Sunday, June 04, 2006


The Packington estate, so decrepit that it is scheduled for demolition, lies between streets of neat Victorian and Georgian terraces in the otherwise leafy borough of Islington, north London. Last Thursday three boys, all aged 15, sat in the estate's ramshackle play park eating Skittles and shooting the breeze. Even though two of them had their hoods up they were not especially intimidating. None had been excluded from school and when asked who they wanted to win this year's Big Brother they cheerily replied, "that one who's got Tourette's". These were normal inner-city boys. Nice, even.

Yet when asked whether they ever carried knives around the neighbourhood or had tried to take one to school, all three responded with a dismaying "for sure". To prove it one boy - who, incidentally, had an innocent smile and sunny disposition - reached into the folds of his tracksuit and pulled out a small kitchen knife, the sort you might use to chop mushrooms. This, he explained, was for "protection".

Perhaps it was to be expected. In recent weeks numerous reports of citizens attacked and slain have fostered the notion that every other hoodie in Britain is carrying a concealed blade. There were more than 50 knife attacks over the bank holiday weekend alone and horror stories involving good-hearted samaritans apparently breaking up public fights only to be knifed to death have multiplied.

Among them was Tom Grant, a 19-year-old student at St Andrews University, who was on the train travelling home to Gloucestershire last Saturday when he reportedly stepped in to help a woman having a savage row with a young man. He was stabbed fatally.

A few hours later in Nottingham, Ian Montgomery, 26, went to help a woman being beaten up outside a nightclub. He, too, was stabbed and is still recovering in hospital. Marlvin Jiro was not so lucky. The 26-year-old father was knifed at about the same time in Birmingham after a fight. He died at the scene.

Just three days later Barry Wilson, 29, was stabbed in Bristol. Following an argument he was killed on his doorstep in front of his two young daughters. Across town, less than 24 hours earlier, another man, an unnamed teen, had lain dying in a pool of blood, yet another victim of a knife. The following evening a 40-year-old woman was stabbed in Norwood, south London, her body left next to her VW Golf which still had its lights on and engine running.

These terrifying tales followed the recent public outcry over the death of Nisha Patel-Nasri, a special police constable whose funeral was held last Thursday. Patel-Nasri had her own kitchen knife turned on her when, for the second time in a week, she had challenged intruders at her home in Wembley, north London. A single clumsy stab wound to the leg was enough to sever her femoral artery. Later that week, 15-year-old Kiyan Prince was stabbed to death outside his school in north London.

Is Britain in the grip of a knife epidemic? Is blade culture out of control? The statistics do not entirely support this conclusion. Although there has been a recent burst of violence - which has coincided (embarrassingly for law enforcers) with a nationwide five-week knife amnesty - the percentage of knife-related violent crime has remained steady at 6% for several years. Home Office records show that the number of people killed with a sharp instrument in 1994 was 231. In 2005 that number was a near identical 236.

Anecdotal evidence from crime and social workers - not to mention the knife carriers themselves - suggests that more people are carrying knives. Last Monday in Luton more than 90 weapons (including scabrous blades, knuckle-dusters and a 10in carving knife) were confiscated from a crowd on its way to a carnival.

The exact percentage of blade carriers remains hard to calculate as it relies on the unscientific process of canvassing members of the public, who are prone to lie. In 2004 the British Crime Survey estimated that 60,000 children aged 11 to 16 were carrying knives, but what of the over-18s? Perhaps the most damning evidence that knives have become a fixture of British life is the rise in the number of people found guilty of carrying blades in public places, up 63.5% in five years.

This certainly chimes with opinion on the ground. "It's been getting worse for a few years now," says Dawn Irwin, head of Offroad Productionz, a mentoring group that tackles gang and violent crime. "Blades are everywhere."

More here

Hippies need guns too: "It was meant to promote peace and love, but ended in a hail of bullets. America's counter- culture has come back under the spotlight after the founder of a New York commune was repeatedly shot by an unhinged former member last week. As Jeff Gross was recovering from gunshot wounds to his chest and arm, the prime suspect for the attack, a 43-year-old woman, was still on the run this weekend. For New Yorkers long used to gun violence, the most shocking aspect of the shooting was the realisation that the hippie lifestyle continues to exist within the confines of their energetic and affluent city. The shooting on Staten Island, a sedate commuter borough, has exposed a tangled network of communal jealousies involving lurid tales of sex with dwarves and lesbian orgies. It has also sent a shudder through the shrinking world of American hippiedom, which has never fully recovered from the Jonestown massacre of 1978, when "Reverend" Jim Jones orchestrated the mass suicide of more than 900 followers at a commune in Guyana. Gross, 51, a co-founder of the Ganas housing co-operative, has identified his assailant as Rebekah Johnson, a former commune member who was expelled 10 years ago and who later returned to threaten Gross and other members."

Communists not gun-shy: "Venezuela has announced overnight it had received 30,000 AK-47 assault rifles from Russia, the first shipment of an order of 100,000. "This is an act of full national sovereignty, they are weapons for the defense of the country," said Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, speaking at the Puerto Cabello naval base, 130km northwest of Caracas. Mr Rangel also said the weapons were needed to replace outdated Belgian-designed FAL rifles currently in use "and discard obsolete equipment." Also in the shipment were 25 million rounds of ammunition. In mid-2005 Caracas signed an agreement to buy the rifles in a $US54-million deal with Moscow. The remainder of the weapons are scheduled to arrive in August and a third shipment late in the year. Within three to five years Venezuela will also have factories to manufacture both AK-47s and their ammunition, the head of the Venezuelan army, General Raul Baduel, said overnight.

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