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Why has knife crime in Norfolk trebled in just three years?

PUBLISHED: 06:37 20 September 2017 | UPDATED: 16:09 20 September 2017

Lee Barrett from Great Yarmouth whose son Connor was stabbed to death. Right, one of the knives seized by Norfolk police in Operation Gravity. Photo: Nick Butcher/Norfolk Constabulary

Lee Barrett from Great Yarmouth whose son Connor was stabbed to death. Right, one of the knives seized by Norfolk police in Operation Gravity. Photo: Nick Butcher/Norfolk Constabulary

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Lee Barrett hoped the death of his son at a birthday party in Hemsby would be a wake up call about the devastating consequences of carrying knives.

One of the knives seized by police in Norfolk during the Operation Gravity clampdown on drug gangs. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary One of the knives seized by police in Norfolk during the Operation Gravity clampdown on drug gangs. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary

But since Connor, aged 20, was stabbed to death by two teenagers in 2014, knife crime in Norfolk has more than trebled.

A crime is now being committed with a knife in Norfolk almost every day on average, according to police figures.

Amid a surge in violent crime in this region and nationally, our investigation has found:

•Knife crime has more than doubled in Norfolk in 12 months to 316 incidents last year;

•The number of those sentenced for carrying knives hit a six-year high at 269 this year and is proportionally higher in Norfolk than the rest of East Anglia;

•More knives are being found in schools;

•Teenagers are the largest group of people arrested for knife offences in Norfolk

Possession of weapon offences have also rocketed in the last year in Norfolk. The biggest increase is in Great Yarmouth where there has been a 56pc increase in those found with weapons, followed by Norwich with a 26pc rise.

Although it is still below the national average, knife crime in Norfolk has been rising since 2014 and last year overtook Suffolk.

Police put some of that increase down to their clampdown on London drug gangs moving into Norfolk since December last year through a project called Operation Gravity.

But Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Paul Sanford said generally more people appeared to be carrying knives.

“In part it is because we have been out looking and therefore we have been finding more,” he said.

One of the knives seized by police in Norfolk during the Operation Gravity clampdown on drug gangs. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary One of the knives seized by police in Norfolk during the Operation Gravity clampdown on drug gangs. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary

“However it is an unavoidable truth that for a small number of people in the county, carrying of knives is becoming all too frequent.”

The most common crime committed with a knife in Norfolk last year was assaults were someone was injured or injury was intended. That happened 174 times. There were also 76 robberies with a knife and 64 threats to kill.

ACC Sanford said: “It is typically committed by people who know each other. There are exceptions, such as the East Harling murder (in August), but predominantly people who need to worry most about knife crime are those carrying knives themselves. Research shows if you are carrying a knife the person most likely to get stabbed by it is you.”

In the face of rising knife crime, particularly in London, the Government banned the sale of weapons known as ‘Zombie knives’ last year. The knives, which could be 60cm long, have serrated edges and carried words or images which glamorised violence.

One of the knives seized by police in Norfolk during the Operation Gravity clampdown on drug gangs. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary One of the knives seized by police in Norfolk during the Operation Gravity clampdown on drug gangs. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary

To stop shops selling knives to those under 18, police and trading standards in Norfolk carry out test purchasing.

Police are also focusing on educating young people, with figures showing those aged 10 to 19 make up the largest proportion of those arrested for knife crime in Norfolk. NHS figures also show those aged 19-24 are in the group most likely to be stabbed.

Officers and Norfolk Police and Crime commissioner Lorne Green hopes that long-term they can reduce knife crime by educating children about the dangers before they reach their late teens and early twenties.

The rise in knife crime nationally and in Norfolk has coincided with a fall in the number of people stopped and searched by police. That fell from being used 568 times by Norfolk police in June 2015 to 129 this June.

One of the knives seized by police in Norfolk during the Operation Gravity clampdown on drug gangs. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary One of the knives seized by police in Norfolk during the Operation Gravity clampdown on drug gangs. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary

But experts are divided on whether stop and search helped reduce knife crime.

The rise in knife crime has also been linked to cuts to youth services, policing and child mental health, as well as a cultural shift which makes the carrying of knives more acceptable.

Criminologist at the University of Suffolk, Dr Paul Andell, said austerity would have had a huge impact in terms of cutting the number of youth workers and engaging with young people at risk of knife crime.

One of the knives seized by police in Norfolk during the Operation Gravity clampdown on drug gangs. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary One of the knives seized by police in Norfolk during the Operation Gravity clampdown on drug gangs. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary

•Is rise linked to drugs?

Police have linked the rise in knife crime in part to their clampdown on London drug dealers coming to Norfolk - and these pictures show some of the weapons found.

The knives were seized by Norfolk police from houses linked to drugs.

The movement and dealing of drugs from the capital to places like Norfolk is called ‘County Lines’ and police launched Operation Gravity last year to tackle the problem and the rising violence associated with it.

Assistant chief constable Paul Sanford. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary Assistant chief constable Paul Sanford. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary

ACC Sanford said: “We have undoubtedly seen a reduction in violent crime associated with county lines. I am convinced we have protected some people from serious harm.”

Of the 44 people charged in Operation Gravity by the end of August, four were for possession of weapon offences.

Of those charged, 19 are from London, one is from Cambridgeshire and 17 are from Norfolk. The youngest is aged just 15.

•What is happening in Suffolk?

There have been a spate of stabbings in Suffolk in the last month and ACC Sanford said Norfolk police are wary of that violence spreading north.

A man in his 20s was stabbed in the lung in Ipswich on August 12. A week later a 16-year-old boy was stabbed repeatedly in the town.

Then on August 21 two people were stabbed. The next day a teenager and a 20-year-old man, both thought to be from London, were stabbed.

Suffolk police had already taken part in an operation called Op Sceptre earlier this year to target knife crime.

There are knife amnesty bins across the county and Ipswich MP Sandy Martin has called for a “massive police presence” to tackle the trouble between rival gangs in the town.

Our sister papers the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star have launched a campaign to support work being done against knife crime.

The latest figures from the Ministry of Justice show there were 183 knife possession cases in Suffolk in the last year and 269 in Norfolk.

•Tomorrow: What is being done to tackle knife crime?

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