London’s top police officer has told a committee of MPs that the extent and seriousness of stabbings of young people in the capital in recent years is the worst she has known in her career and amounts to “a new and tragic and worrying phenomenon”.
Cressida Dick, who became Metropolitan Police commissioner two years ago, spoke of “a horrible set of offences” with “definitely more younger people involved” and “more knives involved with the serious violence on the streets”. She added that “we are clearly seeing more people carrying knives, some of them thinking it will make them safer.”
Asked about the influence of the illegal drugs market on the escalation of knife carrying and violence, Dick said, “I think we have to really stress just how much this phenomenon is connected to drugs, in one way or another. It is, in my view, at the root of it all. When we look back over the last five years, all the indicators have been going in the wrong direction as far as I can see. And I think it is massive challenge for all of us at every sort of level. Nearly all the organised crime groups are engaged, if it involves young people and violence, in, primarily drugs.”
She told members of the House of Commons home affairs committee that a combination of growing demand for drugs, the purity of the substances and stable prices has been boosting “a very lucrative market” and that “there are some very aggressive and entrepreneurial people out there who are using young people to make maximum amounts of money”.
Dick said that the Met currently finds itself “extremely stretched” and described chancellor Philip Hammond’s recent announcement of an additional £100 million for combatting knife crime, which has yet to be allocated to individual services, as “a reasonably small amount”. Underlining that “this is an issue which has gone far beyond London,” she stated that the government’s national strategy, produced last year, had not yet resulted in “real cross-government action, and that being delivered in a meaningful way on the ground in our communities, saying that it “needs to be a higher profile” focussed on “more delivery of the things we know work”.
There has been a 15 per cent reduction in knife injury victims and aged 25 in the capital compared with this time last year, which Dick attributed to “the huge efforts we’ve been making” including through the targeted use of stop-and-search, giving her grounds for cautious optimism that the problem was being suppressed to some extent.
However, this was against the backdrop of more arguments ending up with knife-inflicted injuries or death, occasions when stabbing is used as “a punishment of some sort because there’s been a disagreement about a drugs debt or something like that” and “terrible events where you have a group of teenagers setting on an individual and inflicting, with very large knives, repeated stabbings. This, for my officers, in 2016/17/18, felt like the extra use of extraordinary force by groups on other young people to be a new phenomenon.”
The commissioner told the committee that there is “a very large overlap between many of our victims and our offenders for stabbing and serious violence, including amongst teenagers”. Territorial rivalries based on postcode areas have lessened to some degree, but, she said, “we absolutely do see gang territories, which people don’t feel safe travelling to”.
There is also movement to higher levels within gangs “at really quite young ages”, as well as movement from one gang to another. “They’re very fluid,” Dick said. “They disperse and they come and go. Connections are often made around school friendships, [or] one person will be bullied, coerced or seduced into the activity, and they will bring someone else, from their friendship group.”
On the effect of exclusion from school, Dick emphasised that those who experience it “by definition have a number of very obvious risk factors about them and a reduced number of what we would call protective factors, usually. So they are already vulnerable in some respects.” Earlier this month, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, in his capacity as police and crime commissioner for London, joined with counterparts in Wales and other parts of England in asking the government for help with reducing the number of exclusions from school as part of a strategy to lower violent youth crime levels.
Dick also asked for action to more closely control the 9,000 money service bureaus in London. “They are not very well regulated, huge amounts of cash are going through those institutions and most of it straight out of the country in crates. A huge amount of that cash appears to be illegal finance and most of it comes from the drugs trade,” she said.
More details of Cressida Dick’s appearance before MPS, including a full webcast, are here.