A violence prevention expert has raised concern over growing levels of knife crime amongst young people in Merseyside.

Alan Walsh, a youth worker specialising in knife crime in Liverpool says the lockdown may have made the problem worse.

Alan has dealt with one case in his role at Alder Hey Hospital where the child was just seven years old at the time.

 

He said: “I think we’d be petrified if we got a true picture of how many young people are actually carrying knives and how much violence is actually happening.”

 

Alongside working in Alder Hey, Alan runs Anfield Boxing Club and the project ‘Real Men Don’t Carry Knives‘.

His work aims to support young people in Merseyside and to ultimately prevent knife crime.

 

What does the data say?

According to data from a Freedom of Information request to Merseyside Police, 2020 knife crime offences remain high.

Despite the National lockdowns, knife crime by under 18’s in 2020 is higher than it was in 2018.

Infographic Merseyside Knife Crime
Infographic Merseyside youth knife crime: *All data in this infographic was either sent directly from Merseyside Police in a Freedom of Information request, or taken from police.uk.

In Merseyside in 2020, police recorded 1,218 violence with injury offences committed by children under 18.

However, Alan said: “I hate to say it, but just going on what we’ve seen, I do think the end of 2021 will be some of the highest numbers we’ve seen.”

Alan believes there are many factors contributing to the rise he is seeing in knife crime.

This includes unstable home lives forcing young people in gangs to mix with other gangs on the street.

He also believes the lockdown has led to many young people arguing over social media.

He said: “What they’re forgetting is that they’re going to meet these people now when they go back to education or colleges.”

 

Under 18’s and knife crime

Emma*, is the mum of 14-year-old James*, who was stabbed twice in leg and twice in the chest four months ago.

James, from St Helens, was asked by friends to go along to watch a fight when the attack took place.

In 2020, there were 214 children under 18 found in possession of a weapon by police in Merseyside.

James said: “The people who were meant to be having the fight ended up turning up with all different weapons, machetes, knives.”

Emma said: “It was raining, it was muddy and everybody ran, except James because he had his bike.

“He was the only one with his bike and he couldn’t get away quick enough, with the wheels in the mud.”

James’ mum said he was lucky he was only stabbed four times, without serious complications.

However, one of the injuries did cause damage, hitting the edge of James’ spleen.

She said she is not only concerned about his physical recovery, but also his mental recovery.

James said: “It was obviously a traumatising experience.

“I obviously can think what could have happened and different scenarios.”

However, as no witnesses are willing to give video evidence, Emma is convinced the case will soon close.

In total, there were 8,297 criminal offences committed in Merseyside by children under 18 in 2020.

James said: “[The police] have basically said they have got nothing.

“So I lost my hope when they said that.”

In the last year in St Helens, 33.3% of suspects were unable to be prosecuted.

A further 22.5% of investigations were recorded as complete without any suspect identified.

 

What support is available?

Alongside his work in Alder Hey, Alan runs an in-school programme, educating young people on knife crime.

Emma thanks the support of this programme for helping to save James’ life.

She said: “He had that education from Alan that he knew if he was stabbed what to actually do.

“James said to me, ‘I knew what to do, I knew I had to keep awake and I knew I had to shout for help’.”

Alan also mentors young people after they are admitted to Alder Hay with knife related injuries.

Due to the seriousness of James’ wounds, he was treated at Alder Hey, where he came  into contact with Alan again.

However, this critical support is not available everywhere and Emma said it needs to be more accessible

She said: “I’m just a parent here and I do believe that education starts in school.

“But if they’re not even in school and their parents don’t give a s**t, where does that education start from?

“Does it need to be younger? Do we need to get with the times?”

Real Men Don't Carry Knives project
Real Men Don’t Carry Knives project: image by Alan Walsh

Alan has been mentoring James since the incident and he believes continual and earlier education is the only way to tackle the problem.

With children as young as seven attending Alder Hey involved with knife crime, Alan said current systems are not enough.

He said: “The youngest we’ve had in Alder Hey was aged seven.

“They had another six years before any youth service would have got involved.

“So that is another six years of getting into the criminal lifestyle.

“Six years before any real intervention or prevention would get put in place.”

Alan himself was stabbed three times by men who tried to cut his leg off in a random attack.

He describes the work being done by his team in Alder Hey as ‘ground breaking’.

However, he says funding for projects like this, run by those who understand the issues around knife crime, is critical.

Emma said: “Every hospital needs to have someone [like Alan] because I believe this is well on the up!”

To report a non-urgent crime in Merseyside, go to the police website.

*Names have been changed for privacy reasons.

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