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Harry Potter cast member is latest casualty in Britain's escalating spate of teenage homicides and stabbings

DOUG SAUNDERS

May 27, 2008 at 4:32 AM EDT

LONDON — In the forthcoming Harry Potter movie, teenage actor Robert Knox manages to survive secret potions, flying wizards and feuding factions of students. In real-life Britain, however, a far more mystifying and tragic threat cost him his life this weekend and plunged the actor into the centre of a national controversy.

Mr. Knox, 18, was killed outside a pub near his home in Sidcup, England, on Saturday night, in the midst of a brawl involving teenagers carrying wooden-handled kitchen knives. A 21-year-old man was charged with murder last night. The actor's death was the latest in an extraordinary string of fatal stabbings, part of a national epidemic of knife-related youth crime that has polarized Britain.

In a country where gun-control laws are so tough that handgun crime is almost unheard of, and where crime rates are at a historic low, nobody quite knows what to make of the extraordinary surge in teenage homicides and assaults, often very serious, involving weapons that can be found in kitchens and workshops.

The slaying of Mr. Knox, who portrayed Harry Potter's schoolmate Marcus Belby in the popular wizard movies, was the year's 28th fatal stabbing in Britain and the 14th in London, which has seen more than 100 stabbings in the first five months of the year. Almost all these crimes were committed by young men in their teens or 20s.

In the decade since 1997, during which the numbers for almost all other violent and non-violent crimes have fallen dramatically, the number of British teenagers convicted of knife-related crimes has nearly tripled, from 482 to 1,256 in 2006. Surveys suggest that about 20 per cent of London teenagers carry a knife, despite increasingly tough laws.

London's police recently announced plans to deploy squads of officers who will stop and search teenagers for knives, even if there is no reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

That practice raised alarm among many politicians, who remember that the last time random stop-and-search laws were employed, in the 1980s, they led to race riots in London and increases in crime.

"Stop and search can alienate communities," Sir Al Aynsley Green, the government's Children's Commissioner, warned yesterday.

Justice Minister Tony McNulty, a tough-on-crime crusader appointed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, attacked Sir Al last night, accusing him of "talking nonsense," and arguing for a crackdown on teenagers: "He is plumb wrong and miles away from where the public are. People want policemen not only to be out on the street but helping the process."

Indeed, members of the young actor's family have joined a chorus of voices calling for much tougher punishment of knife crimes.

"Ironically enough, the last time I saw Robert, we had a talk about knives, and the problems of people having knives, and steering clear of problematic areas," said the actor's father, Colin Knox. "There's a lot of fear out there and someone has to change the way we think. Youngsters nowadays, they fear for their lives."

His uncle, John Knox, expressed a tougher, and increasingly popular, sentiment: "Don't mollycoddle them, if they want to get that type of action going, bang them up [imprison them], bang them up for five years. This wouldn't happen if people were firmer with them."

That view was echoed in Britain's tabloid newspapers and talk-radio shows over the long weekend, and picked up last night by politicians in the opposition Conservative Party. Some are calling for the automatic imposition of the maximum sentence of five years in prison for possession of knives.

But the problem, according to crime experts, is that Britain's knife laws are already extremely tough, and their increasing harshness over the past 10 years has done little to curb the phenomenon.

No country in Western Europe imprisons teenagers in numbers as great as Britain, where prisons are overcrowded to the point that there are waiting lists to get people into crowded cells. The number of minors in British prison is the highest in Europe and has increased by 8 per cent since 2005.

This was part of an initiative launched by Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1997 under the slogan "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime," which dramatically increased the sentences for youth crimes and expanded the use of the prison system to unprecedented levels.

But a 10-year audit of Britain's youth-crime laws, released last week by the independent Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at London's King's College, found that despite much tougher laws and a 45-per-cent increase in spending on youth justice, crime rates among young people have remained unchanged.

"The government's decade-long youth justice experiment was a bold attempt to deploy the full force of the youth justice system to tackle problematic and disruptive behaviour by young people," the report's co-author Richard Garside said. "This new research suggests that the experiment has largely failed, if reported youth offending is the measure of success."

Indeed, the audit found that the tougher laws may actually be driving young people toward worse criminal activity by putting those convicted of lesser crimes in closer contact with more hardened criminals inside the penal system. Significantly, it also concluded that the government has stopped trying to go after youth crime by confronting its root causes.

The young British men who carry knives, according to criminologists, are almost all among the group categorized by the government as NEETs - 16- to 19-year-olds who are "not in employment, education or training." Despite a booming economy and a number of programs by the Labour government designed to reduce the number of unskilled dropouts, their numbers have actually increased in the past decade, a rise that many observers believe is behind the emergence of knife crime.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080527.wstabbing27/BNStory/International/home
 

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The word "clueless" comes to mind.
 

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hmmm, youth violence without firearms? Make knife crime penalties tougher, oh they already are well then "Ban all knifes, scissors, and baby proof the world"!

Maybe if a lot of these children were raised properly to begin with...
 

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**FASTFORWARD 1 year from knife ban**

"Today, a bill is being presented to ban 'sharp pointy sticks and billy clubs' as the rash of deaths caused as of late by sharp pointy sticks and clubs has risen since the knife ban. A stop and sharp pointy stick search order has been issued to the fully armored, firearm carrying, shock troops."


Zhur
 
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