'Generation of investment needed to stop knife crime scourge', Met chief warns


A generation of investment is needed to stop scared young people in London and elsewhere from carrying blades, a Scotland Yard knife crime chief has said, as he warned that some teenagers are going out armed because they feel unprotected on the streets.

Met Commander Stephen Clayman, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on knife crime, said some knife carriers were carrying large “status” weapons to intimidate others as they tried to protect drug lines and gang territory.

But he said others who carried blades were “not criminals” but instead frightened teenagers who go out armed with the weapons in a misguided belief that it might protect them.

He said that large-scale long-term investment was needed in youth services, education and other assistance to address the problem, which he said was often linked to deprivation, and that it would take a generation to pay off.

Mr Clayman’s comments follow the publication of official statistics showing a 20 per cent jump in knife crime in London during 2023 and a seven per cent rise nationally, largely driven by the capital’s increase.

He said police were determined to reduce the level of offending by tackling the supply of weapons online and focusing on knife carriers who were using their weapons to coerce and threaten others as part of their gang and drug running activities.

But he said police also needed assistance to help other young knife carriers, taking blades out to protect themselves, to escape danger as he called for a generation of investment to tackle underlying social challenges that were fuelling the problem.

“[A] young person who carries a knife for protection is not the same as a young person who is carrying a large knife to protect a drug supply line. They are very different people.

“There are areas, probably linked to deprivation particularly, where young people feel really under-protected, they feel that they have to carry a knife,” Commander Clayman told the Evening Standard.

“These aren’t criminals. They are young people who are at most misguided in the belief that they need protecting so we need to do more, which is where all the work we do with our partners [comes in].

“The answer is long term investment in all the things that need to be invested [in], whether that’s youth provision, education attainment, that isn’t for policing to sort, but also it’s something that’s going to take years, generational change, and we need commitment long term and a solid commitment to see it through.

”Another problem was the use of large “status” weapons that hardened knife offenders used to scare others and that were being sold online via social media to people bulk buying them to sell on to others.

“The status knives are being used because they are intimidating. For some communities it’s a very real issue and a real trauma,” he said.

“People say you can pick up a penknife, a small knife from home, but the evidence is that those particularly in criminal gangs, looking after drug networks, are not the knives they favour. It’s the big intimidating knives that they go to.”

Commander Clayman added: “What we have really uncovered now is a proliferation of people who are buying knives from online retailers and selling them to underage people via social media networks.

“We are now at the stage where we need to understand how both retailers and social media, their networks are being used. With the technology they have and the algorithms to supply more content, if you’re sitting there looking for knife sales, I suspect the algorithms will show you more, whereas if they’re that sophisticated let’s show them less. We need to have a much bigger conversation about what they can do.”

The new warning about social problems contributing to knife crime come amid increasingly acrimonious political debate about the issue with Mayor Sadiq Khan repeatedly blaming the government for cuts to youth services.

Mr Khan has increased City Hall investment in diversionary schemes as part of the work of its violence reduction unit. But he has been accused by ministers of trying to evade responsibility for rising knife crime and not doing enough in his City Hall role to address the problem.