Knife Crime in Britain: A chilling Veracity
By Ronald Elly Wanda
On Thursday the 3rd of July, I was the only member of the Press caucus to attend the funeral of one of Britain’s latest knife-crime victim. Abiodun Olubukunola Ilumoka aka Abby was buried at the East Finchley Cemetery, following a well-attended mass at St. Stephen’s Church at Cannonbury Road in Islington where the 41 year old had lived near her mother all her life. Her horrific death did not arouse the interest of any national media perhaps because another white teenager Ben Kinsella, less than a mile away from Abby’s murder scene had also been knifed. Like most individuals who knew her well, I still find it difficult to understand what provoked her former boyfriend (that has since been charged with her murder) to commit such a cowardly and gruesome crime.
Not much is known of her killer boyfriend except that he was a 32 year old unemployed illegal immigrant from Ghana that was subsequently homeless. He had previously worked as a Barber somewhere in Islington but was then sacked at around March of 2007. Abby is said to have met him at around the same time and fell pregnant soon afterwards, she then sheltered, clothed and fed him.
On that fateful Saturday 14th of June, she was supposed to have gone to her mother’s house for dinner, as was her routine, -just two streets off Annett Crescent, where she’d lived. It was not to be. At around 6.45 pm Islington Police and London Ambulance were called to her house following reports of an earlier fracas, only to discover Abby, who was seven months pregnant, bleeding heavily from sustained head injuries and multiple stab wounds in the stomach. She was then rushed to Royal London Hospital, where Doctors fought hard to try and save her and her unborn baby. At around 10.15pm, Abby and her unborn baby girl were pronounced dead…
“She was a really nice girl. It’s a pity the manner in which she went!” said Mrs Maria Akinfe, an old friend of Abby’s mother during the funeral proceeding. “I still can’t believe it! It is a real tragic…I fear for the future of my children”, said another woman, wiping her tears, also at Abby’s funeral. In spite of the government’s insistence that violent crime and in particular knife-related attacks have reduced, the outlook of most people especially at Abby’s funeral seemed to have a contrary reflection.
Although Abby’s death was resultant of a domestic-argument-turned-violent that later escalated to a horrific and brutal murder; it exhibits an overall epidemic of fatal knife attacks in London executed largely by teenagers on the “teen-community”. From Ben Kinsella in Islington to an orphaned Ugandan university student in Walthamstow to a Somalian gang-member in Camden to a prospering Harry Potter Actor in Kent; these are just some of the 21 teenagers that have died a violent death since the beginning of this year, and it is anyone’s guess that this number is likely to increase.
As if to reassure, a recent edition of The Economist hurriedly observed: “one might think that deaths by the blade were becoming more common”. Adding, “That isn’t the case”. It went on to argue that “Last year there were 258 people killed by sharp instruments, a number that has barely changed since the turn of the millennium. As a proportion of total homicides (which have been rising slowly for decades), death by sharp instruments is no more frequent now than it was ten years ago, though knives”, it warns, “remain Britain’s favourite murder weapon” (The Economist, 31st May 2008).
The truth in part, lies in this powerful Observer editorial for it rightly notes that there is a criminal sub-culture in Britain into which the political establishment does not seem to have an insight to. Says the Observer: “It will remain impenetrable unless politicians can mobilise a wide social coalition, crossing party lines, involving teachers, parents, children, police, ex offenders, charities, religious and cultural leaders to consult on policy. The sad fact is that not only has there been no action to get tough on the causes of crime, there has been tragic weakness of resolve fully to understand what lies behind crime” (Observer, 6th July 08).
These days one thing that people remember most of the former Prime Minister Tony Blair (his illegal invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq aside) has to be his pledge of “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. To the man on the street, it seems that the Labour administration has found it easier to honour the first part of that promise than it has the second. The two (crime and its causation), it must be said, go hand in hand. As such one must address both simultaneously, otherwise it would be like a doctor offering a prescription to a disease that he does not fully understand and cannot adequately inform of any subsequent side effects.
Whilst it is not clear whether the government’s much publicised prescription – the so called ‘Youth Crime Action Plan’ or for that matter the Conservative’s ‘Hug a Hoodie’ and ‘Responsibility revolution’ prescriptions will prove effective, or yet again end up disappointing and wasting millions of tax payers money. One thing clear though, is that the ‘real’ remedy may not lie with the political establishment but instead with the cultural institutions.
The latest research has found that of 90 families linked to Fips (a government sponsored experimental programme); the proportion showing widespread anti-social behaviour fell from 61% to 7%. There are plans to extend the programme’s reach to 20’000 families. A think-tank aiming at shaping the debate on the role of fathers called Fatherhood Institute recently also noted that “there was a need to intensively engage with vulnerable families”. Its chief Executive, Duncan Fisher, said “I think we have got engagement with families wrong in some ways, and this is the panic that follows that. I believe this issue has arisen because we haven’t invested to a significant extent in support services for parents, particularly struggling families”. As a point of interest, at the last census, almost 60% of all afro-Caribbean families with children had a lone parent; whilst the figure was only 25% for white British families (The Guardian, 19th July 2008).
Whilst these figures do not necessarily mean that all single parent homesteads are a breeding ground for future gangsters, criminals and murderers; it is fair to point out that there seems to be a correlation sandwiching fractured families and violent and often drug-related crime. Lest we not shy away, may the debate on ‘parenting or lack of it -in relation to crime’ commence, even if it has been (regrettably) started by a pampered old Etonian.
Ronald Elly Wanda MCIJ is a political scientist based in London.