London stabbings fuel UK's worst ever year for knife crime as blade offences reach all-time high

Martin Bentham

London's knife crime “disease” has helped to propel the number of blade offences nationwide to an all-time high, official figures revealed today.

The Office for National Statistics said that 14,725 knife crimes, including 74 homicides, were committed in the capital during 2018 after a one per cent rise in offending over the year.

The total is one of the highest on record for London and only a fraction below the peak of 14,987 recorded in comparable annual statistics published six months ago.

The bleak figures suggest that the Met’s intensive efforts to combat the problem are having only limited impact. Statistics for England and Wales showed knife offending at the highest level ever recorded, with more than 40,000 such offences in 2018.

It means London accounts for a third of all knife crime and has played a key role in taking the national total to its new peak.

Police and forensics investigating a stabbing in Edmonton earlier this year (PA)

There was also more bad news for the capital in other ONS figures published today that showed a 10 per rise in vehicle offences, a six per cent rise in robberies and an eight per cent jump in burglaries.

Separate statistics also published today showed that nationwide only nine per cent of violent offences during 2018 have so far led to a person being charged — two per cent lower than the previous year’s figure.

The bleak picture will provide renewed ammunition for politicians and others who argue that the police are under-resourced and struggling to cope with the scale of the demand they face.

Record levels of knife crime — which in London included 169 rapes or sexual assaults and 8,513 robberies carried out with a blade — are likely to remain the focus of concerns.

There were 75 offences of attempted murder using a blade, 749 threats to kill with a knife, and 5,145 knife crimes which either resulted in injury or involved an attempt to inflict serious harm on the victim.

A timeline produced today by the statisticians also showed how knife crime has been rising in London, with the overall total of 14,725 blade offences in 2018 representing a 50 per cent increase on the 9,752 recorded in the 12 months to March 2016.

The Met, which has stepped up its use of stop and search, weapons sweeps and other tactics, will draw some comfort from the fall in knife homicides, which dropped to 74 last year compared with the tally of 110 in the year to March 2018 and 91 for 2017.

Mentor scheme

Residents are to be recruited as mentors to help young people at risk of joining gangs in east London.

The scheme is part of Waltham Forest council’s new public health approach to tackling violence, involving charities, police and health and education services.

One charity, Spark2Life, will train residents to be mentors to support young people vulnerable to gang activity. Another will recruit locals to be “Ask Me” ambassadors to address concerns around gangs.

A “resilience programme” will also be taught to 10,000 primary school children. Council leader Clare Coghill said: “We need all partners across the public sector working to bring about change.”

Borough commander DCS Richard Tucker said: “We work tirelessly to prosecute people. But we also help to divert them from this lifestyle, so there is less need for punitive action against young people.”

Knife killings still remain high in comparison with previous years, however. The annual total in much of the past decade has fluctuated around the 50 mark until the recent surge.

Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the Commons home affairs select committee, expressed dismay at today’s figures, adding: “The police are completely overstretched and crime prevention work is far too limited. The Home Office and government response on knife crime and other rising crimes is still far too weak and just doesn’t match the scale of the problem.”

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said the figures were “deeply troubling”. Home Secretary Sajid Javid recently expressed his determination to step up efforts against knife crime, describing it as a “virulent disease”.