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Saturday, November 29, 2008

The stabbing problem, Damilola Taylor and David Cameron

There is a thoughtful knife crime interview online between the father of Damilola Taylor, the young lad stabbed to death when he was 10 (eight years go now), and Tory leader David Cameron.

Probably Cameron, out of all leaders I've listened to, has an ability to understand the holistic sense of the knife and other violent crime issues that affect the UK.

He seems able to at least start to articulate the problem. He also seems to indicate some direction(s) required for solutions. It does however demonstrate how far we've got to go to have the kind of safer, happier society that is eluding us. In fact, the worrying part about this interview was how it clearly underlined the fact that UK society has got consistently worse over many years.

Things are deteriorating. I think this interview is a perceptive piece that highlights some areas that have been going wrong. For instance, as a society, we find ourselves in a life of just "work" and "home".

Cameron then says everything in between we've given up on. I don't think that's necessarily true - I think we are forced to work and work to provide profits for others... whether that's the bank we pay mortgages too, the computer store charging hundreds of pounds for a machine out of date in a couple of years, the pub charging £3-£4 for a pint... we know the list is endless.

I wonder if we need to develop a more co-operative approach to our lives, where community develops because each is reliant on others to survive as well as be successful.

Fine words, nice ideas - but a million miles away it seems from solving the knife crime problem. Still, as I've said before... never, never, never give in!

Friday, November 21, 2008

David Messam (former) employee on knife selling, knife crime and the death of Jackie Marshall

I have been contacted by blogger St. Anley in connection with the killing of Jackie Marshall. It was written about my previous post Knife weapons removed from shop window. I publish his post here in full:

This comment is NOT for publication outside the scope of this BLOG.

At the time of the tragic murder of Jackie Marshall I was an employee of David Messam. Being of mature years, our clients often approached me in the misguided belief that I had some managerial position and complained about some of the merchandise displayed in the shop window. I had no executive authority but some sympathy with these observations which I regularly passed on to management.

Following the crime (and it is common knowledge that Shane Freer purchased the weapon at David Messam’s shop) we ceased selling what might be described as ‘hunting knives’ and the window display was reduced considerably. My colleague who undertook the sale of something which came to be used as a weapon was extremely distressed.

There is, however, some misinformation going on. Firstly, the sale of flick-knives is illegal and these were never part of the merchandise. Otherwise, with the exception of an age restriction, the sale of knives is fairly unrestricted. It is not the sale that is illegal, it is the carrying about one’s person in a public place, without good reason…that is. Now, ‘good reason’ is a fairly debatable point.

Then there is the issue of a ‘locking’ blade. Locking blades are considered to be safer for the user than the more usual folding blade of a pen knife. But, being locking, they are considered in law to be a ‘fixed’ blade and, thereby, illegal to carry in a public place…

A disturbing exchange occurred soon after the crime. A smart gentleman entered the shop and identified a knife in the cabinet that he wished to purchase. I demonstrated the knife, which had a locking blade. I advised him of the legalities and, because his physical appearance and demeanour were clearly that of someone over 21, I did not ask for any ID. It was my usual practice to place such items back in the original packaging and supply a sellotaped bag. Having done so, I would advise the customer that, if challenged, the only good reason for carrying it is: “I’m taking it home, Officer.”

Within minutes of this transaction, the customer returned to the shop, knife with open blade in hand, saying, “How do you close it?” I demonstrated once more and repeated my advice.

Within 48 hours a photograph appeared in Portsmouth News of this ‘customer’ standing outside David Messam’s holding the same knife with the locked blade exposed. This was accompanied by a report indicting my employer for selling such merchandise. My response is that the sale was entirely legitimate, but brandishing the knife in East Street for the benefit of a photographer could have resulted in this person’s arrest. He had totally ignored my advice for a cheap piece of publicity that was utterly irrelevant to the genuine outrage at Mrs. Marshall’s untimely death.

Furthermore, one has to consider that shops of this nature also sell such things as cooking knives with fixed blades over 3” long, woodworking tools like chisels, scissors and gardening tools. Even the humble screwdriver could inflict significant damage. Notwithstanding their legitimate usefulness, all of these can be construed to be sharp objects capable of be used as a weapon. Sale, to anyone over the age of 16, of these is within the law. Carrying of same in a public place without good reason may be illegal.

Please understand that I share the widespread concern about violent crime in general, and knife-crime in particular. What I experienced, as a responsible representative of a respectable retail establishment, was misdirected criticism. Don’t blame the vendor; prosecute the user!

Or, alternatively, change the law!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Baby P, knife crime and the state of UK society

Words can't describe how terrible a crime it is for a toddler to be battered to death. What is more worrying is the state of society that has allowed this to happen.

Maybe, some might argue, this type of event isn't common and not, in fact, a reflection of society. However, combine Baby P events with the use of knives on our streets and there is an all too vivid undercurrent of menace and malaise in our country.

Tory leader David Cameron refers to it as a broken society. Perhaps more accurately The Times this week tries to describe the problem as being caused by broken communities around the UK.

Surely it is that. The evidence seems overwhelming. Dependency on the State is a way of life, says The Times - that this has become a country where the State's largesse can be a lifelong livelihood; where parents can have as many children with as many partners as they please without feeling obliged to care for any of them. These are people allowed to grow and develop without, it seems, an ounce of morality.

Broadcaster Joan Bakewell attempts to define the problem, saying, "It is a poverty of feeling that is to blame. People are growing up without knowing love, emotionally crippled themselves and hardened to the care of others. Such people are pitiable: they are the wretched of the Earth. Who is to reach out to them?... This week’s revelation from enclaves of misery in our midst cast a long shadow."

And of course from this long shadow comes, among others, knife carriers - people using blades as some kind of security blanket to protect themselves from dangerous, immoral broken communities that cannot help being bad.

At the same time, it is reprehensible and cringeable that a non-expert and inexperienced media bays for blood, calling for - in the Baby P case - child protection bosses to be sacked. They remind me of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. "Off with her head," bayed the Queen - just like the self-styled so-called expertise in the Press.

All the time - to give them their due - these experts and commentators try to articulate the problem, cast blame and press for recriminations. By doing so, they want to move nearer a solution - yet is this "solution" they seek truly possible with such ill-judged, knee-jerk reactions? Not really, I believe. What is needed perhaps now more than ever is great leadership - of a Winston Churchill ilk, methinks. Inexcusably, current leaders are lacking - they won't get past bureaucracies, establishments and others self-interest that stands in the way.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Knife crime - the Italian Mafia mentality is what needs to change

Knife (and gun) crime is about people willing to pick up a weapon and use it against another person or group. Reading about the Comorra organised crime syndicate highlights the terrible state of mind that a large portion of the world population can start to adopt over time.

Read more about Italy declaring war on the Camorra

Translating this to the UK, we might imagine now that this mentality is enjoying an inexorable rise among this country's hoodlums using weapons against others - in the first article there is evidence of the Camorra in Scotland and London. The mafia mentality, that desire to have power by being criminal and violent. Building a business base by criminal activity, not caring about the pain and misery caused to others by killing.

This is a thread we should keep an eye on - it's worrying that a large part of the population of an apparently civilised country like Italy can start to become an evil, violence-led, criminal-led force that threatens the law-abiding, moral and innocent. To me, it smacks of that hidden underworld that our armed forces and police are continually in the front line protecting us against. Scary.