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Nick Clegg is wrong on knife crime – we need minimum sentences

8 May 2014

In today’s Guardian Nick Clegg sets out his reasons why he is stopping the government tabling clauses that would require mandatory sentences on second conviction for possession of a knife. Quite simply: I don’t agree with Nick.

His argument for doing nothing further is simply that we are doing enough already. True, the latest Crime Survey of England and Wales released by the Office for National Statistics shows knife crime is down by four per cent on last year.

But that will be little comfort to the victims of knife crime and their families. Yet again this week we learnt of another fatal stabbing – this time of a 17 year old Londoner. My heart goes out to yet another family for their appalling and tragic loss.

The drop in knife crime will be of little comfort to them and others. Of course it is welcome news – but the fact is, knife crime is still too high and the Deputy Prime Minister is wrong to suggest that rehabilitation is so successful that we don’t need more effective and mandatory sentencing for possession of a knife on a second conviction.

He argues that mandatory sentencing is in principle something he and Liberal Democrats cannot support. But in December 2012 I put forward an amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill which meant that from then on anyone aged 16 or above convicted of using a knife to threaten someone would receive a mandatory six month prison sentence. It became law with Liberal Democrat support, and I hope it’s just the start of the legislative journey that will help challenge Britain’s growing knife culture.

The change in the law only came about after the campaign was endorsed by hundreds of Enfield residents who signed a Parliamentary petition, backed by the Enfield Independent and the Sun, supported by anti-knife crime campaigners and charities and finally signed by 40 of my backbench colleagues. Despite our success, I don’t think it’s enough. That’s why I have now tabled—with the support of 40 colleagues—new clauses to the Criminal Courts and Justice Bill which would ensure second time offenders for possession of a knife would face a mandatory jail term.

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We have to recognise that we need to intervene earlier if we are to prevent people being killed. Carrying a knife is the beginning of a process that may lead to serious injury or death. The act of carrying the knife is the first step down a dangerous path towards more serious incidents.

The Conservative Party manifesto of 2010, upon which all Conservative MPs were elected, was right when it stated:-

‘We have to send a serious, unambiguous message that carrying a knife is totally unacceptable, so we will make it clear that anyone convicted of a knife crime can expect to face a prison sentence.’

To date that message has not been sent.

The disappointing picture emerging from recent knife crime data proves this. Last year action was taken after 16,031 instances of someone being caught in possession of a knife. But just 28 per cent of those cases resulted in immediate custody. The other 72 per cent of those caught were let off with softer options, including over 3,200 people simply being given a caution or fine. 4,415 people carrying a knife were given a community sentence – recipients regard that as a soft option.

If we need any more convincing about the weak message being sent out about carrying a knife then we need to look no further than the thousands of young people who don’t regard it as serious. Over 2,500 of those caught in possession of a knife last year were aged 10 to 17.

That Nick Clegg thinks differently is one thing, but to suggest that we should not do this because people will go to jail for carrying pen knives—thereby conjuring up images of scouts being banged up for months—is patently absurd. The police and CPS do not presently prosecute such cases, nor are they ever likely too, except in the most exceptional and warranted circumstances.

But one thing I do agree with Nick on is that the culture of knife crime requires a series of interventions and not just firmer sentencing. Education, early intervention, mentoring schemes, qualifications and training (more so when inside prison) – these are all just as important in making sure we reduce knife crime. Indeed it cannot go unsaid about the outstanding work undertaken by organisations such as STOP, the Nelson-Williams Foundation, Godwin Lawson Foundation, Anti-Knife UK, TAG, Gangline and the Strategic Alliance of Communities Rejecting Youth Destruction (SACRYD).

Nick Clegg is wrong to suggest the proposals for sentencing are a knee jerk reaction to recent tragic events as I have been campaigning with others on this issue for several years. My first involvement in the issue of knife crime followed a regular door-knocking session in my constituency prior to the 2010 General Election. The woman behind the door I’d just knocked on told me that then her 15-year-old son, a promising young footballer, had recently been stabbed and killed. The experience of meeting Yvonne Lawson compelled me to act. Losing her son, Godwin, compelled Yvonne to act too; she established the Godwin Lawson Foundation which carries out remarkable work raising awareness of the positive role that sport and education can have in challenging gang culture and the use of weapons as a status symbol.

Yet sentencing is an important boundary, perhaps the starting point to preventing knife crime by sending a clear, unambiguous message to people of all ages that carrying a knife is serious and will result in a prison sentence.

The Justice Secretary has set out wide reaching reforms to rehabilitation and reoffending. These measures haven’t kicked in as yet, but significantly offenders who serve less than a year in custody will benefit both in and out of prison, for the first time, from mentoring and guidance away from re-offending. Nick Clegg seems to have overlooked this when he argues that sentencing knife crime offenders to custody will set back rehabilitation and reform. Perhaps that may have been true before his own government changed the system, but it is misjudged to make that claim now, not least because he is undermining his own governments reforms.

I have tabled new clauses calling for mandatory sentences for possession of a knife; a six month sentence for adults on their second offence and a four month detention order for minors. I’m confident this will have the support of my Conservative colleagues

If the Liberal Democrats persist to in blocking this amendment they will not only be out of step with public opinion, they will be preventing the Government from sending out a serious, unambiguous message that carrying a knife is unacceptable in British society. A clear message is a fundamental part of the holistic solution this country needs to tackle the scourge of knife crime. I urge the Deputy Prime Minister and all MPs from across the House support my amendment.

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Show comments
  • Tiemo Talk

    Some things never changed. I wrote a short blog on knive crime this morning in response to the latest murder of a 17 year old Londonder last Saturday 31 January 2015. I have just come across this blog from May 2014 and it uncannily refers to the latest murder of a 17 year older Londoner to die by the knife.

    My main point of posting was to enquire as to whether there’s anything not being done to tackle the problem and if so what is it or what more of the right things need to be done.

    I think Nick De Bois touched on some key answers re early intervention, education, rehabilitation (in and outside prison), mentoring etc… Is there anything else?

    I post my blog here with a link to an impassioned plea from London Ambulance Doctor Tom Konig, who pleads “enough is enough” in an article about the futility of knife crime and his failure to save the life of student Shaquan Sammy-Plummer. He describes in extremely graphic and technical detail his team’s efforts to save his life and how he had to bluntly break the news to Shaquan’s mother.

    Enough is enough.

    Tiemo Talk of the Town

  • Hugo Boss

    another problem with what this guy’s saying is that despite the fact that “…just 28 per cent of those cases resulted in immediate custody. The other 72 per cent of those caught were let off with softer options, including over 3,200 people simply being given a caution or fine.” the proportion of criminals going to prison for knife crime has risen by about 8% since 2008(the percentage for second time offenders is higher -37%), and the average prison sentence has risen from 156 days to 221(here is a link to verify these stats: Also, 30 years of mandatory minimum sentencing in America has taught their politicians that it only fills up prisons and reduces police co-operation -as the incentive to plead guilty is diminished because they’d go to prison anyway- whilst failing to reduce crime. It took America a four-fold increase in incarcerations as a percentage of their population and no significant drop in crime to realise the damage these half-baked solutions could do. Let’s not make that mistake ourselves.

  • George Smiley

    Nick Clegg opposes mandatory minimum sentencing for repeated knife-possession for those who had ALREADY been convicted of a crime involving the use of a knife or knives and not for simple possession—even so much, in his psychotic emotional manipulation, as to bring up all sorts of red herrings and other wilful obfuscation such as by bringing up the hypothetical situations of electricians, anglers and “vulnerable 15-year-old girls being pressured by their gangs as some sort of knife-mules” on LBC—because he is competing for the Black vote in London with Labour, and the West Indian community is hardly going to voluntarily agree to admit to the truth that more than a few of their young are carrying knives around for really no good reason, although not necessarily up to no good. I mean, how many of the young ‘uns are routinely caught carrying knives around in the provincial towns bar perhaps Manchester and Nottingham?!

    • Colonel Mustard

      “…more than a few of their young—although probably no more and no less than other groups in London in this day and age—are carrying knives around for really no good reason”

      It is already an offence to carry certain types of knife in public without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. Previous convictions can already be taken into account when sentencing.

      • George Smiley

        There is no mandatory sentence of imprisonment for first-time possession—this is a wilful Lib Dem propaganda.

        • Colonel Mustard

          “There is and there will be no mandatory sentence of imprisonment for first-time possession”

          Didn’t say that there was.

          • George Smiley

            So what is the objection for a mandatory prison sentence for those caught with a knife for the SECOND time, as it is proposed, then?

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    The artisan that accidently left a few tools in his pocket, including a pocket knife, from work. The apprentice butcher, carpet fitter … Are these people looking at slammer time? Some people have a job that requires a knife, but you can`t expect the suits to understand that.

    • George Smiley

      What is it to you?! You live in Japan, and not remotely near London!

    • Colonel Mustard

      Having lawful authority or a reasonable excuse is already a defensive element of the offence so those people would be unlikely to be prosecuted in the first place. Mind you with the Europolice arrest first and ask questions afterwards modus operandi they would probably be subjected to the rigmarole of the case file having to be passed to the Clown Prosecution Service for decision before they got off, the constable’s discretion largely being a thing of the past in common purpose world.

      • George Smiley

        Anyone who is so blatant with his pro-knife cod-libertarian propaganda that he feels the need to go out to concur with such a pidgin-worded comment as one starting with the words “[t]he artisan that accidently left a few tools in his pocket” is obviously a bit OCD/Tourette’s himself!

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    “Don`t shoot, I`m an electrician.”

  • el tigger

    “That Nick Clegg thinks differently is one thing, but to suggest that we should not do this because people will go to jail for carrying pen knives—thereby conjuring up images of scouts being banged up for months—is patently absurd. The police and CPS do not presently prosecute such cases, nor are they ever likely too, except in the most exceptional and warranted circumstances.”

    One of the key reasons being that carrying folding knives with a non-locking blade 3″ in length is legal – see

  • Daedalus

    This knife crime issue has gone totally bonkers as far as I can see.
    Use a knife in a criminal act, well then I can understand why you should throw the book at them. But to just be carrying a knife? I have a knife with me every day, its in a leather pouch on my belt, its got a lock blade as well!!! Oh horror I’m going to try to murder children and puppies and be – well you carry on.
    My knife is part of the best Christmas present I ever received . A Leatherman MultiTool. My wife asked my son which one she thought I would like and bless him he pointed her to the Titanium bolstered Leatherman Charge; £150 a couple of years ago. It just works so well at so many things. In my job as a contracting engineer and inspector I need to have a tool that will dig me out of the do-do and this does, I can be anywhere on site or in fact in the country and I for 80% of the time I need no other tool. But it has a knife on it with a 3″ blade that locks. Forget the screwdriver, torx, allen keys or pliers (about 40 odd of them) IT HAS a 3″ knife blade that locks, oh I forget my initials are laser engraved in the knife blade.
    The country has gone bonkers, ban the act, the person, NOT the tool.


  • Colonel Mustard

    “Carrying a knife is the beginning of a process that may lead to serious injury or death. The act of carrying the knife is the first step down a dangerous path towards more serious incidents.”

    Why? When I was a boy the carrying of a clasp knife or pen knife was common and boy scouts habitually wore sheath knifes on their belts. They weren’t on any dangerous path because discipline, duty and responsibility were central to education in the home and at school. Something you and your fellow politicians have been gleefully eroding for decades. Since you seem determined to treat the adult population like kindergarten children you can hardly expect young people to demonstrate maturity, self-discipline and responsibility. You have infantilised Britain and young men have gravitated towards the “stability” and hierarchy of gang culture because adult male role models and mature guidance are now so sadly lacking in the home, neighbourhood and school. You have undermined family life with your economic policies, mass immigration and property bubbles and made it harder for older males to interact positively with children thanks to your paedophile hysteria and draconian vetting requirements.

    “…just 28 per cent of those cases resulted in immediate custody. The other 72 per cent of those caught were let off with softer options, including over 3,200 people simply being given a caution or fine.”

    How can you possibly know the circumstances of all those cases in order to make such a sweeping assertion that the consequences and sentences were inappropriate? And if you are planning to throw more young people into jail with mandatory sentencing you better start thinking about building more prisons. There are already 9,130 men and women being held above the CNA level and you want to add to that?

    We have had enough knee-jerk laws clamoured for by sadly grieving women and pandered to by single issue parliamentary champions trying to make a name for themselves like you. Please, no more such subjective “memorial” laws named after victims. Tackle the causes not the symptoms. And behave like a Conservative MP with more circumspection, caution and rationality, not like some knee-jerking, emoting Labour MP.

    • Ricky Strong

      And its sickening to think that of all the times they could chose to talk about knife crime they do it after the first stabbing of a teacher in school and cue the drum roll……. right before an election.

      Great post by the way Colonel.

    • George Smiley

      Prison would work and cheaply if we make it MUCH tougher. Outside of meal time, lighting should be turned off, and there should be only one prisoner within a cell. Heating and hot water should also be turned off between April and October.

  • andagain

    Remember: its a hysterical knee jerk reaction and a cynical attempt to play politics when Labour do it: it’s a calm considered response to an urgent problem when Conservatives do it.

    • George Smiley

      We wouldn’t be in this mess if Harold Wilson (Labour) had not allowed half of Kingston in Jamaica be transplanted onto London, now would we?!

  • Colonel Mustard

    No we don’t. Each and every case should be decided and sentenced according to its circumstances. A judge can already suitably punish a second conviction. Mandatory sentences represent politicians undermining the discretion of judges to try each case based on its facts. A previous conviction can be taken into account in sentencing. The proposal is a knee-jerk, “something must be done” aberration that has no place in a courtroom.

    • the viceroy’s gin


      And might I add… amen.

      These wasteful exercises are made by careerist political hacks to make selfish political statements, and have absolutely nothing to do with the public or its needs. These political statements are by and for the people making them… like the author at the top of this blogpost. You should be ashamed, sir, to waste the People’s scarce resources, for purposes of your own preening .

    • andagain

      It really is rather depressing to see arguments like Nicks. Anyone would think they cared more about looking “tough on crime” than about justice.

    • George Smiley

      Did you know Cyril Smith well, mate?!

      • Colonel Mustard

        I detest the Lib Dems almost as much as Labour and have never voted for them or would. But I believe in keeping politicians out of the courtroom, except when they are in the dock themselves.

        I’m also entitled to express my opinion so can the ad hominem smears about my comment and write your own.

        • George Smiley

          And I just don’t like middle-middle-class bachelor types, reading a few too many libertarian titles, doubling as enabling useful plonkers for knife-carrying idiots!

          • Colonel Mustard

            Tell that to them not me.

            • George Smiley

              Well, of course you are part of that lot! You certainly have a little too much time on your hands, almost as if you were a paid blogger from Lib Dem HQ!

              • Colonel Mustard

                No I’m not. Go and stalk someone else you prat.

                • George Smiley

                  Or is it Operation Black Vote, bro?

  • Jez

    A thorough, non-political & non PC approach needs to be vigorously enforced.

    Media; Locate where the problem lies, which overall communities are effected and day after day; drill home the weak, utterly non-macho attitude of using a weapon and not your fists. Isolate the carriers of weapons such as knives, as people who attack the elderly, women or children….. as using a weapon eliminates any balanced fight; thus it is equal to a fit and healthy young person attacking an frail elderly person.

    Celebrity; Use all assets to hand; X Factor, BGT, etc that *does* appeal to the audience that is targeted. Create Stigma- this would cascade down to the Youth on the Street.

    Politicians; Do something for a change that doesn’t need the nod of approval from Washington. Forget about the fat pension, sitting on a board somewhere when your out of politics because you’ve been an obedient lapdog. Save lives for change and go in like a Bull in a China shop.

    Police; Stop & Search. Use intel, like it was a Home derby match with Millwall & West Ham.

    How much blood has the Liberal Left got on their hands due to refusing to admit that one part of society needs to have complete re-shake on what is deemed acceptable from the perceptions of their Youth.

    It’s a scandal how many stabbings have happened that have seemingly been answered only by some Posters for commuters to ogle at on the Tube.

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