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Idris Elba urges stronger action on knife crime

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By Charlotte Gallagher & Noor Nanji

BBC News

Idris Elba is calling on the government to immediately ban the sale of so-called “zombie” knives and machetes, to reduce the number of young people losing their lives.

The actor told the BBC a planned change to the law, which would introduce the ban, needs to be fast-tracked.

He accused politicians of not giving the issue “the focus it deserves”.

The Home Office said on Monday in a statement it “will not hesitate to do more to keep our streets safe”.

It said bans on zombie and cyclone knives are already in place “and work under way to extend this to include zombie-style machetes”.

Zombie knives are defined as weapons having “a cutting edge, a serrated edge and images or words suggesting they are used for violence”.

They were first added to the government’s list of prohibited offensive weapons in 2016. But Labour has said a loophole allowing the sale of the knives online still exists.

Last August, Rishi Sunak unveiled plans to ban more of the weapons and give police extra powers to seize machetes and zombie knives. The latest move is also designed to help police with situations which fall outside the current laws.

In particular, officers have been unable to deal with zombie knives designed to get around the 2016 definition, by not having “images or words… that suggest it is to be used for the purposes of violence”.

But it is not clear when the new law will come into force.

Elba, best known for his roles in Luther and The Wire, attended an event in Parliament Square on Monday morning, where clothes were laid out to represent those killed by knives on UK streets.

Organisers hope the display will demonstrate the huge human cost of knife crime, as MPs return to Parliament from the Christmas recess.

The event is part of Elba’s Don’t Stop Your Future campaign, which works with local communities and well-known brands to try to tackle serious violence.

The London-born actor, 51, said he “can’t stay silent as young lives are lost to brutal and heartless crimes”.

‘A mother’s gut instinct’

Yemi Hughes, whose 19-year-old son Andre Aderemi was murdered in 2016, has given her support to Elba’s campaign – and donated the outfit her son was wearing when he was killed.

Andre was stabbed multiple times in broad daylight in Croydon, south London.

Speaking to the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme, Ms Hughes recalled the last time she saw her son.

“When he got out of the car, I said, ‘I’m dropping you off with a heavy heart’.

I don’t know why I said those words, I suppose it’s a mother’s gut instinct, but he looked at me with a great big smile and said, ‘Don’t worry mum, I’ll be fine, I love you,’ and with that I drove off.”

Within 20 minutes, Ms Hughes had received a phone call from a friend’s mother who said someone had been stabbed.

“I knew she was talking about Andre even though she hadn’t said his name, and then she let out this almighty scream that I’ll never forget. She’d obviously seen it was him.”

By the time Ms Hughes got to the scene, ambulances and police were already there. She followed the ambulance to the hospital, where she was told her son had died.

Ms Hughes said she was frustrated that knife crime was still a big problem.

“Our individual voices have not been heard, but yet our pain continues to be felt by families whose children are still being murdered.

“Young people need to feel safe in their communities and underlying causes of youth violence eradicated immediately.”

The latest police figures for England and Wales from July 2022 to June 2023 show that around 247 people lost their lives due to knife crime.

Those numbers do not include teenagers like 15-year-old Alfie Lewis who was fatally stabbed in Leeds in November 2023 or 16-year-old Harry Pitman, who was killed in north London on New Year’s Eve 2023.

Their deaths will be recorded in the next set of crime figures.

Elba is also releasing a single, Knives Down, in support of his Don’t Stop Your Future campaign.

The track is about his frustration with the government for what he perceives as their inaction on knife crime.

Speaking to Radio 4 programme, he said he wants to see more funding for groups working with young people.

Although best known as an actor, Elba has released music and collaborated with artists such as Jay-Z and James Blake. His biggest hit came when he provided guest vocals on Wiley’s hit Boasty in 2019.

Serious knife crime in the Metropolitan Police area is three times higher than in the West Midlands or Greater Manchester, according to the latest figures for recorded offences from June 2023.

Children and young adults are most likely to be victims or perpetrators of knife crime.

While the ethnicity of victims is not always recorded, NHS figures for the year ending 2022 show that the number of people treated for stabbing injuries from Black, Asian and “other ethnicities” was far higher than for White patients.

However, the reasons behind this are subject to constant debate by politicians and experts in youth crime.

Knife crime is clearly linked to gang activity. But there is an argument about what a gang is. Police intelligence tends to represent gangs as organised and cohesive criminal groups, while young workers often see them as looser friendship groups.

Police officers stress the role of drugs in driving gang crime. The ‘country lines’ business-model now adopted by most drugs gangs relies on recruiting young people, and many are active in areas with large non-white populations.

Many experts point to the role of social media in driving rivalries between groups of young people, which spill out from the internet to the streets.

But there is general agreement that “adverse childhood experiences” are a major cause of young people becoming involved in crime.

The Home Office’s Serious Violence Strategy highlighted the role of abuse, neglect, parental criminality, substance abuse, and being taken into care.

These factors are why many experts now advocate a “public health” approach to preventing youth crime. This involves identifying young people likely to become “infected” and finding ways of diverting them into healthier lifestyles.

Patrick Green from the Ben Kinsella Trust says immediate action is needed to ban zombie knives and machetes.

“Four months have passed since we were promised the legislation we so desperately need to ban these weapons, yet the bill has only just started its agonisingly slow journey through Parliament,” he said.

“The government has demonstrated that, when they deem it necessary, parliamentary time can be found to expedite bills with urgency.

“So, why, when we know that these knives are being used to take the lives of our children, are they not prioritising a ban with the same urgency?”

A Home Office spokesperson said the UK “has some of the toughest laws in the world to tackle knife crime”.

They added: “Hospital admissions for young people with serious knife injuries are down over a quarter and overall knife crime is down 7 percent, and we will not hesitate to do more to keep our streets safe.

“That is why through the Criminal Justice Bill, we will give the police more powers to seize dangerous weapons and increase prison sentences for anyone caught with a knife.”

SOURCE: BBC NEWS

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