As the King delivered His Government’s speech in November 2023, I listened carefully to the part addressing law and order. At that point, in London alone there had been 80 homicides, 16 of whom were teenagers including Elianne Andam, a 15-year-old girl killed in her school uniform on the way to school. The killing of another 15-year-old, Alfie Lewis, in Leeds prompted the Prime Minister to verbally commit to ‘cracking down’ on knife crime. The ‘pot’ is simmering, and I have consistently described this as a public health crisis, that if not addressed, will only get worse.

Knife crime remains a critical issue affecting society and is a topic that none of us living in the UK can afford to ignore. Sentiments such as ‘It’s a Black problem in London’, ‘It has nothing to do with me or my family, ‘That behaviour only affects people from a certain area and class’, are comments I have often heard, and all are wrong. As a defence barrister for 30 years, I have become acutely aware of the ages of the defendants I represent becoming younger for knife possession, for a number of misguided reasons, and homicide – either directly as principals carrying a deadly weapon or falling foul of the joint enterprise law, which convicts groups of young people.

The government has promised the largest prison building programme in 100 years to create more than 20,000 more places, but putting more young people in prison for longer periods of time will not address this social disease. Knife crime has been an issue throughout this government’s term and so one would be forgiven for thinking that this is no more than rhetoric without any real thought or joined up thinking on how to address this national public health crisis.

What are some of those strategies that will effectively tackle youth violence through positive intervention? This article will explore a possible framework and targeted strategies centred around youth intervention to tackle knife crime, emphasising the importance of engaging young individuals early and employing diversion initiatives that work. In order to have any real prospect of success, there will need to be a multi-agency approach to tackling the problem.

Understanding the problem and early intervention

Understanding the root causes of knife crime must be the first objective and will require government-led comprehensive research and data analysis in all regions.

Early intervention in primary and secondary schools with at-risk youth through tailored programmes created by those with grassroots knowledge and experience, I believe, can significantly reduce knife crime. They will be best placed to implement educational programmes in schools to raise awareness about the consequences of knife crime and its impact on individuals and communities.

Many of these young, predominantly boys and young men, do not have any form of mentorship, have never been engaged in skill-building activities and support. It is widely accepted that there are a number of underlying factors that lead to anti-social and criminal behaviour involving the carrying and use of knives. Such programmes would address these issues head on.

Community focused policing collaboration and information sharing

There are a number of grassroot organisations doing great community work with those most at risk, P4ye in Croydon, Mark Prince Foundation and the Ben Kinsella Trust to name three in London boroughs. However, in my opinion and in order to be more effective, there should be greater collaboration between these organisations, law enforcement agencies, schools, healthcare providers, social services, and community organisations to share information and resources.

With the level of trust at an all-time low, between certain communities and the police, especially in London, the importance of that relationship cannot be underestimated. Community policing fosters trust between law enforcement and most importantly the youth, leading to a collaborative approach to combat knife crime. Community-oriented policing is a must in reducing youth involvement in knife crime through intelligence gathering, and proactive strategies to target knife crime hotspots. I believe there is scope to collaborate with neighbouring countries to address cross-border issues related to knife crime and the illegal trade of weapons.

Education and awareness in the curriculum, media and public awareness campaigns

As my recent videos and short animations demonstrate, educational campaigns about knife crime and the consequences can deter young individuals from engaging in such activities (see: There should be a launch of campaigns aimed at discouraging knife crime and showcasing success stories of individuals who turned away from violence in public spaces, and all forms of media.

These, and similar material, play a vital role and must be available and be part of schools and community centres’ curricula in delivering information about legal, physical, and psychological repercussions. There is the perception that society has become desensitised to violence and that social media plays a part in this, with endless footage of young people posing with, carrying and wielding large knives attracting ‘likes’ and comments on the platform. Exposing these young people to the reality of incarceration by prison visits, talking to offenders both current and ex may be another initiative worth pursuing. It is widely accepted and reflected in the available data that educating youth about knife crime leads to informed decisions and a decline in incidents.

Tougher legislation and sentencing

Some anti-knife crime campaigners have observed that young people don’t fear lengthy terms of imprisonment for carrying weapons. Actively enforcing knife-related laws will ensure that offenders face appropriate consequences for their actions.

The government has announced recent new legislation in relation to the sale of machetes and the possession of such knives with intent to cause fear and to endanger life. It may well be time to give into the demand by the public for more stringent laws regarding knife possession coupled with longer penalties to send a powerful message against knife crime. There is also a call for more consistent sentencing to send out a clear message to young people, as some still feel they can ‘buss case’ by avoiding custody, when they appear in court for their second offence of carrying a knife, despite the ‘three strikes’ legislation currently in force.

Investing in young people for better and more productive communities

Unquestionably we have seen a consistent reduction of funding in the vital area of youth services, affecting the provision of safe spaces, retaining, and recruiting dedicated individuals to work with some of our most vulnerable youth. The cutting of these resources extends also to the areas of mental health support and addiction, which are very much at the heart of underlying issues driving knife crime. Recent data from the British Youth Council underscores the role of funding in reducing knife crime incidents among vulnerable youth through accessible support systems.

Those young people who have already acquired a conviction are those most in need of diversion programmes to provide them with an opportunity to address the root causes of their behaviour and avoid further and lengthy prison sentences. The government will need to be creative in forward thinking to fund the creation of relevant job training and employment opportunities for young people to reduce their susceptibility to involvement in knife crime. The lure of negative social media and pro-criminal choices is an important factor and must be taken seriously. In addition, there must be support and resources for victims and their families, including counselling and legal assistance.

The most important contribution I believe is through the grassroot programmes that operate within the communities around the country to deter young people for picking up a knife, whether through the discipline developed through boxing clubs, the creative art form of music and realising their true potential and to have a constructive distraction from knife crime culture will serve all of us well in the long run.

Collaborative and effective use of data

In order to truly make a real impression on combatting knife crime, a comprehensive strategy is required involving cohesive collaboration among authorities, community groups, charities, industry and most importantly our youth. It is uncertain how accurate the current data is but access to reliable data will ensure targeted interventions and efficient resource allocation and to make adjustment to strategies, while ensuring regular assessment of the impact of the implemented measures and adjust the strategies based on the outcomes. Rather than sound bites and repeated rhetoric, the government must invest in research and innovation to develop new approaches and technologies for preventing and addressing knife crime, and acceptance and recognition that reducing knife crime is a long-term endeavour that requires sustained effort, resources, and commitment from all stakeholders.

Closing thoughts

To combat knife crime effectively, engaging youth through targeted interventions is essential. Recent data highlights the efficacy of strategies such as early intervention, community policing, education, legislation, and youth-focused programmes including training for relevant jobs.

In Q1 of 2024, my social enterprise platform Life of Focus will host a workshop in London aimed at bringing together those interested and capable of devising strategies to prevent youth violence.

We may not be able to completely eradicate this behaviour but reducing drastically the number of young lives ruined through knife crime and the ripple effect it causes must be all our commitment, after all we were all once children and dared to dream. The investment may not be immediate but will be seen in the generation to come.