London Mayor backs anti-knife crime protesters at Downing Street

By Georgina Stubbs, Press Association

London Mayor Sadiq Khan “fully supports” anti-knife crime campaigners who have gathered in Downing Street to call for action over recent bloodshed, a bereaved mother has said.

The demonstration, dubbed #OperationShutdown, saw supporters gather in Whitehall asking for a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee to tackle the surge in violent crime in recent years.

Grieving parents including Tracey Hanson – whose 21-year-old son Josh was murdered at a bar in west London in 2015 – held placards bearing the pictures and names of victims during the demonstration.

Speaking to the Press Association, Ms Hanson said: “Today we received a phone call from the mayor’s office – Sadiq Khan – from his secretary, to say he fully supports what we are doing and commends each one of us.

Anti-knife crime campaigners in Whitehall (PA)

“That was a really heartfelt message and I took it on board and I am very grateful for that.”

Asked about the current levels of knife crime, Ms Hanson said they are “very worrying”, adding: “In the three and a half years since Josh’s death it has escalated… it hasn’t been reduced.”

With campaigners coming from all over Britain, Ms Hanson said there is a “sense of desperation” among them, adding how they are all grieving, with some doing so for “many, many years”.

“Should we be here doing this? No, we should not, but we are and I hope we are going to make a change,” she added, saying that they all decided to come together around eight weeks ago.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan backed the campaigners (Yui Mok/PA)

Confident that change is coming, with progress already being made and various meetings being held, Ms Hanson said that actions are needed now rather than words.

She said the issue needs to be tackled at grassroots levels across the country, with immediate cash injections given to communities, organisations and families that want to make a difference.

The group is also calling for an independent investigation into school exclusions, better rehabilitation of prisoners to stop them going on to kill, and for full jail terms to be served for murder and manslaughter.

Giving a speech to those gathered, Suzanne Hedges described how her son Ricky Hayden was fatally stabbed with a machete in September 2016.

She said of knife crime: “It is not just inner cities now, it is spreading out… something has to be done. The Government need to get off their backsides, a Cobra meeting is needed to sort this out.”

The protesters were calling for action over recent bloodshed (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The 51-year-old said it is important the group be heard, and urged the Government to give communities control to help them solve the problem – with work starting in schools and moving up to the police and justice system.

Taking comfort in the bereaved families and friends standing on Whitehall together, Ms Hedges said they all felt the same emotions, adding that no matter what colour, religion or nationality, they “all feel the same pain”.

“It is sad we have all got to come together to show the Government how we feel,” she said.

“They should be supporting us. But they (the victims of knife crime) are just names and numbers to the Government. They are more interested in Brexit.”

Some of the country’s most senior police officers have already said the highest levels of government need to come together to deal with the causes of violence.

Former National Police Chiefs Council chairwoman Sara Thornton said co-ordinating the response was a job for Number 10, while Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said all official bodies need to “step up” their efforts.

(PA Graphics)

The Government has granted an extra £100 million for police in the areas worst affected by knife violence and has given officers beefed-up stop and search powers.

But plans to make police officers, teachers and nurses accountable for failing to spot the warning signs of violent crime were criticised.

Chairman of the Police Federation John Apter called the proposals “a bit of an insult”, while Royal College of Nursing acting chief executive and general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said the duty would put increased pressure on frontline staff.