Another stab death as police call for more search powers

Another stab death as police call for more search powers

As a man dies close to where Ben Kinsella was killed, beat officers warn that they are struggling to win the war against knife crime

London’s increasing reputation as the stabbing capital of Europe was reinforced yesterday after a partygoer was murdered less than a mile from where 16-year-old Ben Kinsella died three weeks ago. The victim, named locally as Elliot Guy, the father of a newborn baby who, according to neighbours was in the capital to help decorate his mother’s home, was the 55th person to die from knife wounds in London this year. He was found with a slash wound to the neck following an argument at a party in Tufnell Park in the north of the capital. Two men and a woman are being questioned.

‘He was so innocent,’ a neighbour said. ‘That’s why I’m so choked. I can’t imagine the pain his family must be going through. It’s devastating. I watched him grow up.’

The latest attack happened a few minutes’ walk from where Ben Kinsella, teenage brother of former EastEnders actress Brooke Kinsella, died after being stabbed on 29 June. It came three days after Freddy Moody, 18, became the 21st teenager to be murdered in London this year, when he was stabbed in the stomach just yards from his front door in Stockwell, south London. A gang of up to eight hooded youths is believed to have lain in wait for him as he returned from an afternoon at a funfair in Holland Park, west London.

The death came as the chief of the body representing rank-and-file officers warned that police were struggling to win the war on knife crime because an increasing number of them do not have stop-and-search powers, while those who do are too afraid to use them. After a week in which knife crime has again dominated the news agenda, Paul McKeever, new chairman of the Police Federation, told The Observer that stop and search was ‘the most important tool’ for combating the problem, but it was being used ineffectively.

McKeever warned that because the vast majority of the 16,000 police community support officers performing routine street patrols lacked the power to stop and search, young people suspected of carrying weapons were no longer worried about being caught. ‘Youngsters know these officers have no sanctions or control over them and therefore offer little threat,’ he said. ‘It puts them in a position where they feel invincible.’

Community support officers can stop suspected terrorists, but McKeever said chief constables had declined to grant most of them discretionary powers to search for knives because they had insufficient experience. As a result, warned McKeever, who spent 15 years with the Metropolitan Police in south London, a culture had emerged in which young people were increasingly confident they would not be caught carrying a knife.

‘There will always be people who carry knives but, if we are going to have a real deterrent, there has to be a realistic chance of people being stopped,’ he added.

Nearly two million people were stopped and searched last year, according to recent figures, but McKeever said the number would be much higher if police officers, rather than community support officers, were on the beat.

Last night, both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives called for greater use of stop and search. ‘Communities blighted by knife crime will be happy to see stop and search used extensively in hotspots, but the key is establishing a good relationship between the police and the local community,’ said Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesman.

Despite the public becoming increasingly concerned about knife crime, McKeever said, the government had little idea how to tackle the problem: ‘Ministers are doing their best coming up with new initiatives, but they should be able to rely on advisers who have a real understanding.’

He said that anecdotal evidence from 43 police forces in England and Wales suggested rank-and-file officers with stop-and-search powers were reluctant to use them, often because of the amount of paperwork involved. ‘But there is a realistic chance an officer will be subjected to a complaint for carrying out a stop and search and end up being investigated more vigorously than the person they have stopped,’ McKeever said.

Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said: ‘While it is an operational matter for the police on the ground to decide how to use this power, it is the government’s job to enable the police to use this power effectively.’

McKeever also called for ‘realistic’ sanctions against those caught carrying knives. He said only a handful of people received the maximum two-year sentence for carrying a knife out of the ‘many thousands caught carrying’ last year. He added: ‘The question I would ask is how many times do you want police to arrest people for carrying a knife before the criminal justice system imposes an effective sentence?’

A poll for today’s News of the World reveals that two-thirds of young people believe anyone caught carrying a knife in public should be jailed for two years. The ICM poll found 75 per cent think current punishments are too soft. The poll also found that 93 per cent think police should have the power to stop and search people they think have a knife.

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