Youth violence and the working class

1:48 pm - February 13th 2008

by Dave Osler    

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David Nowak – a 16-year old kid with the street name ‘Turk’ or ‘TK’ – fell victim to a knife killing in the playground across the road from my apartment block shortly before Christmas. Another teenage gang fight, apparently. Same thing happened to some other boy a couple of blocks away only a few months previously. Shrugs shoulders.

Three young men in the same age group – pictured right – were yesterday jailed for life for the murder of Garry Newlove, kicked to death outside his Warrington home in August last year after remonstrating with them for damaging his wife’s car. They were drunk and spliffed up at the time of the crime; Teenage Kicks, 2007 remix.

Meanwhile, one of today’s top stories in the British media is the controversy over ‘the Mosquito’, a device that prevents young people congregating in public places by emitting a high-pitched noise audible only to those aged under 25. The Children’s Commissioner for England and human rights group Liberty want it banned.

Violent or otherwise unruly behaviour on the part of youth is a real issue for working class communities, in inner cities and smaller towns alike. It is also one that many on the left – I’ll include myself here – feel instinctively uncertain about tackling.

The difficulty is avoiding the twin dangers of coming on like either a ‘Gee, Officer Krupke‘ parody or some deranged love child of David Blunkett and Melanie Phillips, manically demanding the return of the birch.

Yes, we can always advance a standard radical sociology critique. Of course these kids – socially formed under Labour governments, let us underline – are both products of the society around us and obviously deeply alienated from it.

Yes, some of the blame for teenage binge drinking surely lies with the directors of the giant booze companies that endlessly seek out new ways to encourage young people to guzzle their products, from ever-tackier sugar-filled alcopops to expensive advertising and promotional giveaway campaigns.

And no, the iniquities of ASBOs and the de facto return of the sus law – to which I was regularly subjected as a council estate teenager myself – don’t seem to have solved the problem, either.

I can’t honestly say that I know the answers. But if socialists ever want to be taken seriously be the people at the sharp end of this one, we need either to put forward some joined-up social policy thinking or risk leaving the field to the demagogues of all parties. After all, it’s not kids in Belgravia or the posh bits of Cheshire and Surrey that are doing the dying.
* Cross-posted from Dave’s Part

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About the author
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
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Reader comments

1. Margin4 Error

Can I suggest the Left ask a somewhat radical question?

This question, though in principle shouldn’t be too radical, might prove somewhat radical in its implications, and certainly would do in regards to the reaction.

The question is this. What do we do well?

I know its a simple question – but here are a couple of reasons to ask it.

1 – Our murder rate is falling fast, from what was already a very low base. (Fewer than half the murder rate of Germany, France, Denmark, australia, canada and portugal, and a under a quarter that of the USA)

2 – More of our young stay in school to the age of 18

3 more of our young go to university.

So if we are to learn what works and does not work – should we not start by looking at what is working and what is not?

Or should we simply join the chorus of emotional claptrap that continues a several thousand year old trend of pretending things always get worse and that kids are never as good as the previous generation?

“Britain named as one of Europe’s crime hotspots”

Daily Mail? No; The Guardian.

I would be *very* surprised if homicide rates in the UK were half those of the rest of Europe? What is your source?

Certainly not borne out by this list.

In the past our kids used to be able to be illegally served in pubs and bars. They had somewhere to go, they had people around them that were potentially ready to throw them out and certainly would have no inhibitions to do so…but they would drink in pubs and bars anyway.

Labour toughened up our licensing laws, the kids moved on to the streets…no longer around others that perhaps would be a stabilising presence, and the attitudes placed on their drinking (which kids have always done one way or another before the age they can legally buy it) moving from “if I catch you I’ll have to move you on” to “if I catch you there will be hell to pay and we’ll have a good talk with your parents”.

Meanwhile there has been no investment in facilities or services in local areas, nor appropriate funding for local projects (the Olympics is gladfuly draining that pot to line the pockets of previous British olympians).

The social policy for the socialists and liberals has always been the same…invest in things for the kids to do that they WANT and you’ll keep them entertained. I remember back along when it was a school lesson and one of the local councillors came in and asked us what we wanted. We said good playing fields, a cinema, maybe some sort of arcade where teenagers can hang out. The answer to this was nothing. We got a skate park so roughly a dozen kids in the neighbourhood got something out of the spare tarmac the council had to use before the end of the budget year. Playing fields were too costly to level and sort out goalposts on, cinema’s and arcades obviously something for private companies to deal with. Overall we all felt a little pissed off that despite giving our views they weren’t really listened to and no-one was informed about why.

If local government could get some funding (like, from central government instead of them shouldering private investment debt) to give every town and city a proper shot at developing facilities for the young then we’d be getting somewhere (and also be living in an idealistic utopia).

But first we have to start accepting some things, that is that kids will drink if we tell them not to, they will have sex if we tell them not to, they will stay out late if we tell them to come in early…and harsh punishment when they ignore our demands only further imprints in them that we are oppressors above them not supportive society alongside them.

It would appear hundreds of thousands of kids get drunk every year, yet we only hear about half a dozen or so stories of real violence perpetrated by them…one thing the socialists/left/liberal/whatever lot should not get embroiled in is this idea that alcohol is the problem. The problem is youths with a tendency to respond with violence and to not even have enough morality to care about the mortality of their victim, this isn’t born from some secret ingredient in white lightning, it comes from somewhere else…and if they’re like it as a kid they’re going to be like it as an adult so unless we propose to ban alcohol forever then I’d say that the agenda needs to move away from this view.

“and harsh punishment when they ignore our demands only further imprints in them that we are oppressors above them not supportive society alongside them.”

It is too tempting to say “diddums”.

By “our demands” do you mean our demands on them to not respond to reasonable requests (eg please stop throwing stones) with violence?

Were the killers of Mr Newlove treated too harshly?

To what “harsh punishments” do you refer exactly?

It strikes me that the harsh punishment route has hardly been tried.

5. Margin4 Error


Couldn’t agree more with you on alcohol. Indeed I maintain that alcohol makes no one violent. After all, if it could make some one violent then I have been drunk enough, often enough, and provoked enough, that it would have made me violent.

indeed I’ve been drunk at a club and not turned violent even when punched in the face twice by a complete stranger. (A bouncer kicked him out of course).

So perhaps integrating teenagers, who biologically speaking are adults, into the adult world might benefit them.

But lets not forget.

Things are not worse. Violent crime has fallen in the UK since it’s modern day peak in the mid 1990s. Murder rates are ludicrously low in our country.

margin4error – ” Indeed I maintain that alcohol makes no one violent. ”


“Murder rates are ludicrously low in our country.”

Source? wikipedia table suggests (at very best) no lower than rest of Europe.

7. Margin4 Error


in fairness – my point is more that we shouldn’t wonder around complaining that the end is nigh and tutting “kids today huh!” – rather than anything about stats, which I knew little about till I posted.

While doing so ran a quick google search and came up with and based my comments on those figures.

Looking further I also found – which indicates a problem with the wikipedia stats as they suggest no change during a period where a spike (all be it an anomalous one) occurred.

8. Margin4 Error



aside from agreeing that alcohol doesn’t cause violence – do you have anything to contribute to a discussion about what the Left can bring to policy on teen violence?

I’m just curious as you posted twice and have so far offered nothing.

3. I’m not talking about people that are rightly convicted for murder. I’m talking about the attitude we’ve taken that the most basic of anti social tendencies are responded to with vilification and castigation, for ourselves turning them in to the outcasts that we actually fear them to become.

I repeat, hundreds of thousands of kids drink alcohol every year (in decreasing number through no policy of the government’s other than perhaps education) and yet we only hear about a handful of violent crimes committed by them. We’ve unfortunately been conditioned to fear youth in groups and that is our own fault. Rather than responding to that with a perpetuation of the problem, perhaps we ought to redress the balance of what is a real or unrealistic threat to us?

Amen to #2.

The “Right” was sarcastic…no doubt the person who punched you in the club was sober!

My answer is harsher punishments…we haven’t tried that yet.

Would you care to link to your evidence that UK murder rate is half that of Europe??
Or are you now admitting you made that up?

12. Innocent Abroad

Alcohol releases inhibitions – so if you have an uninhibited, angry person you get a violent one. However, alcohol does not cause anger.

Our criminal justice system assumes that deprivation of liberty is a strong deterrent. For at least one of Mr Newlove’s murderers, this appears not to have been true (he had been at liberty only for a matter of hours).

I would like to see a prison system that actively sought to rehabilitate those prisoners it could, and which re-classified those it could not as mentally ill. This of course would make each place more expensive. The irony is that it is the people who are at the sharp end of the violence who have the least faith in reform as a principle by which to run prisons, and who are least willing to pay the extra taxes.

“Our criminal justice system assumes that deprivation of liberty is a strong deterrent. For at least one of Mr Newlove’s murderers, this appears not to have been true (he had been at liberty only for a matter of hours). ”

Well, he had been released on bail a few hours earlier.
If he had been deprived of liberty it certainly wasn’t for very long.
How many days?

Of course you make the equally important point for me: if he had not been released on bail Mr Newlove would likely still be alive today.
If “angry” youths are prone to impulsive bouts of violence, incarceration may or may not act as a deterrent, but once they have shown themselves to be violent and impulsive, incarceration ensures that they are at least kept out of everyone’s way.

Of course I agree on more rehab etc etc – who doesn’t.
But let’s simply get more of these dangerous people off the streets to start with – and keep them off for longer!

I attended this “Prison Works” debate (packed with bein-pensant chattering classers, and featuring Juliet Lyon and Lord Justice Woolf on the anti-prison side) last year:

The audience were won round by the “reactionary” side from a starting point of hostility to them.

As the author of the article says about it:
“Before the debate, the audience voted 170 for the motion, 288 against, with 249 undecided. At the end of the evening the votes were 351 for “Prison Works”, and 337 against. In other words, almost all the undecided had been deeply unimpressed by the arguments of the most attractive manifestations of the English judicial establishment. Afterwards, I went up to Harry Woolf and, a little tactlessly, asked him why he thought his side had lost the debate it seemed to have won before it started. “Because of Charles Murray’s argument that prison is the best way of protecting the poor,” he replied. It was almost as if Harry Woolf was conceding that his side had been beaten by its own best debating weapon: an appeal to our concern for the least well-off in society.”

Well, he had been released on bail a few hours earlier.
If he had been deprived of liberty it certainly wasn’t for very long.
How many days?

I think it would be good to get research into whether prison does work as a good enough deterrent. Secondly, I’d also be interested in more research into rehabilitation. It seems every time there is some leniency or an attempt made to understand why criminals / killers do what they do, then the Daily Mail makes a big splash and starts screaming for harsher punishment.

But if socialists ever want to be taken seriously be the people at the sharp end of this one, we need either to put forward some joined-up social policy thinking or risk leaving the field to the demagogues of all parties.

This point by David is spot-on though.

cjcjc: I don’t know about murder rates in European countries, but the murder rate has certainly been falling in recent years. The figures were skewed a couple of years’ back because they counted Harold Shipman’s victims, then there was 7/7, but the numbers have since fell to around the 750 figure every year.

cjcjc: I seem to remember there used to be a time when anyone that so much at looked at someone funny used to get hanged or thrown off a cliff or beheaded. In fact for serious offences people were still hanged into the 20th century. For all of this you’re saying about harsher punishments the evidence available shows that even with new crime recording methods and greater population densities, our murder rate today is not much higher than it was at the turn of the 20th century, certainly when you exclude unfortunate events such as 7/7 as being out of the norm.

Harsher punishments were tried, they did not dissuade anyone more than they do today. Shit’s are shit’s and while I don’t disagree with you that they should be taken off the street when realised and rehabilitated, I do disagree with what seems to generally be the logical extension of these types of arguments that we should be sending ourselves back in to the dark ages where people are punished unduly to their “crime” simply to try and condition them out of doing something that while is obnoxious isn’t actually a problem. (apologies if you aren’t one of those that subscribes)

It’s one thing to say that Newlove’s killer should be locked up and whatever, it’s another to say all argumentative gobshites that *don’t* descend in to violence should also be “punished more harshly” as that, I feel, just pushed them in the wrong direction.

I know that the early nineties was a looooong time ago for some of you youngsters but why are we looking at just the last 15 years? What I’d like to know is just how many 16 year olds were kicking people to death way back when I was 16? And how many young men were getting shot back then for showing ‘disrespect’ or for treading on someone’s shoes?

Anyone here who seriously believes nothing much has changed just wasn’t around before the changes occurred.

PS: Can a murder rate ever be ludicrously low?!!

PPS: “After all, it’s not kids in Belgravia or the posh bits of Cheshire and Surrey that are doing the dying.” True. And they’re not doing the killing either!

Mike: Point taken about those of us just out of nappies, but I think the reason we look at around the last 15 years is because it’s in that period that we had first the James Bulger murder, then the declaration from Howard, continued by Labour even if not as verbally that prison works. Coincidentally, as some probably wisely point out, the figures suggest that crime has been falling and now, according to the British Crime Survey, you’ve the lowest chance of being a victim of crime more or less since it was began in the early 80s. I’m sure that we didn’t used to have gangs of youths kicking people to death with apparent gay abandon, or murders over “disrespect”, but is this because of cultural change rather than any apparent collapse in modern morals or respect in authority? I’m not so sure.

Now, is there a correlation between the crime rate falling and the prisons being full to bursting? I don’t know. Is it possible that crime has fallen, regardless of the increase in prison numbers, because of increased wealth-distribution? I don’t know, but it seems less likely than the former, considering the figures that show Labour has done very little in altering child poverty or in stopping the rot of inequality that the Tories bequeathed us with.

Thing is, we now have a problem. All the government and almost to a t the right-wing press want is even more building of prisons and even harsher punishments. Helen Newlove is given ample coverage on GMTV and in the Sun demanding not just the return of capital punishment, but corporal punishment. She’s explicit in wanting an eye for an eye. On the evidence we have, is there a case for doing so, considering that crime according to the best statistics we have is at a historic low? I don’t think there is. I think there’s a case for considering all the alternatives and taking stock of where we are. And I don’t think that locking teenagers up for the rest of their lives (I think the sentences should have been slightly harsher for the Newlove 3; at least take their liberty away until they reach how old he was, or closer to it) or executing them provides any answers whatsoever.

Just to be completely accurate on the murder figures: there were 757 in the most recent year statistics are available for, down from 769 the previous year, and from an all-time high of 1,047 in 2002/03 when Shipman’s victims were counted.

“It’s one thing to say that Newlove’s killer should be locked up and whatever, it’s another to say all argumentative gobshites that *don’t* descend in to violence should also be “punished more harshly” as that, I feel, just pushed them in the wrong direction.”

I don’t disagree with that.
But those that *do* descend to violence need to be locked up.
If we know one thing and only one thing about locking them up, they cannot harm the public while in there.
That is the scandal of Swellings’s bail is it not?
He had a history of violence.
It is the failure to deal with them once they *have* turned violent that is the problem.

Maybe there are ways to help the non-violent ones earlier.
But violent offenders need to be taken out of the way – more quickly, and for much longer.

23. Margin4 Error


I linked – are you blind?


you should keep in mind that the “all time high” is anomalous in two regards.
1 – it includes all of shipman’s murders, despite that none of them actually took place that year
2 – ‘all time’ only applies to recent recorded measures. It is a very safe assumption from historical accounts that more people were killed in 1756 (for example) – though stats don’t exist.

24. Margin4 Error

btw cjcjc

alcohol clearly doesn’t make people violent. I get drunk and don’t get violent. I know many people who also get drunk and don’t get violent.

as such it seems fair to conclude that some violent people get drunk – not that drink makes people violent.

Of course alcohol makes people open to suggestion – but even then some of us have the self confidence and certainty in ourselves not to ever be pressed into violence when drunk.

So perhaps we need to deal with the causes of why some people are violent and are easilly induced into violence – rather than pretending alcohol is to blame.

that sort of superficial thinking gets people no where.

On the stats side, though obviously the problem is not just murder, according to the wikipedia history – to which I linked at #2 in response to margin4error’s (appropriately) erroneous assertion that UK had half the murder rate of Germany, France etc. – UK murder rate has approx doubled over the past century.

The abolition of capital punishment is a good example of bien-pensant de-haut-en-bas elites overriding the (what I believe is still) the majority opinion.
(The author refers to this attitude in his article.)
The quid pro quo at the time would that “life would mean life”.
Now murderers are being released after 10 years, with some of course killing again.

I don’t support the reintroduction of the death penalty, but I do support genuine life imprisonment for murder.

margin – your blogger’s source link is broken

The home office link is below; even allowing for some kind of “spike” we are nowhere near half the European average – we are close to the average.

Of course this is about much, much more than murder.

The time for “thinking” is past.
We need to get violent people (alcohol or not) off the streets.
We can think about long term solutions at our leisure.
Unfortunately Mr Newlove and the victims we read about *every day* no longer have the leisure we have.

The trouble is, cjcjc, that we’re not giving actual cultural reform enough of a chance. We can’t just keep going through a cycle of saying we’ll try to cure the true problems of people growing up violent and then abandon those plans after a few years when a few big stories hit the media and the Sun kicks up a stink. That said there really needs to be a proper strategy in place for transition between two models.

Also, I really don’t believe half this crap about “people being let out early” being a problem. The problem with reoffending rates is skewed by the amount of people that we now put in to prison for very short stints of time for very small crimes. shows in the last 7 years the prison population of shoplifters has grown by over 15% to 21%. Taking up 21% of our prison’s space with fucking shop lifters is ludicrous, but it’s typical of a government regime that is in a long run that faces poor prosecution figures and as such lowers the threshold on what is imprisonable.

This in turn provides less opportunity for people to be rehabilitated properly, it mixes petty criminals with hardened ones, and it means criminals are more likely to get moved away from their communities and as such find it harder to integrate back in to…as an academic on that above report says, not enough is even being done to ease people back in to normal life. I’d say this means we’re being TOO tough on people as it is.

That’s not to say I don’t disagree with some sentencing, but rehabilitative sentencing is what it is for a reason. A murderer is unlikely to get out of prison before their term is up, but people doing time for other crimes can get out on parole if they show that they are reformed enough, and why shouldn’t they? If your system is an aim to half punish and half make someone better for society then you need the option of granting them time off of their sentence. If people are getting let go before they’re ready to return to society then it is not the parole system that is at fault, it is the underlying structures of ascertaining if a person is ready to be let out. But over all reoffending rates will rise when you start to make prison the punishment for pettier and pettier crimes, this is only logical.

It’s like with youth crime, where I believe a lot of reoffending occurs as it happens, we tag them, we chastise them, we monitor them and make it very clear to them that we deem them to be lower than second class citizens because of the ASBO they broke, or the car window they smashed. How on earth can this kind of reaction to an out of control youth positively psychologically effect the youth to change their ways? Surely we’re just reinforcing on these people that no-one really gives a shit about them and that we want to have our control over them…something that can never make them think “you know what, I think I’ll turn a new leaf now”.

19. I am looking as far back as 1900, as I said in my last comment, and the amount of murders are roughly the same. Despite a three fold increase in the number of people in prison (despite less than double the population existing) our murder rate has risen ever so slightly by comparison. I’d be interested in seeing just what the demographics of murder victims and perpetrators were back then but I fear that isn’t possible. All I will say is times change and cultures with them, so surely if we lost some of the murders that occurred because of (potentially) high powered men stopped killing their wives and such when angry with them through a change in culture, but have gained the more American culture of “gangs” then we need to treat that part of society as what it is too.

Why do kids feel the need to respond to “disrespect” with violence? Why do they feel the need for form gangs and territories? These sort of questions need answering before you can start trying to solve the problem.

“Why do kids feel the need to respond to “disrespect” with violence? Why do they feel the need for form gangs and territories? These sort of questions need answering before you can start trying to solve the problem.”

Tell that to the Newloves – sorry, we’ve got to give Swellings his bail because there are some big sociological questions that need answering first.

It’s too late for that kind of thing – just give us more time to *really* get to the bottom of the problem. No. Sorry. Liberal criminology has had its chance, under all governments, and failed.

“Taking up 21% of our prison’s space with fucking shop lifters is ludicrous.”
Well, exactly how much shoplifting will they have to have done before getting a prison sentence. How many cautions, fines, community service orders….?
I assume you are not a small shopkeeper!

I agree that short sentences are pointless – no deterrent, no rehab.
Give them a chance first, give them two chances (and we give them far far more than that)…but once it finally comes to prison make the sentences much much longer.

This *ensures* that first and foremost they will not be offending while inside, gives more time for rehab, and may act as a deterrent if they *know* that the next time they’re caught it will *actually* be serious for them. Right now they’re just laughing at the law and at society’s weakness.
Reading what you write, they would be laughing their heads off.

Just an aside, but I pretty sure the ‘murder’ figures are actually ‘homicide’ figures and include things like infanticide. It seems that accurate figures for what might be called random, violent attacks by strangers that lead to death are hard to come by. What concerns me is not so much the murder rate per se as the murder ‘type’ and the impact of those types of offences on social interaction in general. And it’s not just murder. There is no doubt that some of those seriously injured in violent attacks would have died 40 or 50 years ago. Now they survive, sometimes in wheelchairs or semi-vegetative states. But that’s not ‘murder’ is it?

While I’m at it… I recommend “Men of Blood: Murder in Modern England” by Elliot Leyton. (If you can find a copy) It was published in 1995 but is still a very good read. This is what the respected researcher had to say back then:

“However much the anxious folk of middle England suspect that the country is being over-run by axe-wielding psychopaths, however much media attention is focused on the dreadful acts of assorted rippers and stranglers, murder remains astonishingly rare…England has just about the lowest rate anywhere – and has for centuries. ”

Don’t have nightmares 🙂

30. Margin4 Error

cjcjc – all crime – violent crime

These figures suggest some things have worked. As such does my suggestion that we must work out what has worked well and learn from it not seem a sensible position at which to start.

Granted the original article plays the millenium olf game of assuming things are always worse now than before – but perhaps we need to challenge that ancient habit as it can only serve as an ill informed bias that makes for bad policy.

Maybe asbos have worked? Maybe locking up more people has worked? Maybe the increase in employment has worked?

Maybe those things and many others have contributed to our nation becoming safer.

But until we start trying to work out the causes we can’t know what direction policy should head.

and simply assuming kids are bad and alcohol is to blame is crazy. Indeed with more alcohol drunk now than in the past, perhaps alcohol has contributed to a fall in crime?

without asking such questions how can we know?

“without asking such questions how can we know?”

Sure, let’s ask.

Meanwhile, let’s get the violent out of the way.

Not mutually exclusive.

28. Bollocks, liberal solutions have NEVER had the time to flourish, but you misrepresent my view if you think we should be letting out every known murderer or violent sociopath back on to the streets until we find the “cure” solution. I’ve never stated that murderers and violent criminals shouldn’t be locked up, just that they should be locked up until they’ve been rehabilitated. I don’t personally believe there should be maximum sentences…if one rapist goes to prison but shows he’s never going to change it’s safer he stays there, but if another goes to prison and truly reforms in a year then what is the benefit to society (in terms of cost primarily, given risk has gone) of keeping him incarcerated?

I also think it’s a little glib to suggest criminals are going in to prison thinking that it is one big joke and as if it’s a minor inconvenience. As you say we’re probably thinking along the same lines on the pointlessness of short sentences, but not because I think people don’t take short sentences seriously, but rather because they are far more serious to the person being incarcerated than they actually are, with very detrimental prospects to employability, welfare and loss of posessions (and even relationships).

29. I am indeed talking about homicide figures, you’re correct that it does have an ambiguity in itself in that sense. But then the way figures are recorded has been changed in the last decade and has produced an increase in crime figures, so this has to be noted too.

30. Further than that less kids are actually drinking to get drunk than before, yet there is supposedly an increase in teen violence. It doesn’t really correlate.

33. Margin4 Error


But this article was about what the left can bring to the debate on teen behaviour and general misbehaviour in society.

All sides can lock people up. And make no mistake, there is nothing left or right wing about doing so. Its just sensible to lock offenders up. And you’ll note I never said otherwise.

But most people would also agree that prevention is better than punishment for everyone. And that’s where questions are not being asked. Or at least where they are being asked, they tend to be warped by the myopic “everything always gets worse” attitude that this country does so love.

So perhaps what the left should bring to the debate is a challenge to that misconception. We are after all – a relatively safe country to live in, and are more safe now than a few years ago.

34. Margin4 Error


alcohol consumption for the UK has fallen by over 5% in the last two years according to the Wines and Spirits association

And the ONS suggests that alcohol has fallen over the last couple of years too…

But violent crime started falling before that so its hard to guage what impact a drop in drinking is having on crime levels.

UPDATE: My grandson was stabbed in the neck yesterday while waiting for a bus in London. Half an inch to the right and I’d be making arrangements to travel to his funeral. And, no, the assailant wasn’t drunk or drugged. Nor was he apprehended. My daughter tells me this sort of thing is commonplace. Hey, ho!

This is an emotive subject, so it is important that it is treated seriously and with some sensitivity.

I for one find that any attempts to have a proper discussion about the subject of punishment is hijacked by emotional arguments that spring instinctually to the surface, and I get suspicious whenever people start using ‘morality’ as a basis for their point of view.

We should distinguish criminal acts (which are the consequence of some forethought and conscious planning) and acts of pure unthinking thuggery which escalate irrationally out of any control.

Without judging the full facts of the matter of Mr Newlove’s murder it is possible to characterise it as either, so until we are able to answer that question the veil of shock cannot be lifted and any prescriptive solution is irresponsibly premature.

In this sense Mrs Newlove’s reactive call for the reintroduction of capital and corporal punishment is as instinctual as I assume the murder of her husband was at least in part a consequence of, so in reality her attitude is replicating that attitude of the assailants which was only likely to perpetuate the cycle of violent action and reaction – and therefore also unlikely to address anything other than public perceptions about the real state of this as a social problem (see above discussion for examples).

This only shows the failure of society to educate, rather than any failure of justice – however it is post-rationalised – so perhaps Mrs Newlove will raise her own awareness and understanding and that of others by now investigating the deep-rooted causal problems and wider necessary solutions to prevent a reoccurence of a similar attack (if it is in fact actually possible), rather than lashing out in the moments of her grief.
Were she really fully conscious of the choice that she and every other Daily Mail reader would have to make to prevent all occurrences of crime and thuggery, I’m certain she wouldn’t have made her statement at the time or in the circumstances that she did.

Perhaps instead we should be issuing reporting restrictions on unmediated statements by family and friends of the victims of crime and their ability to profit from it in the same way as we prevent criminals from selling their stories – or would that simply put salacious gossip rags out of business and reduce the impact of hearsay in influencing and educating the population?

Condolences Mike, but as sad as it is even the most worrying trends of knife crime show it is an unlikely event that unfortunately occurred to your family. There are always unfortunate exceptions to the trends but the reality is that 40% of knife crime is committed by someone you know, and the rest of it is seemingly committed on black or Asian youths in deprived urban areas.

36. “Perhaps instead we should be issuing reporting restrictions on unmediated statements by family and friends of the victims of crime and their ability to profit from it in the same way as we prevent criminals from selling their stories – or would that simply put salacious gossip rags out of business and reduce the impact of hearsay in influencing and educating the population?”

I’d completely agree with this, I believe there’s something over on Septicisle’s blog that says it best.

39. Margin4 Error

36 and 38

erm – censorship is surely not the way to go?

36 and 38 — yes, silence the victim, an excellent liberal idea well worth pursuing.

“Mrs Newlove will raise her own awareness and understanding and that of others by now investigating the deep-rooted causal problems and wider necessary solutions to prevent a reoccurence of a similar attack (if it is in fact actually possible), rather than lashing out in the moments of her grief.”

I think you should write to her about that – I’m sure she’ll appreciate it.

Meanwhile have criminologists not been “investigating deep-rooted causes” and “wider necessary solutions” for decades?

So, until Mrs Newlove’s investigation reports its results, we might do well to look to more immediate and narrower solutions.

“Were she really fully conscious of the choice that she and every other Daily Mail reader would have to make to prevent all occurrences of crime and thuggery, I’m certain she wouldn’t have made her statement at the time or in the circumstances that she did.”

To prevent ALL occurrences? Wow! I didn’t realise Daily Mail readers had such powers. Excellent news. What are they exactly, and how can they be marshalled to the benefit of us all?


Whoops 🙂 I suspect you assumed my grandson is white? He is actually a young black male (ain’t genetics wonderfu) l and was attacked in a deprived urban area. We should have expected it. Bah! 😉

No I’m not saying that I assumed such a thing Mike, I’m saying that the figures show it is a very unfortunate and unlucky circumstance your grandson found himself in. That’s my only point when it comes to knife crime (as with gun crime). The media can play it up as much as it wants, and I do accept that knife crime at least has been on the rise, but it is still a very minority occurrence of all violent attacks in this country, especially between people not involved in gangs.

44. douglas clark

Mike Power,

I’m sorry to read about your grandson.

I mentioned on the other place, PP, that one of my sons friends was killed in a knife attack, a few weeks back. It is completely sad that a seventeen year old boy had his whole future wiped out. It is also quite worrying that knife crime seems to be quite prevalent, at least amongst my son’s generation.

Whatever else is said about this, it seems to me that the act of carrying a knife means premeditation.

It is also the case, I think, that sentencing for carrying a weapon should be verging on illiberal. In order to send the message that it is completely unacceptable to even contemplate that sort of act of violence.

Once they are locked away, they ought to be re-educated. However, I think that rehabilitation on release is just as important. I am less than impressed with the whole concept of the public availability of anyones record to potential employers. This seems to me to have been a ‘Topsy that just growed’, from a justifiable fear of intractable cases to a societal mind set that says, ‘aye, you’ve served your time, but we’re having nothing to do with you’. Enshrined in law.

39 and 40. Let me put to you a scenario where some white woman is killed by a local gang of black youths. The husband is a fervent nationalist and supports the BNP to the hilt. I wonder if he would ever get the light of day on media and newspaper reporting as he stands up and declares the only way that this country will be rid of problems that caused the death of his wife is if all blacks are culled like the dogs they are and we stop all immigration of non-white people in to this country.

It seems perfectly rational to censor what this hypothetical person is saying yet it is seemingly the opposite that appears rational for a woman barking up the wrong tree about “binge drinking” out of grief for her lost husband. I remind you, liberalism is about allowing people the freedom to do what they want as long as they *don’t inflict on the liberties of others*. Giving Mrs Newlove’s statements the credibility that the media provides is creating a false problem in societies view and that only then ends up with these bullshit measures we’ve seen the government implement over the past few weeks against children, the vast vast majority of whom wouldn’t even think about physical abuse upon another person.

If the media was able to reflect amongst itself and actually provide balanced reporting then I wouldn’t feel the necessity for censoring or mediating victim responses, as I’d be confident there would be at least some reason in the debate. As it is we have grieving people getting up on stage and riling the nation up into believing things that simply are not true because of an emotive not logical argument.

44. I used to carry a knife for a brief period of a few months when I first moved to Bristol. I did so because I bought in to the media hype about the lack of safety in areas of the city and felt that it was one of the best ways to deter any attacker. After living there for a while though it became blatantly apparent that I was more likely to get attacked by someone I bumped in to in the dancefloor than by some random while walking around the city, so I stopped carrying it.

My point is, that I don’t think we can underestimate the level of fear that has been put in to individuals, especially in deprived areas…and we certainly shouldn’t ignore the peer pressure that may exist to such an extent that someone frightened might do something insanely stupid in order to “protect themselves” in their mind. Knife crime is really a new thing at this level, and I would be interested to see any study as to why youths have taken up the blade as a weapon more readily in recent generations. I think it would be naive however to assume it’s because they all want to go out stabbing someone.

Completely agree with the last paragraph you wrote though.

47. douglas clark


I actually agree with most of what you have been saying on here. It is just a bit of a reality check when two commentators on here have some, albeit second hand, experience of knife crime.

You worked out the issues for yourself, and I am glad you did.

I completely agree about the levels of fear. However knife carrying is not a new thing, at least where I come from. It, along with guns, raises the stakes to unacceptably high levels, where a relatively trivial incident can result in death. Which is why I am so against it.

Fortunately it is not clear how any such censorship of victims’ opinions would actually be enforced. No politician would dare propose it, that’s for sure anyway.

What are the very recent “bullshit measures” which have been implemented?

47. relatively new, I’m not claiming it has come up from nowhere in the last year, but it has certainly come up from nowhere in the last couple of decades.

48. Taking alcohol from kids legally within their rights to drink it in the street (as long as it’s not a no drinking zone), suggesting that these kids then get forced in to contracts (along with their parents) about behavioural expectation simply because of the act of possessing alcohol not because of their actions, backing the use of mosquito’s as if they solve any problem whatsoever. The list is unfortunately growing, though perhaps the use of the word “implemented” was rash on my part.

50. douglas clark

Lee @ 49,

I seem to recall an ‘amnesty’ on weapons being called for in Easterhouse, which is a Glasgow Housing Estate, being brokered by one Frankie Vaughan. It seemed to consist of lots of dustbins full of weapons. This was, iirc, in the sixties. The following, from Wikipedia, supports some of the points you have been making:

“Easterhouse, along with other large housing projects built at that time by Glasgow Corporation, came to prominence in the wider world through its social problems and became a case study for social planners hoping to avoid the same types of problems. For example, the lack of basic amenities, such as shops, sports and other recreational grounds and cinemas, poor transport links etc. Housing was mainly of the two/three bedroom tenement type[38], off a common close. The lack of variety of housing types, such as detached and semi detached house types created a somewhat monotonous and bland townscape. This along with a lack of any stable pre-existing community structure and unemployment in the area tended to encourage the rise of youth gang culture. This became so notorious in the 1960s that celebrities including Frankie Vaughan became involved in community issues in an attempt to bring order and attract resources to the area. This was much to local bemusement as it served to focus public attention on surface problems but failing to address grass root problems, such as high unemployment and the lack of facilities.”

Lee, please note that I included a couple of smilies in my post :)) I wasn’t tyin’ ta diss ya man 😉

The point I was making is that in some areas, and for some people the risk of attack whether by knife, gun or boot, is very real. If you check out stats in the US there are many places where there hasn’t been a murder for decades in others it’s a daily occurence, eg: The murder rate in Baltimore is almost 18 times what it is in El Paso.

My earlier comment relates to a huge cultural shift that has undoubtably taken place since the late sixties. There are many reasons for it, and there are reasons we haven’t worked out yet, which is why we get so many half-baked, crackpot ideas about how to solve it. The problem goes beyond simple statistics though, so we should all be careful about making too many assumptions (either way) about what are, after all, very generalised and geographically spread figures.

The important question being asked here is what kind of response should those of a left/liberal persuasion make? It’s much more difficult for those of us who see ourselves as anti-authoritarian, liberal, permissive, etc to come up with answers consistent with our world view. Zero tolerance or hug a hoodie? Are some guilty or are we ‘all guilty’? And so on…

The hang’em /flog ’em/ National Service/ bring back the birch brigade, however, have no such difficulties and often present themselves as being vindicated in their belief that it would all end in tears.

I’ll finish with this: I was born in Brixton. I had a happy , safe childhood in this inner urban area of south London. My step-son lives close to were I was born. It’s a thriving community. Would I return there to live? No. If I did move back would I be shot, knifed or kicked to death? Almost certainly not! Does that say something about me and my attitude to risk, stress, urban living? Almost certainly. Does that move the debate forward? Hell NO! :))

Interesting, though the collection of weapons doesn’t mean the use. I can’t remember where I read about it but I believe that knife crime has almost trebled since before the 90’s, yet it has trebled from very minuscule numbers in to a still very small number (I believe 0.05% chance of being in a knife attack from a stranger, without weighting for area/demographic etc.).

I find the fixation (not by yourself) on knives and other weapons to be fascinating. We try to rationalise that by banning weapons and trying to control their use we’ll somehow stop terrible violence. It completely ignored the factors your wikipedia reference talks about and how people that are violent with a knife will be violent without one, especially in cases like Mr Newlove’s (which never involved weapons, unless you count trainers as a weapon).

We can continue to get bogged down by unfortunate side issues like knife crime, or we can look from a higher branch and do what the main article here is suggesting, finding an appropriate way to stop the cause of these problems, not just the effect…which largely we seem to all agree on.

51. Just playing it safe 😉 my above comment was partly in response to Douglas btw, it got shunted.

What we really need to do, I feel, is actually make a concerted effort in an isolated area (so outside of London most likely) that has a specific problem with youth crime, knife culture and gang culture. Money needs to be put in to the resources there for community policing, but more importantly for local amenities, youth social attractions based on what THEY ask for, and even lesser known initiatives such as funding of local third sector groups to provide advice and support on the next step out of schooling.

Perhaps this would be too expensive, I’m not suggesting it would be cheap, but if you could find an area that is of an appropriate size that has these problems but is surrounded by communities and societies that do not have these problems in general, then you have the perfect bed for doing some real studies over the course of (arbitrary figure alert) 5 years. If there is no change of the trends in that area away from national trends and previous local trends then I’ll put my hands up and say colour me stumped, but I really believe that with such resources and support you’ll turn an area from one that is deprived with no hope to one that is deprived but has prospects, and with it will change the trends of crime that I’d associate with the former.

There is an extraordinary piece on CiF by criminologist Prof David Wilson where his answer is (not joking) that we should be “doing something”.

You couldn’t make it up.

56. Margin4 Error

Lee (45)

Do you really not appreciate the massive difference between a racist call to arms that others are likely to act upon by killing innocent people – and making an all be it emotional call for a change in government policy that if people support they are likely to do so via the ballot box?

Of course I appreciate the difference, but all in all the worth to the public debate is the same for both.

58. Margin4 Error

But you can’t ban something simply because you think it lacks coherent value in public policy debate.

If we could would Labour not just ban almost all tory policy announcements?

I’m not saying ban, I’m not stopping anyone from saying what they wish to say, just that I would wish that it would not be reported as it is irrelevant. If papers wish to report such absolutely ridiculous statements by grieving widows then they should have to conform to restrictions on how it is reported at the least in my mind. But then if I had my way I would put a lot more restrictions on popular press reporting methods.

I don’t believe the popular press is worthwhile in a modern and progressive society, as I said above, liberty is only liberty when you’re not destroying liberty elsewhere…this is precisely what tabloid media and shit like Panorama manage to do so I don’t see it as illiberal to ask or demand they don’t do things as they currently do.

I can easily empathise with a victim or a relative of a victim over the tragic occurrence they have faced and the consequences they will be forced to deal with, but that does not automatically confer any level of sympathy with any of their views on my behalf (or should do on anyone elses behalf, for that matter).

It is a simple misconception to even enter into discussions over deterrence, as what is a deterrence for one is not for another, and anyway there is no way of actually judging whether a deterrent has been successful when the avoidable event has been avoided – in other words there is no such thing as a deterrence, only prevention and punishment.

For Mrs Newlove the tragedy was not prevented, but no amount of punishment will bring about a cure for her pain so she has reacted with the prescription of absolute measures instead of offering absolution.
For us to create a solution in the areas where we are failing we need to look again at what punishment is and what punishment is for.

In many legal cases a statement will be made by the injured party on the steps of the courthouse through a written note by their spokesperson or legal counsel which takes into account the full established facts of the matter, that Mrs Newlove bypassed these conventional precautions indicates either a level of bad advice or politicking behind her back.

This isn’t a case for censorship, but a serious example where the lack of intervening moderation has exacerbated the public outcry on a subject of some sensitivity, all this goes to highlight the lack of responsibility of the individual and the lack of understanding she held for the position she occupied on a public platform covering issues of wider public concern.
The undignified spectacle of her behaviour and the reporters who encouraged it damages us all.

To those that chirp about liberty as if it is something that means we should never interfere in what people say…are you happy with the types of people in society that act on brainwashing impressionable youth in to joining religious cults, like the one that led to a mass suicide, to simply act freely and without bounds? The tabloid media is nothing but a mainstream and “accepted” version of this type of act where the “truth” is barked at people frequently enough that they accept it as such without question.

I somewhat doubt that everyone in their right mind would prefer that brainwashing religious cult leaders never got access to their children, or if they did that you had the chance at every stage to discourage the madness with reasoned counter-argument. Why shouldn’t we expect the same from the delivery of news such as Mrs Newloves position born out of distress and mourning through the mainstream press?

Politics Show today looked in to youth crime, in particular amongst the black community. Only available for 7 days obviously so watch it quick 😉

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