Knife Crime: West Midlands

– in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 14 March 2023.

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Photo of Caroline Dinenage Caroline Dinenage Conservative, Gosport 11:00, 14 March 2023

Before I call Suzanne Webb to move the motion, I remind hon. Members that there will not be an opportunity after the Minister has spoken for the Member in charge to make a winding-up speech, which is normal practice for 30-minute debates.

Photo of Suzanne Webb Suzanne Webb Conservative, Stourbridge

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the matter of knife crime in the West Midlands.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Caroline. I want to tell you about Ryan Passey. Ryan was aged only 24 when he died from a single fatal stab wound to the heart during a night out at Chicago’s club in Stourbridge in 2017. Six months later, a jury heard Kobe Murray, who was 19 at the time, admit to stabbing an unarmed Ryan through the heart during a dancefloor brawl. This shook the community to the core. Following what is known as a perverse verdict, Kobe Murray walked free from court acquitted of both murder and manslaughter. The verdict shocked Ryan’s devasted family, his friends and the community. We can only imagine the anguish of losing a child in such a manner and the perpetrator walking free.

Knife crime has touched our community in an unimaginable way, and that was compounded by news of another shocking death—that of Cody Fisher, who was stabbed and killed in a Birmingham nightclub on Boxing day last year. A more recent death is that of Bailey Atkinson. On Sunday morning, as I was putting the finishing touches to my speech, I was shocked to hear of yet another fatal stabbing—that of Akeem Francis-Kerr in a local Walsall nightclub. I am led to believe that there was yet another yesterday, and that, last night, there was a machete attack in Walsall. These are lives needlessly lost, and the families are now in torment.

If I may, Dame Caroline, I will read a statement from the Passey family about the loss of their son to knife crime:

“Ryan was an amazing, bubbly 24-year-old who loved football, his family, friends, and life.

On the 6th of August 2017 our whole world was shattered when on a night out with his best friend, Ryan was stabbed through his heart inside a busy nightclub in Stourbridge and died shortly later at Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham.

In February 2018 at Birmingham Crown Court, his killer, who admitted to stabbing Ryan, was unbelievably acquitted of both his murder and manslaughter—claiming he had acted in self-defence and accidentally stabbed Ryan. Kobe walked free from court without any punishment.

The Acquittal verdict for our family caused us double trauma. It was as though Ryan had been murdered twice.

The past 5 years continue to be traumatic for us all and we have not been able to grieve properly for Ryan. No family should have to go through what we are experiencing. We continue to suffer daily following the loss of our only child. His sudden death leaves our lives empty and always wondering, what may have been?

The impact on our lives is immeasurable.”

Dame Caroline, we can only imagine what it must feel like to have watched your child go out for a night only to be told hours later that they were never coming home. The escalating horror of knife crime is all too real, and West Midlands police recorded the highest rate of knife crime in England and Wales over the past year.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing this matter to the House. Knife crime—whether in the west midlands or across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—is incredibly destructive for families and for people. My information, which relates to Northern Ireland, is that between December 2020 and November 2021 there were 15 murders; one manslaughter; one corporate manslaughter, which included six people; 23 attempted murders; and 58 reported threats to kill involving knives or other sharp instruments. It is clear that knife crime is on the rise. Does the hon. Lady agree that that rise creates an obligation to increase minimum sentencing to ensure that those who carry a knife do so in full knowledge of the prison time they will face should they choose to use it?

Photo of Suzanne Webb Suzanne Webb Conservative, Stourbridge

I am pleased to say that some of my constituents have raised two petitions on that matter, and I look forward to seeing how they are pursued through the legislative agenda.

West Midlands police recorded the highest rate of 152 offences involving a knife crime per 100,000 of the population in 2021-22, which is significant. The possession of weapons, including knives, has increased since 2012 by 496% to 7,257 incidents a year.

Photo of Kate Kniveton Kate Kniveton Conservative, Burton

I am so sorry to hear the sad news about the fatality in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Street Whyze Project is a community interest company in my constituency, and was set up a year ago by Danny Mondesir following similar fatalities. It has been doing fantastic outreach work with young people across the midlands, delivering knife crime awareness sessions in schools, colleges and other institutions, including within the Prison Service. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need more education and early intervention by services such as Street Whyze Project to help our young residents to stay away from violent crime and even from being tempted to carry a weapon in the first place?

Photo of Suzanne Webb Suzanne Webb Conservative, Stourbridge

I commend Danny for the amazing work that his project is doing and I completely agree that early intervention is a very good way to go. I would be more than happy to talk to my hon. Friend in more detail about what we can do as MPs in the west midlands to facilitate such intervention.

Not only has there been an increase in the possession of weapons, but there is the corresponding issue of the significant increase in violence against the person, including knife crime, which is up by 439%. It is astonishing and unacceptable that total crime has risen by 113% in the west midlands over the past decade; it suggests that there has been a significant failure locally in the approach to prevent or deter crime in the west midlands.

Photo of Marco Longhi Marco Longhi Conservative, Dudley North

Is it not a sad reflection of what we are seeing today across our various constituencies in the west midlands that the police and crime commissioner is nowhere to be seen on this? At least the previous police and crime commissioner occasionally came out, but this particular police and crime commissioner is sitting in his ivory tower, or perhaps it is a Tower of Babel, because he seems to speak a different language or no language at all, from me and others. I have now written to him, via recorded mail, and he is still not answering. Just as we see not a single Labour Member here today, the Labour police and crime commissioner is failing the people of the west midlands. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Photo of Suzanne Webb Suzanne Webb Conservative, Stourbridge

I most certainly do. One may consider that the police and crime commissioner is focusing too much of his attention on his mayoral prospects as opposed to performing his role as the police and crime commissioner. He needs to consider that, because we have had a decade of increased crime—significantly increased crime, in fact, with a 496% increase in the possession of weapons, and it is all under the watch of two Labour police and crime commissioners.

Photo of Saqib Bhatti Saqib Bhatti Conservative, Meriden

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. She is making a really passionate and important speech on this topic, which affects so many people. I was also saddened to hear about what happened in Walsall, the town of my birth.

Building on the point that my hon. Friend has just made, a recent report showed that burglaries too are higher under any Labour police and crime commissioner. Is it now not just very clear that the Labour police and crime commissioner is completely failing in his task and that that failure brings into question whether we should even have a police and crime commissioner? Is it not time to scrap the PCC in the west midlands?

Photo of Suzanne Webb Suzanne Webb Conservative, Stourbridge

I thank my hon. Friend for that very powerful intervention. Again, I completely agree. The intention had always been that the police and crime commissioner role and the mayoral role would be a combined role, and I cannot think of anyone more fitting than our current Mayor, Andy Street, to pick up that combined role. His heart and his passion in the community, as someone who understands that community so well, mean that he would do an absolutely amazing job, and I really cannot believe that he would find any part of this situation acceptable if it had happened under his watch.

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for securing this debate. On that specific point about the complete lack of visibility of the police and crime commissioner, I can honestly say that we do not see him in Aldridge-Brownhills; he is not supporting our local campaign to keep the police station open. It was Andy Street who joined me in Aldridge, just a couple of weeks ago, at the launch of the first knife bin that has been installed through the work of the James Brindley Foundation. The Brindley family is another family that was tragically hit when their son was stabbed to death a number of years ago.

Does my hon. Friend agree that although the role of policing is hugely important and the role of Government is important, organisations such as the James Brindley Foundation have a really important place in the community for the work that they do, not just by providing knife bins but in terms of education and going into schools, which is a critical part of tackling the heinous problem of knife crime?

Photo of Suzanne Webb Suzanne Webb Conservative, Stourbridge

I thank my right hon. Friend for making that point. I am keen to see early intervention. Where there is a failing police and crime commissioner, community groups seem to do a much better job of understanding and tackling the problem.

I am keen to ensure that we get into schools and local community groups. It would be fantastic to get perpetrators of the crime who have gone through the rehabilitation process to speak to young adults, and explain what it is like to go out with a knife, resulting in blood on their hands and ultimately a criminal record. They could explain that that is not a good thing. Equally, families of victims could speak to schoolchildren to explain that they have a choice: to carry a knife or not to carry a knife. If they carry a knife, they will be either the perpetrator or the victim.

On the point about the police and crime commissioner, one might criticise the two police and crime commissioners in post during this decade, which we do. That is reflected in the crime rate across the west Midlands at the moment. Knowing the Passey family so well, and being so close to the impacts of knife crime, I believe this is bigger than politics. Whoever is in post, we need to fix this and get a grip. Do not blame austerity, do not throw the political book at it, which I know the police and crime commissioner has done and would do; throw heart and commitment at stopping young adults carrying knives. That is what it is all about and what needs to be done.

This is skyrocketing crime and we need to stop it. We need to prevent more lives from being lost. Knife crime destroys lives and families, and it is blighting our communities. We need to take knives off our streets. Only yesterday, the chair of the West Midlands Police Federation called for a ban on the sale of machetes, as part of an all-out assault on knife crime. We need to listen to officers on the frontline. I would be happy to meet the Police Federation to hear more about what is happening on our streets.

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

Will my hon. Friend indulge me once more? She has talked about support for police, and she has raised many topics. Another area that is often thought about, especially when a crime has been committed, is the use of curfews. Does she agree that when the police recommend curfews to a local authority, it is important for local councillors to work hand in glove with the police to deliver these extra measures to help to protect our town centres and citizens?

Photo of Suzanne Webb Suzanne Webb Conservative, Stourbridge

Again, I cannot but agree. I have just done a radio interview, prior to coming here, in which I talked about that. I completely agree that we need to bring together the community—councillors, councils and MPs—to talk about this.

The Government have already acted by making the west midlands one of four pilot areas for serious violence reduction orders, which involve stop and search. I thank them for that, and I look forward to hearing the outcome and results. I also welcome the news that the force is set to launch a serious youth violence strategy, which aims to reduce youth crime by focusing on early intervention. I support West Midlands police in doing that, and I would very much like to be part of it, if there is anything I can do to facilitate it.

As I mentioned, my constituents have been brilliant—there are two e-petitions relevant to this debate, asking for changes to the level of sentencing for knife crime, and I thank my constituents for their action on this. A knife bin has been installed in Stourbridge after the successful campaign by the Passey family. I have distributed bleed kits that were donated by the family to local clubs and pubs. More needs to be done to prevent from anyone wanting or feeling the need to carry a knife. I do not ever want another family to lose a loved one to knife crime in my constituency.

We have to ask the question: why do people carry a knife in the first place? The reasons are multifold: to be respected, to fit in, for protection or even with the intent to commit a heinous crime. It is also linked to gang crime. Many who carry a knife will have no premeditated intention of using it, but they may unintentionally end up doing so. The consequences are life changing. The stark truth is that a person is more likely to be stabbed with their own knife than anyone else’s. Let us not forget that anyone carrying a knife has a choice not to carry a knife.

I will touch on the relevance of social media as an aggravating factor in the perpetuation of knife crime. Last week, I met the parents of Olly Stephens, who told me their horrific story. Their story is well known in the public domain but, my goodness, it is more harrowing when one of the parents reads out in person exactly what happened, and the raw emotion of the impact profoundly affects those in the room.

Olly was stabbed to death by two teenage boys in a field behind their house in Reading, after a gang recruited a girl online to lure him there. The entire attack had been planned on social media and triggered by a dispute in a social media chat group. In the words of Olly’s father,

“They hunted him, tracked him, and executed him through social media.”

This is another family who watched their son leave home, not realising that it would be the last time they would see him alive. A much-loved son killed at the mercy of a knife, perpetuated by social media—another reason to detoxify the world of social media.

I have secured this debate to highlight the story of Ryan and the escalating level of knife crime in the west midlands, and to emphasise that I will not let go of Ryan’s story until justice is done. I realise that this falls outside the Minister’s brief, but I think it is important that I comment on the perverse verdict in Ryan’s case. The question is how we can accept our justice system is fair when we accept that juries can make mistakes and wrongly convict, and there is a mechanism to appeal a wrongful conviction; and yet we do not accept that the jury can make a wrongful acquittal decision, and there is currently no mechanism for appeal.

To put this in perspective, Ryan’s family have already pursued legal action against Kobe Murray and won. In a civil case in November 2021, the judge agreed with the family that Kobe Murray was found responsible for killing Ryan. It was a landmark judgment. Just prior to that, in October 2021, in another significant breakthrough, the West Midlands police agreed to open an independent review into the police investigation into Ryan’s death. The review is ongoing. I thank the West Yorkshire police for their diligence in exploring additional lines of inquiry, and I thank the deputy chief constable for the west midlands for making this happen. I hope that the Minister can help to signpost me to the correct Minister to continue those conversations with the family.

I never knew Ryan, but I knew of him, as the news of his death ricocheted across the west midlands. The moment I became an MP, it was a no-brainer that I wanted to help the family, but it was a hard slog trying to open the doors of bureaucracy to get people to listen to the injustice of Ryan’s death. It took 16 to 18 months for anyone in the West Midlands police force to listen to me and even try to have that conversation. One by one, however, the doors are now opening up.

It is now five years of injustice for the Passey family. I have got to know them well, and I consider them friends. When I see them—Ade, Jill, Phil, Debbie and Jason—[Interruption.]

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

My hon. Friend is telling so well the story of what happens, even for us as Members of Parliament, when a tragic event such as this takes place in our constituency and we go out and meet the family. They will owe a huge debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend for the way in which she is campaigning for them and seeking justice.

Photo of Suzanne Webb Suzanne Webb Conservative, Stourbridge

I thank my right hon. Friend for that. When I am with Ryan’s parents, Ade and Jill, there is a moment every single time when I have to remind myself that every day, every hour, every minute and every second, they mourn the loss of their beloved son. They lost their only child to a heinous knife crime.

This year would have been Ryan’s 30th birthday. I will be joining his family and friends as they celebrate his heavenly birthday in April. I will support them to the end of the earth, and then some, until they get the peace they deserve, which is justice for Ryan. To those who carry a knife, the simple truth is that they will either be the perpetrator of a knife crime or the victim, and those who carry knives have a simple choice not to do so. There is one other important truth: Ryan was not carrying a knife. His life tragically got caught up in what is quickly becoming an escalating horror story of knife crime in the west midlands. I urge the police and crime commissioner and West Midlands police to do more to ensure that no other family suffers as much as the Passey family have had to, and still do.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department 11:19, 14 March 2023

It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Caroline. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Suzanne Webb for securing this debate and giving such a powerful testimony about the terrible tragedies that she described. All of us here will want to remember the victims of the terrible crimes that she described: Ryan Passey, Cody Fisher, Bailey Atkinson, Akeem Francis-Kerr and Olly Stephens. Their deaths are a tragedy, and we will all want to remember them and convey to their families our very deepest sympathy. Every death is a tragedy, and each of them is mourned deeply by the families. It is our duty in public life to do everything that we can to try to protect families from similar tragedies occurring in the future.

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

The Minister is rightly naming a number of individuals. I would like him to acknowledge James Brindley—the son of Mark and Bev Brindley—who was stabbed to death in Aldridge, hence the James Brindley Foundation.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

I thank my right hon. Friend for mentioning the name of her constituent James Brindley. Each death is mourned deeply, and we must do everything that we can to try to prevent them from happening.

Confronting serious violence is clearly a priority for this Government, and it is a focus for the Home Office as well. The starting point for that must be to ensure that there are sufficient police officers and police resources available to enable the police to combat violence. As Members will know, we are in the middle of recruiting an additional 20,000 police officers across England and Wales, and once that programme has completed, which is due to happen by the end of this month, we will have more police officers in England and Wales, by some thousands, than we have ever had at any time in this country’s history. Clearly, ensuring that those police officers are available to protect our streets and protect the public is a critical element in the fight against violent crime.

Photo of Marco Longhi Marco Longhi Conservative, Dudley North

The Minister rightly emphasises that we are putting so much more resource into policing and recruiting so many more police officers to do the job that the people of this country deserve and need, but it is also true that police need the infrastructure—a place that they can call their own base. To be a little parochial—I hope that the Minister will forgive me—my predecessor announced that there would be a brand-new police station in Dudley in 2019, and the then police and crime commissioner said that it would be implemented. In 2023, we still do not have one. Where can these new police officers operate from when the previous police and crime commissioner closed all police stations, including the main police station in Dudley?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. We have given police and crime commissioners resources. Next year, they will have, between them, over £500 million extra, and there will be more money for the west midlands as well. I understand that the West Midlands police and crime commissioner is even today looking at closing up to 20 police stations across the west midlands, which is a terrible mistake, and I certainly do not support those plans at all. I urge the West Midlands police and crime commissioner to think again about the closures that he is contemplating. I have heard Members today make the case that perhaps the powers currently exercised by the west midlands police and crime commissioner might be better exercised by the directly elected Mayor of the West Midlands. I will take that proposal away and consider it very carefully, given the serious problems that have been outlined.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge mentioned some of the serious problems with knife crime and violent crime in the west midlands, which are rightly of deep concern to Members of Parliament across the region. The problems are particularly stark given that they run against the national trend. The most reliable measure of crime is the crime survey for England and Wales, which is the only source of crime data authorised by the Office for National Statistics. Since March 2010, violent crime across England and Wales has fallen by 38%, from 1.84 million offences to 1.15 million. When it comes to measuring violent crime where a knife is involved, the Home Office has been tracking admissions to hospital with a knife injury, and since 2019 they have dropped by around 20%. I am deeply concerned to hear that in the west midlands the trend appears to be going in the opposite direction. It is right that my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge and others are raising this issue.

I have mentioned the additional resources being given to policing. We are also investing in prevention; in particular, violence reduction units have received £64 million. Those entail identifying people, particularly young people, in danger of following the wrong path, and intervening by ensuring they stay in education, have the right social care if they need it and providing them with alternative activities, such as sport. I visited Everton and the community on Merseyside in Liverpool last week to look at a scheme that is being funded there that also helped young people into employment.

Violence reductions units are critical, as is the Grip programme, which is a hotspot policing initiative funded by the Government, identifying geographical areas where there is a high risk of violent crime and patrolling and policing them heavily. Where that is done, it dramatically reduces crime. Interestingly, it does not displace crime somewhere else; it actually reduces it. I strongly encourage police and crime commissioners around the country to pursue the violence reduction unit and Grip initiatives. The west midlands receives funding to do those things, as would be expected.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge raised a few questions. One of them was about sentencing for knife crime, and that is an extremely good question. We want to have strong deterrents for knife crime possession. Members will know that the maximum sentence for possessing a knife—or a “bladed article”, as the law describes it—is four years’ imprisonment. We recently legislated through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 to strengthen the presumption, making it near certain that if someone is convicted for a second time carrying a bladed article, the court will impose a minimum six-month custodial sentence for adults, or a four-month detention and training order sentence for 16 and 17-year-olds. We have strengthened the law in this area to ensure that the consequences that follow knife crime are strong. The deterrent effect that my hon. Friend described is very important.

My hon. Friend also asked a couple of questions relating to the trial of Ryan Passey’s killer, and the jury acquittal that occurred. She asked me if I could signpost her towards the Ministers responsible for policy in that area. The policy around that sits with the Ministry of Justice. The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, or the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Mike Freer, who has responsibility for courts, would be the right people to approach regarding that policy. Provision in the Crown Prosecution Service’s guidance states that in exceptional circumstances, it can seek a retrial, where there is new compelling evidence that was not available at the time of the original trial. It is possible to seek the quashing of an acquittal, but that is extremely rare. I hope that gives my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge some assistance when she is thinking about who else to speak to.

We have heard harrowing stories this morning about the devasting effect of knife crime on people’s lives—particularly those of young people—in the west midlands, but clearly it applies elsewhere as well. Nationally, the Government are doing everything they can in terms of more police officers, funding violence reduction units, Grip hotspot policing, diversionary activities and stronger sentences for knife possession. Police and crime commissioners also play a critical role by using those resources in their local areas in a way that is appropriate and wise. I strongly commend my hon. Friend and her colleagues for shining a light on this issue. The Home Office will do everything it can to work with her and colleagues to fight this abominable crime.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.