Knife Crime: West Midlands

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 14 March 2023.

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Photo of Suzanne Webb Suzanne Webb Conservative, Stourbridge 11:00, 14 March 2023

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.]