WOKING DEBATES 2021

Some of the people who logged on for the debate.
The first speaker, Ali Waheed, is a NHS worker who runs Combat Sports League to promote a healthy lifestyle for young people. He listed the causes of why young people become involved in knife crime. They do not have the right mentors; family background; poverty resulting in fewer opportunities. In a gang you can make money quickly. Drill music glorifies crime. Social media can create depression and anxiety where people get judged very quickly. Materialism encourages violence. One young person was stabbed for their designer jacket. Young people can feel untouchable and glorified if they go to jail. The school system is outdated for our society today with so much information so readily available. The last 10 years have seen 70% cuts in youth services. It is easy for young people to get drawn into the wrong crowd. They carry knives to protect themselves. Social media needs to be restricted. 20,000 police officers have been cut from the streets and many officers are not very experienced. Inspector David Bentley, the Woking borough police commander followed. He stressed that Woking is a safe place and the few incidents are blown up and give a wrong impression. Knife crime usually occurs from when young people are scared. They take knives with them for protection, but they can be used against them. Information is key to preventing this. Police need to be in the right place at the right time. Police are proactive, taking a zero-tolerance approach to knife crime. They have sent under-age young cadets into stores to try and buy knives when they are. When a purchase has been made, they talk to the owners and remind them of their responsibilities. Yet, on the internet, knives can be bought for just £1. A partnership approach is crucial. The police cannot arrest everyone involved. Influencers are crucial. When a child has adverse experiences their brain changes resulting in their ability to deal with toxic situations being reduced. Woking is leading the way in Surrey to prevent this. Education is key, working with the schools and organisations such as the Ben Kinsella Trust. Woking police now have two youth engagement officers. In their work they never show pictures of knives. Research has shown that doing this causes fears to grow and they acquire bigger knives. Under the Offensive Weapons Act it is now illegal to own and keep certain knives at home. Dave Cook, representing the Prison Officers’ Association, (POA), is a serving prison officer for coming up to 30 years. Prison is a mini version of society and there is a massive problem in prisons with carrying knives. Prison is there to provide rehabilitation, but knives are made in the workshops. Until the change in the legislation three years ago, it was not actually an offence in to carry a bladed device in a prison. Violence in prison is common and prison officers often attacked. Fortunately, there has not been a murder of a police officer for some years. Carrying weapons by prisoners is the norm, both to protect themselves and to threaten and intimidate. You cannot threaten if you do not pull out the weapon. Weapons are often used against the person who carries them. Prisons are full of people who have failed in society and have been convicted of knife crimes. Prisoners are not usually prosecuted for carrying knives but dealt with internally. We need to get to people when they are young enough that their characters are being formed.
Dave Cook. Imprisonment is a final solution. Our children are being subjected to violent scenes through films and computer games. They do not reflect the suffering that follows from violence. Prisons are not cushy. Taking away people’s freedom is a serious thing. David told us of a father in prison who was devastated when his son was killed in a knife incident. Prison is tough, and the number of prison officers has been reduced by 10,000 in the last few years. Crime in prisons has risen. Prisons are not a solution. Prevention is better. Patrick Green, from the Ben Kinsella Trust, spoke about the work of the trust. It is a national charity which concentrates its work in Nottingham and London. It was set up after the murder of Ben Kinsella. He was a 16-year-old school pupil who was doing well in school and at school he was part of the anti-bullying campaign. He was killed by a group out to do harm to someone, anyone. The offenders were caught and found guilty, but the family found the case a bitter experience. His sister was an actor on EastEnders, so the case got national coverage. She spent three years going around the country finding out why knife violence was happening and analysed the information she found. No child is born carrying a knife. It is a learned behaviour. Young people do not want to be told what to do. The trust followed the example of the Anne Frank Museum where visitors are taken through the experience of what happened to her step by step. The Trust have similarly created an experience where you go through rooms. At each room, you are faced with a choice and you learn what that choice can mean and how small decisions can have huge consequences. They produce free 
resources for schools and parents. The best person to talk to young people is someone they trust. The media is reporting the situation as one of crisis where the situation is getting worse, and more enforcement is needed. Patrick ended with the words of Desmond Tutu. We need to stop focusing on pulling people out of the river but find out why they are falling in. In response to what preventative work can be done Ali suggested seminars in secondary schools on the issue and the value of mentors. David B said early intervention is key. It is difficult for parents to get help and this needs to be improved. David C spoke about the unmet mental health needs and the need
LEFT: Ali Waheed. ABOVE: Dave Bentley.
Patrick Green. for investment in rehabilitation. The religious community has a part to play. Children need to be taught how to problem solve to avoid ending up in prison. Patrick spoke about the inadequacy of mental health services for children at school. At present, you need to be at a very high threshold of mental distress to be referred. This has to be lowered enabling more to access the service. There is a need to restrict purchase of weapons. It is possible to order a weapon from abroad and there are no checks. You do not even have to give your own details. The Offensive Weapons Act does make zombie knives illegal but although this legislation has been passed it still has not been enacted. If are searched and a weapon is found, you cannot be prosecuted although the act would change this. Young people have access to social media where there is a lot of cyber bullying. “Social media gets away with murder literally”. The social media platforms are too slow to tackle abuse. Children’s own personal time is really important and they need places to go. Youth centres have been cut. At the Combat Sports League they teach discipline. The child’s background does not define their criminality. Children are sponges. It is too easy to blame parents or schools. Society is crucial. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to ignore a child. Police attempt to identify children with problems as soon as possible. They will then put action in place to divert them from a life in crime. Who is the trusted adult? In conclusion, Patrick said that we all need to take responsibility. We need to reach out to young people and connect with them. Ali spoke of the need for more funding and early intervention. David B appealed for help in reaching young people getting into trouble to turn them in the right direction. He asked for people to contact him who wanted to help. David C said how he would love to be unemployed. “Stop filling prisons with people who could be helped before”. This was a powerful debate. You can watch it on www.youtube.com – search for Woking Debates.