The World is Not Rosy & Delicate. Law Schools and Senior Police Officers Need To Grow Some Balls & Stop Pretending That It Is.
A couple of weeks ago I rang a friend at midnight and said “talk to me and make me laugh…” He didn’t ask any questions he just did as I asked. Half an hour later, after I was back to my usual self, he said ” so what was it this time?” I told him about the CCTV I’d just watched.. A youth turning into a street where I knew he was going to be killed, and how for the next 7 minutes I’d watched him die on CCTV.
My friend is a cop and I do the same for him when he has been to a particularly bad road accident, has entered a house to find a decomposing body, or been first on the scene to a stabbing. It’s what we do, we don’t shy away from it. I won’t say it doesn’t have an effect on us because it does, we are at opposite ends of the spectrum, me a Defence lawyer, him a cop in a big city, but we have chosen our jobs and enjoy our jobs. If we didn’t, we would have stuck at them all these years.
So It concerns me that warnings are being given out to students in criminal law lectures. The reality is that those who want to practice criminal law need to be able to represent the client no matter what. That CCTV may have affected me when I first watched it, but by the time it is shown to a jury I have to be fully composed. My client needs to know that I will fight their case, not fall at the first difficult hurdle. There is no point in treating students with kid gloves they need to see the World for what it is, and if they don’t like it, now is the time to get out, not when they are sitting in an interview room at the police station while a client is being shown photos of a young child he is alleged to have beaten and raped.
There will be those who say ‘ but not all crime is as serious as your cases’ and fortunately that’s right, but as a police station legal representative, you can’t pick and choose your cases, you get what is in the cells, or alternatively what your own client is alleged to have committed. And as a defence barrister you take on a case, no matter what, you don’t pick and choose the ‘nice’ ones.
I’m increasingly worried about the way we are training and treating the lawyers of the future.. Last year I was on a pupillage training committee (not with my chambers) and sat through hours of students providing vanilla answers to the vanilla question ‘who would you invite to a dinner party and why?’ I swear if one more student said ‘Nelson Mandela I was going to shoot myself! In an effort to liven up the session, I provided a photo of a woman who had a very large bum implant and asked ‘5 reasons why you would, and 5 reasons why you wouldn’t’. Apparently that wasn’t professional and I was encouraged the leave the committee.
The fact is, life isn’t vanilla, as a lawyer, in whatever area of law you practice, people rarely come to you happy, and with easy to resolve problems. Being a lawyer is about thinking and arguing through a problem to get your client the best result possible & hopefully justice. It’s not about not being offended and not offending anyone else.
Today, Greater Manchester Police have apologised for words shouted during their terrorist training exercise. Well quite frankly, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester should be ashamed of himself for allowing an apology to be given. Terrorist attacks happen.. And it’s only a matter of time before another one happens on UK soil. I want emergency services and a public who are able to respond as effectively as possible, and that involves being faced with realism. Many of those same people complaining about Allahu Akbar being shouted probably have Homeland or the Following or 24 on their tv box as their favourite shows. It’s ok to watch this stuff on the tv, but in real life, where it could actually affect them? No, let’s pretend that doesn’t happen… Well 7/7, Paris and Brussels airport tell us otherwise.
We are moving to a society where everyone has to be protected from everything, social media has a lot to do with this. It’s very easy for a person to complain to the World from the comfort of their sofa. But those same people may be shopping in a major city when a terrorist attack occurs, and although I’d very much love a real life Kevin Bacon to turn up and save me, the reality is, it’s much more likely to be a PC who was involved in one of those training exercises and who has learnt from it, who runs towards the scene. I think I can put money on it not being the apologetic Chief Constable!
Sadly, it is the second time in a week that I have had to write a blog advising Millwall FC fans of their rights.. the victimisation of Millwall FC fans seems to continue.
British Transport Police (BTP) today sent out a tweet telling Millwall FC fans that if they travel to Coventry without a ticket for the match on Saturday April 16th April they will likely be served with a notice to leave the City by West Midlands Police.
The reasoning behind this seems to be that the match is a sell out so any fan travelling without a ticket must be doing so to cause disorder or act in an anti-social manner. Once again, this shows that the fan culture is clearly not understood by British Transport Police, who in recent months
- has held a high level conference purely to discuss how it considers travelling football fans to be a menace on the trains;
- has encouraged the train companies to make ‘dry trains’;
- has increased the number of football banning order applications against football fans, including asking the court for a 5 year football banning order which includes a curfew so that the fan cannot leave their house while their team is playing, despite the fact they live nowhere near the football stadium.
Anyone would think that British Transport Police are trying to justify the funding of the new BTP football units which have sprung up around the country.
So what is the dispersal notice? Under Section 34 of the Anti Social Behavior, Crime and Policing Act 2014 an Inspector may authorise the use of dispersal powers for a period up to 48 hours, only in a specified area and there must be reasonable grounds for believing that this is necessary for reducing crime or disorder, or harassment, distress or alarm to members of the public. In other words, the Inspector cannot just authorise that the whole of Coventry is subject to a dispersal notice, there has to be good reason.
I have heard of many fans being served with dispersal notices and challenging the notices at a later stage. This is often the wrong approach. If the Inspector didn’t have good reason to authorise the use of the dispersal powers in the first place, then any notice issued to a fan is unlawful. It is common that when I make an application for the Inspector authorisation and justification, the CPS decide to drop the case and I never receive the authorisation. Call me suspicious but that usually leads me to believe that the Inspector didn’t quite have the reasonable belief of disorder by football fans after all.
British Transport Police, which does not have the jurisdiction over Coventry City Centre is merely being the mouth piece for West Midlands Police. It is interesting to note that neither West Midlands Police or the Coventry City FC Football Unit seem to have made this announcement.
If the Inspector does authorise a dispersal area, that does not mean everyone who is in that area can be told to leave. The requirements (under Section 35 of the Act) are that a police officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that the behaviour of the person has contributed to or is likely to contribute to –
(a) members of the public in the area being harassed, alarmed or distressed, or
(b) the occurrence of crime or disorder in the area.
And the police officer must also consider that giving a direction to leave is necessary for the purpose of removing or reducing the likelihood of the events in (a) or (b).
In other words, the mere fact a fan does not have a ticket is not justification for them being told to leave the City, there has to be something more.
However, while this all sounds as though the powers cannot be used against Millwall FC fans, the reality is not as clear cut. If a police officer issues a dispersal notice to a fan, and they refuse to leave, the chances are they will be arrested. The police have powers to arrest under Section 39 of the Act. It will then be for the fan to show, either at the police station, or in court (if they are charged) that the authorisation or notice was unlawful. In my experience, this means a fan will end up having to travel back to Coventry at a later date to challenge this in court, or alternatively will have spent a good few hours in a police station, and if they have not been arrested previously, the fan will find that on arrest their fingerprints and DNA are taken. The fan may also find that they are placed on bail conditions not to go to football matches until the case goes to court. So although legally there may not be any justification for the dispersal notice, it may still cause a lot of inconvenience to the fan, and they may miss the rest of the season due to bail conditions not to attend a football match.
My advice is that if you are a Millwall FC fan, without a ticket, there is nothing stopping you from going to Coventry, but if you are issued with a dispersal notice, leave the area and then challenge it. Do not challenge it with the police at that time as you will no doubt be arrested. If you are arrested, ask for a lawyer and ask them to ask for the Inspector’s authorisation. If you end up with bail conditions not to go to a football match, these can be challenged but it will mean a trip back to Coventry, whereas if you have a lawyer in the police station, you are much less likely to end up with bail conditions.
Print out this blog and take it with you.. if you are arrested, it may help with negotiations with a custody sergeant.
Both myself and Melanie Cooke can advise on this if you are asked to leave the area, or are arrested, or charged. Keep our numbers handy:
@gurdena 07941 212357
Melanie Cooke @Football_Legal is regulated to offer duty solicitor assistance in the police station 07834 483092
With the recent publication of photos in the press of football fans who the police wish to question following the Oxford United v Millwall FC match, this is a reminder to football fans that, sadly, you are often portrayed as hooligans until you can prove otherwise.
If you are a Millwall FC fan and your photo has been published in the press, then the chances are that you will be identified to the police at some stage. This may then lead to an early morning front door knock by the police and arrest. It is often better to make arrangements to visit the police station and identify yourself as being in the photo. Especially if you have not been arrested for anything previously. Once you are arrested the police are entitled to take your fingerprints and DNA and this will be held on file forever more, whether you are charged with an offence or not. If you make arrangements for a voluntary interview at the police station with a lawyer, and can show that you are are either mistakenly identified or that you have done nothing wrong, it is likely that you will not be arrested and your DNA and fingerprints will not be taken.
If you are arrested, there is a high likelihood that you will be charged with a football related offence unless you are legally represented. The police may tell you that it will take a while for a lawyer to attend custody to represent you. Don’t be fooled into believing that without a lawyer you will be in and out of the police station in no-time. Speak to any football fan who has been arrested, 5-6 hours is the standard detention time in a police station, whether or not a person is represented by a lawyer. If you are not legally represented in interview, the officer will no doubt state that he or she thinks that you could be suitable for a caution and release from custody. You will then be held in custody for quite a while longer and then be told by the officer that, unfortunately their superior has said that a caution is not possible and that you will have to be charged and it can be sorted out at court. This is standard as the Home Office guidance is that all football related offences should be charged rather than a caution issued. The next thing which is likely to happen is that the custody sergeant will issue bail conditions that include not to go to Millwall FC matches, but can be as specific as not to leave your own home from an hour before Millwall FC play until 5 hours after final whistle. That’s a home curfew on a Saturday and some weekday evenings, and can last for months until a court date! You will also be issued with a notice saying that an application will be made for a football banning order.
Hence, a quick ‘chat’ down the police station has turned into your fingerprints and DNA being taken, charge and court date, a home curfew and potential football banning order. It sounds extreme but unfortunately in relation to football fans it’s the same thing I am hearing week after week.
I represent football fans who are charged with football and non football offences and who find themselves in court. When I tell people about the work that I do, most say.. ‘oh football hooligans’ and that is often followed by comments such as ‘ I bet you get a lot of Millwall fans’. The reality is quite different, most of the people I represent have never been arrested before and have no links to violence, they couldn’t be further from the ‘hooligan’ tag if they tried. Likewise, the majority of my work does not come from Millwall fans. The Home Office figures which are published every year on arrests at football matches show that in 2014/15 season in the Championship League Millwall FC fan arrests were much lower than Derby County FC or Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Sadly the reputation of Millwall FC in the media, which doesn’t reflect the huge community work of the club or the amazing work and achievements of Millwall Kicks, means that anytime there is a suggestion that Millwall fans have been suspected of disorder at football the media are quick to promote the photos provided by the police or club of those who are believed to have been involved, and are slow to remove them from websites once the person has been identified. This reputation also carries to the court room, and I notice that as soon as the court hears that a football fan is a Millwall FC fan, there are lots of knowing nods by the magistrates, as if to say …’well that is no surprise.’
I cannot say that if you seek legal advice you won’t be charged with an offence and convicted and end up with a football banning order, but with good legal assistance your chances of this not happening are greatly increased. And the sooner you obtain legal assistance the better as it may mean that the negotiations with the police can be carried out prior to a trip to the police station, or before a trial at court. I work closely with Melanie Cooke, a solicitor specialising in football fan cases, and many of our cases do not reach trial due to the negotiations we are able to carry out beforehand. My advice is that if your photograph has been published in the media, you contact myself or Melanie Cooke and work out the next steps.
Finally, social media is the new investigatory tool for the media and some police officers. Anything you put on a social media account is on the internet forever, and may come back and haunt you. My advice is that if your photo is published in the press, lock down or close down your social media account for a while. A photo of a football fan being chased by the police as a profile picture may seem funny, but when it is shown to non football fan magistrates, it takes on a whole new meaning!
The Chelsea Paris Metro incident is a prime example of how people who did nothing more than stand on a metro train had their lives dragged through the mud due to the postings they had made on social media. Many of those identified by the press were not suspected by the police of being involved in the incident, yet they were still identified by the press as Chelsea fans, had their social media postings published, and under a banner headline which said ‘Chelsea Racists’ with a tiny disclaimer at the bottom of the page which said that not all of those in the photo may have been involved in the incident, and who reads the small print?
So, although this might seem like self promotion, the moral of this blog is .. if the police or media want to speak to you.. the only word which should come out of your mouth is ‘lawyer’. Trust me, in the long run, the less a fan’s mouth runs away with them when speaking to the police or media, the better the outcome.
Follow me on twitter @gurdena
I can be contacted on 07941 212357 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Melanie Cooke can be contacted on 07834 483092 or email@example.com
I could write something wordy and legal about knife crime, but I don’t want to get to the lawyers and the police, that’s preaching to the converted. The reality is that, like it or not, those we need to reach with the knife crime reality are those who are allowing these knives to walk out of their front door every day, the parents and the schools.
I spend many hours with parents who won’t accept until its too late that their son or daughter is carrying a knife which they have taken from their kitchen or which has been bought on the internet with their debit card. Likewise, I spent many hours with youths who tell me that knives are rife in their school but that the schools don’t like to accept it for fear of bad publicity, or with police officers who tell me that the schools will not permit them to go into schools and carry out knife searches when the students are present as they don’t want to give the wrong impression to parents.
Well, these parents and schools need to wake up. Their sons and daughters are carrying knives, they are taking them from the kitchen or garage, they are buying them on the internet and having them imported from places like China for less than £10. Any every one of these knives when taken out of the house becomes a potential weapon.
The police have powers to search schools and students for knives, but until schools work with the police to allow random searches, the students will continue to carry these knives in their bags and clothes. The police use the term disruption, and that‘s what random school searches will become, the majority of pupils will stop bringing knives to school as it will be too difficult. But without the support of the schools, these random searches will never happen, and Head Teachers will continue to stand in front of the press and give a glowing tribute to another life lost.
There is a big debate on stop and search. I don‘t want to get into that argument, but it is clear that random searches of a class or year group or section of the school will not be subject to the same stop and search arguments, it won’t be targeting certain individuals, and it will be sanctioned by the school.
This will require a strong Governor Board to stand up to parents who complain about their son or daughter being searched when they have done nothing wrong. Those same parents who may one day be standing infront of the press taking about how their son or daughter was a budding athlete, footballer, musician, until their life was taken by a knife.
Knife crime is tough.. it kills…and the only way to try and reduce it is to give out tough messages.
There is legislation drafted to prosecute anyone who orders a knife on the internet from overseas, unfortunately it is not yet in force, and there is no date for it to come into force. As a defence lawyer, I will no doubt be criticised for saying that I think there should be tougher laws in place on importation of weapons, but as a defence lawyer I see the lives destroyed by knives, the clients who end up in prison or a young offenders institution for possession or use of a knife, bought on the internet from China for the same price as a KFC family bucket meal. If a parent’s debit card is linked to a purchase and it’s the parent who is getting a knock from the police and being asked to go the police station they are more likely to question what their son or daughter is ordering on the internet.
The police can only do so much and, to be blunt (no pun intended), once a knife is out of the house or school it’s possibly too late. The fact it’s an offence to carry a knife doesn’t act as a deterrent to many knife carriers, nor has the increase in sentence had a knock on effect of a downward spiral or knife possession. So perhaps parents and schools are the answer..or at least part way to the answer of reducing the number of youths who are bleeding out cold on the pavement.
Despite the fact there are very few British fans involved in trouble at overseas football matches, Sections 21A,B & C of the Football Supporters Act 1989 are very draconian and may permit a police officer to detain an innocent fan and hold them until after their flight has departed. In other words, stopping an innocent fan from attending overseas matches, despite the fact they have paid for the plane ticket, accommodation, and tickets to the matches.
So what does the law really say on this?
A police officer in uniform, not in civvies, may detain a British football fan for 4 hours ( or 6 with the approval of an Inspector or above) at an airport or port, but at the time of the detention they must have reasonable grounds to suspect the fan has caused or contributed to violence or disorder previously. This means the Police officer cannot just…
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As I walk out of my apartment at 03:30 in order to make the 6 hour drive up to a prison half way across the State to see a client, I pass nighttime revellers making their way into the take away joints, and wonder why I choose to drive a 12 hour round trip to spend 2 hours with a client when I could have spent the night in a bar and now be going home to bed. The answer is that my client is facing the death penalty and has not had a single visitor other than me for the past 4 years. His parents have died and his sister and her children decided to move out of State due to the death threats they received. He has been granted a resentencing hearing, this is his one chance of not having to go back to Death Row.
I’ve seen the tv documentaries and series depicting Death Row, and I have to say that’s not the Death Row that I see. When I arrive at the prison, which is in the middle of nowhere, I am searched and then searched again as though it is expected that I will have contraband on me and the corrections officers are so disappointed that they haven’t found it, that they search me again, just to prove a point. The reality is that I’ve been going into prisons for over 20 years, I will never have anything in my pockets, nothing round my neck or wrists, I will be wearing jeans and a long sleeve top, showing as little flesh as possible, and will carry a pad and pen. In high security prisons anything is a commodity, even a paper clip or an elastic band, or sneaker laces. The only commodity I have is me, and I hope that my client believes that I am a more valuable commodity working on his case that being held as a hostage!
When a Death Row inmate is moved, the whole prison is placed on lockdown, hence the other prisoners do not like the Death Row inmates. The corrections officer tells me that they are taking me over to Death Row as the conference room is busy. It’s the first time I have been to this prison and I assume that they are saying this to scare me. The reality is that, as I haven’t been to this death row before, I am desperate to see inside it and see what it’s like, and if it’s as bad as I’ve heard.
We walk through the prison wings, through one locked door after another, I am aware how empty the prison seems. Usually when I walk through prisons I come across inmates everywhere, polishing floors, pushing laundry carts, carrying boxes for staff. But today, as I’m being taken to Death Row, there is noone around, it seems eerie. It really is a lock down. No wonder the rest of the prison inmates don’t like the Death Row inmates.
We arrive at Death Row and I’m struck by the fact there are more corrections officers in this wing than anywhere else, but no inmates. They are all locked away behind cell doors. There is a table in the middle of the room and I’m told to sit there. It’s a very hot day outside and there is no aircon in this wing, Infact there is very little air in this wing. There are a couple of electric fans on the wall and the corrections officers have angled them down towards their chairs. To say it’s stifling in the wing is an understatement.
I notice that every other cell is empty, so that the inmates can’t even talk to the person next to them. I know from conversations with previous clients who have spent time on Death Row, that they are not allowed a colour TV, they can buy an overpriced black and white one which only shows the State run channels….that is the Government channel and a religious preaching channel. The inmates are locked up on their own for 24 hours a day, they usually get one hour of yard time a week, and that is usually in the yard on their own. They can have a couple of phone calls a month, but very few have anyone to call. There are no cats, or birds, wide screen TVs, communal areas, basketball matches.. These seem to exist only in tv documentaries. My client hasn’t had a hot meal since he arrived at Death Row as his food is driven over from the main wings, by the time it’s pushed though his door it is always cold. A few weeks ago his cell was searched and his mattress, sheet and pillow taken, he still doesn’t have them back. He is given postage stamps by the State, but isn’t allowed a pen or paper. His only book permitted is the Bible. Effectively Death Row sends my clients mad.
My client is brought out to the table, shackled at hands and feet, and round his waste. The hard cuffs on his wrists don’t even give him the flexibility to use a pen to sign the forms I have brought with me. I start to ask that my client is unshackled, but he gets very nervous and asks me not to make a scene. As I sit with him I am conscious of corrections officers walking past, much too close, as if to antagonise him, and they then start coughing and muttering things under their breath. So now I’m antagonised! I stand up and say “seems a lot of you in here have a cough, next one who disrespects me while I’m sitting with my client gets to walk the Green Mile to the Warden’s office, now get these cuffs off and move out of our personal space.”
The client looks stunned, the corrections officers stand rooted to the spot and then one comes over and says “he’s a killer, if he kills you, don’t come complaining to us.” The irony seems lost on him.
My client is unshackled and all the corrections officers move to the end of the room, obviously hoping that my client is going to come true on their warning. My client smiles and says ‘no one has ever fought for me before.”
We get to the end of the visit, the client hasn’t killed me, and I’ve ascertained that he went to Death Row aged 18 for a domestic killing. He shot someone who was beating on his mom. The problem was that he is black and the guy he shot was white, and the area they lived in still had segregation until the late 1970’s so at the time of his offence race issues were still prominent.
I could petition the Warden to get my client a mattress, sheet and pillow, pen and paper, but I know it will be of little use. Instead I submit the form I’ve just had my client sign.. The transfer form to get him moved to a jail closer to me so that I can work on his case. A jail that isn’t luxurious, but where he will at least be able to talk to other people.
Meanwhile, I have the unenviable task of trying to prepare a sentencing package for a 30 year old case in which the previous lawyer, who was not a criminal lawyer, didn’t turn up for the sentencing hearing as he was working on a private civil case, but in which the judge didn’t feel the client was sufficiently disadvantaged to postpone….
* I subsequently agreed a sentence of 40 years incarceration (with life probation) with the prosecutor… After all those years on Death Row, my client’s health is so bad I doubt he will make 58, but at least he has some hope, he has a prison job, and the State has been saved the exorbitant amount of money that it costs to keep an inmate on Death Row each year
Why is Middle England avoiding the fact that youths are dying every week at the hands of a youth and a blade?
Many readers won’t like my blunt approach but unless middle class parents in Middle England start to understand the harsh reality of knife crime, their sons and daughters are at risk. Knife crime is a problem and kids across the UK are dying from the blade. The usual comments to the press by a grieving parent is ‘They were a good child, with a great future ahead of them which has been cruelly taken away’. These are the youths who were talented footballers, or aspiring doctors, or just those who went out to a friend’s house for the evening and never came home.
The sad thing is that many of the deaths don’t even make the media anymore, just a common everyday occurrence, and for the majority of the public it is believed to be something which only happens in inner city estates between gangs. Well this is a naïve view. Anyone, anywhere can die or be seriously injured at the hands of someone with a knife.
Part of this naivety comes from the fact that the media doesn’t report it. Schools don’t want to tell the parents about the number of knives being found during knife sweeps in school grounds as they don’t want the parents to question the safety of their children while at school. Many police forces actively discourage any mention of knives being found and knife crime, for fear of the community complaining that the police are not protecting the community and making it safe. Some of the police officers who have the courage to promote their knife findings face criticism (and worse) from their superiors, for speaking out. Fortunately, I can speak out.
And not to overlabour the point, but while this problem is being kept in the shadows, kids are still dying. I know of at least 5 deaths of teenagers around the UK at the hands of the knife in August and September. Put that into perspective, in a class of 30 students, that’s one sixth of the class dead in the space of two months!
I work with kids who are involved in gangs and who carry knives. For them carrying a knife is for status, the gang requires them to carry a weapon, and it is for protection. These knives are usually not just a small blade – machetes, double serrated edge 15 inch blades and flick knives are regularly found by the police during searches of people and cars, at crime scenes and during weapons sweeps in public places. But these are not the only ones carrying knives, and it is the unknown and unsuspected ones who are most at risk.
There is a huge increase in youths carrying knives or blades as they feel the need to do so for their own protection. Youths who have never been in contact with the police before, who are doing well at school and who have a stable home life, but still feel the need to place a knife in their backpack. And these are also the youths who are dying at the end of their own blade, or who are sitting in a police cell for the first time having been found with a knife on them.
It is the parents of these youths who tell me that they had no idea their son or daughter was carrying a knife, and they can’t understand why. And they don’t like my answer which is that ‘it’s what youths do these days, carrying a knife is now commonplace‘. The sad thing is that we are usually having this discussion in a police station or courtroom, by which stage their son or daughter is facing a spell in a young offenders institution.
The question which comes next from most parents is ‘where did they get the knife?’
The answer to that is usually simple, either from the kitchen or from the internet. The first time knife carriers will probably have taken the knife from the kitchen drawer. It may have been noticed missing but the parents never think to question their son or daughter, why would they, they are a good kid. The progression is then to purchasing a knife on the internet, often using a parent’s Paypal account or credit card. A large gutting knife, with a double serrated edge, can be purchased for £9.99 on the internet. Less than £10 can take a life or ruin a life.
The next thing I hear is usually ‘but why didn’t the school warn us?’
Well, firstly it’s not the school’s responsibility to educate the parents, and I usually tell them so. And secondly, knives are not usually taken into the classroom. That would be too easy to detect. Knife sweeps of school grounds, gardens, drainpipes, hedges on the way to the school are all areas where knives are hidden for the day at school and then picked up on the way home, or left there for longer, with the youths safe in the knowledge that if they need to use it at school they know where to find it.
I regularly hear the comment ‘He/she didn’t have it at home because I would have known.’
Again that’s rubbish. Most youths are not even very sophisticated in their hiding places at home as they know that parents will not search their back pack or boxes under their bed. The more sophisticated ones will hide the knife in the places which are harder to spot, back of a Playstation, inside socks in a drawer, strapped underneath an outside window-ledge, or in the hedge in the side alley. But make no mistake, even an unsophisticated knife carrier can easily hide a knife if their parents have no idea that they should look for it.
Staying on the home front, it is also unlikely that many parents would understand their son or daughter was talking about a knife even if they overheard them on the phone or caught a glimpse of their internet chats. Common words for a knife or blade which are more readily known by parents include ‘Shiv’, ‘Shank’, ‘Switch’, ‘Blade’, ‘Sharp’, and ‘Dagger’. But the lesser known slang words include ‘Jammer’, ‘Ox’, ‘Hawk’, ‘Skeng’ ‘Wep’ and ‘Tool’. In a recent case, my client was a young lad arrested for possession of a knife after an off duty officer noticed the lad showing his knife off to his friends just outside the school grounds. I asked him why he had referred to the knife as ‘Skeng’ and he said he didn’t know but he’d looked up the slang words for knife on the internet, and ‘Skeng’ came up so he decided to use it so that his parents wouldn’t know what he was talking about and so that he could look good in front of his friends.
It’s not just young lads who are carrying knives, girls are increasingly carrying knives. The same reasons apply, for their protection and to look good in front of their friends. If their friends are carrying a knife, they don’t want to be the odd one out. The knives carried by girls are often smaller. My female clients have hidden a knife in their make up bag or in a box of sanitary towels. One commented to me that hiding a small folding blade in a bundle of sanitary towels is the easiest way to avoid detection as most teachers or parents won’t search them for fear of embarrassing the girl.
Some of the youths I represent in the youth court have found themselves on the periphery of a gang as they are easily led. These are often the youths who do not have a large circle of friends at school, are perhaps socially awkward or just want a bit of excitement. Gangs will quickly identify a youth who fits into these categories and use them. The youth may be encouraged to purchase one or more knives using their parent’s debit card or Paypal account. Websites may encourage purchases by offering 2 for 1 on knives, so it will not show up as a large amount on the debit card. The youth may be encouraged to hide the knife or carry it as they are not known to the police and will be less likely to be stopped. These youths are usually the least street wise and will hide the knife in their backpack or their locker at school, and will be the most likely to be caught. An excuse of “I was carrying the knife for someone else” is not a defence. The gang members won’t be facing court, but the duped youth will be facing custody.
The harsh reality of these youths carrying knives is that they are either likely to be killed or injured by their own knife or face custody. I hear many youths in the police station or court who now say “Oh, but I didn’t think the police were searching us anymore so I thought I wouldn’t get caught.” Wrong, stop and search is still being carried out by a lot of police officers, and there are other ways of being caught, the off duty officer who witnessed the knife being shown around, was picking his own daughter up from school. Knife sweeps at schools and in public areas are being carried out more frequently by the police and other authorities and a quick check on the school cctv can often identify who has hidden the knife behind the drainpipe or in the bushes at the back of the car park.
The Law on Knife Carrying
Anyone caught carrying a knife for the first time can receive a community or prison sentence. But under the Criminal Justice Act 1988, since July 2015 a youth over 16 who is guilty of carrying a knife in a public place on more than one occasion must be given at least 4 months’ Detention and Training Order, so that means the youth will serve at least 2 months in a young offenders institution and then at least 2 months under close supervision when they are released from custody. Anyone over 18 must be sentenced to at least 6 months in custody. This has created a two strikes rule in relation to carrying knives. Anyone caught with a knife for a second time will be locked up!
In reality, for many of the youths carrying knives, this could mean the end of aspirations of college, apprenticeship, or a job, for a moment of stupidity, by a youth trying to fit in with their mates or thinking that they will protect themselves from a gang attack by carrying a bread-knife!
So what can be done to combat this increase in knife carrying by those who have no previous contact with the police or courts? Parents and family members should speak to youths about knives, and the harsh reality. If a knife goes missing from the kitchen, question it. Listen out for the slang words, challenge a change in behaviour and increased secretism. Schools should be challenged about whether there is a knife problem, not just in school, but outside the grounds, are knife sweeps being carried out, if so what is being found? This will help to highlight the level of the danger to teenagers at that school.
Most police forces offer a knife amnesty bin, which provides a safe disposal of the knife with no questions asked. This should be used by parents who find a knife in their son or daughter’s possession, merely placing the knife elsewhere may result in the youth finding it and taking it back or giving it to their mate. Knife amnesty bins also help the police to gauge the amount of knives being carried in their area, and the types of knives.
Don’t ignore the knife crime problem. It sounds dramatic, but the harsh reality is that ignorance can cost a life.