbing leads to the tragedy of a death is nothing to do with the perpetrator of the stabbing, its to do with how quickly the health service got to them, etc.

"The number of stabbings being down overall is encouraging and that's what we're looking for at this stage just one year in.

"We're not saying this programme's completed. We're saying there's a long way to go yet but there are encouraging signs."

Justice Secretary Jack Straw said tougher penalties had been introduced for knife crime and it had been made clear anyone aged 16 or over should be prosecuted for a first offence.

"This tough stance is already having a positive impact - latest figures show that more people are going to jail, and for longer, when caught carrying a knife," he said.

Families of victims of knife crime
The families of knife crime victims met the prime minister on Monday

TKAP was launched in the Metropolitan, Essex, Lancashire, West Yorkshire, Merseyside, West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Nottinghamshire, South Wales and Thames Valley police areas.

Bedfordshire, Northumbria, South Yorkshire and British Transport Police were added to the initiative in November 2008, and Kent and Hampshire in March 2009.

Colin Knox, whose 18-year-old son Robert was fatally stabbed in south-east London last year, said the government's knife crime strategy lacked deterrence.

He said: "We need to send a strong message to the knife carrier - if you carry a knife you will get a custodial sentence, as a minimum of six months."

Professor Marian Fitzgerald, a criminologist at Kent University, said the government was putting too much emphasis on knife carrying instead of knife crime.

She said: "They have thrown a lot at very visible police enforcement, lots of stop and search, most of which yields nothing.

"Meanwhile that hardcore who are determined to perpetrate violence whatever is done are not being dealt with."

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