LAST week The Sun on Sunday launched Beat The Blades — our campaign to tackle the terrible toll of knife crime across Britain.
In London alone, 47 people have died already this year as a result of stabbings on the streets.
SFL Life Style Sights like this are becoming all too familiar on the streets of Britain
Today an activist who helps rehabilitate gang members tells how he would halt the waste of young lives.
A MIRROR in the office of youth worker Colin James is having a transformative impact on some of Britain’s most violent gang members.
Colin, 48, has been helping to rehabilitate youngsters at his Gangs Unite charity since 2011.
He explained: “When these lost souls come into my office I tell them to look into the mirror.
Jon Bond – The Sun Colin James of the charity Gangs Unite says knife criminals are ‘laughing at the law’ and it must be changed
“I ask them: ‘What do you see?’. Time and time again, I hear things like: ‘I am ugly’, ‘I am an idiot’, and ‘I am bad’.
“I tell them: ‘You don’t see what I see. Because what I see is potential and greatness’.
The Sun on Sunday has launched ‘Beat the Blades’ campaign to tackle knife crime
“No one has ever loved these children like children need to be loved; no one has ever told them they are special.
“This is what these children need to hear to stop killing one another and this is what the public needs to understand. I know because I grew up just like them.”
It’s a young people issue, not just a black issue
Colin JamesCharity boss
After a traumatic childhood, Colin drifted into a life of crime that led to four prison sentences for violent offences.
A turning point came when he was badly beaten by a group of thugs at a pub in 2009. He decided to dedicate his life to helping youngsters escape gang culture.
Now a dad of four and grandad of two, his services are in demand. So far this year there have been 47 fatal stabbings in London alone.
A police CSI officer inspects blood-stained clothes in Sheffield, following multiple stabbings
Colin, whose team operates from a small centre in East London, specialises in youth rehabilitation and gang conflict mediation.
He is adamant that children who become pawns in drug turf wars must be viewed differently from more seasoned criminals employing them to move cash and drugs.
He said: “For these hardened criminals there must be strong deterrents. I would give the serious players ten years for a knife crime and 20 years for a gun.
“If you are carrying a knife or a sword you are laughing at the law.
Getty – Contributor Colin believes hardened criminals should receive ten-year sentences for knife crimes
“Offenders are getting cautions or youth orders or six months in prison. They are laughing all the way to prison.
Colin, a veteran inmate of some of Britain’s toughest prison regimes, said the system has been reduced to “a glorified boarding school, which teaches young people crime”.
He added: “Prisons are now hotels. Recently, I went to visit Feltham and returned to the exact cell I had served time in. There was a shower in the corner, curtains, a phone, PlayStations.
“The only thing missing is a girlfriend. It’s too easy now.
PA:Press Association Colin was a resident at Feltham Young Offenders Institute himself, but says it has become like a hotel since his time there
“We should go back to bread and water and design the prison experience to make people think twice about using weapons.
“The gang epidemic is made worse inside because groups of young people are going in and learning more about the drugs trade from each other.”
Colin also believes the Army could play a part in the rehabilitation of hardened gang members.
He continued: “If I had a say in the law and I caught someone with a knife, I’d hand them over to the Territorial Army. I’d conscript them full-time. If they already want to fight and kill, let them be trained to do it for the right reasons.”
PA:Press Association Colin says the Army could play a part in the rehabilitation of hardened gang members
Across the UK, police records show 37,443 knife offences in the year to September 2017.
In London, knife crimes were up by more than 2,400 to 12,980. The capital now has a higher murder rate than New York.
Colin said: “For a long time gang crimes and killings have been centred in and around black communities, but that’s no longer the case. I’m now dealing with young people of all colours and creeds.
“It’s a young people issue, not just a black issue.
AFP – Getty A police forensics officer passes a knife to a colleague near the Houses of Parliament
“The children I deal with are growing up in horrible environments and don’t get the opportunities other people get. It’s creating deadly anger and frustration.
“Has it reached a crisis point? I hope so because people need to start listening to these kids.
“It always goes back to the same arguments around policing but there are aspects of these children’s lives police can’t get into.
They are lacking true cultural identity. There are no communities for them to be part of or role models for them to follow.
Getty Images – Getty A police officer carefully handles a knife confiscated during the Notting Hill Carnival
“Sixty-eight per cent of the children I work with have no father in the home. You’ve got a melting pot of young people who don’t know who they are.
“Social media is raising them and 16-year-old boys are calling themselves ‘fathers’ to the younger kids.
“It’s about children who are angry for a good reason and the more we exclude them the more it affirms their feelings of exclusion.
“They are making their own world with no support from loving adults. This week has been all about blaming Drill music, or Kill music as I call it. Yes, it plays a part in the indoctrination of some, but it can’t make you kill someone. That’s a much deeper problem.”
Getty Images – Getty Chilling…an array of knives recently retrieved by police on the streets of London ‘Campaign’s brilliant’
THE Sun on Sunday has been praised for our Beat The Blades campaign to combat the knife crime epidemic.
Councillor Mark Hewitt, portfolio holder for public protection on Southend Council, Essex, said: “Absolutely brilliant timing for your campaign.
“We are starting to get over the devastating effects of a knife crime fatality in Southend and we have rightly sensed the community horror that such a thing has happened in our seaside town.”
Next week The Sun on Sunday will unveil a task force of experts who have drawn up a series of proposals to tackle the stabbings crisis.
Colin believes simple love and attention are the keys to rehabilitating Britain’s lost children.
He said: “A boy was sent to me because he was up for a second knife offence.
“He had many issues but no one had ever bothered to find a common ground. I simply asked him: ‘What do you love doing?’
“He told me: ‘I used to be good at athletics’, so I promised him I would watch him train.
“I will never forget the look on his face when he saw me approach the track and realised there was finally an adult taking an interest in his life.
“There are young people doing great things out there but if we focus on the bad without giving them more opportunities for good, there will be more bloodshed.