Children may be most at risk of being stabbed as they make their way home from school, according to new research published in the wake of five fatal stabbings in a single week in London.
A report by doctors at The Royal London Hospital – Europe’s leading major trauma centre – and Queen Mary University of London, published by the BMJ Open journal, reveals the frequency of knife-related incidents involving youngsters spikes between the hours of 4pm and 6pm on weekdays.
The research also shows nearly half of injuries (47%) recorded in the 16-19 age group occurred 1-5 km from the victims’ residences, reflecting the average distance from home to school for children living in London.
In 2017, just under 37,000 offences involving knives or other sharp implements were recorded in England and Wales, increasing by a quarter (26%) on the previous year’s figures.
That year saw a wave of series attacks across Britain.
In September 2017, a 16-year-old male was knifed in the back as he walked home from school in Liverpool. He was taken to hospital, where he was treated for his injuries, but the motive behind the attack was “not clear”.
At the time, Merseyside Police Chief Inspector Paul Court told the Liverpool ECHO that knife crime “isn’t a common occurrence” in the area.
In June, seven-year-old Katie Rough was stabbed in a park after school in York. Her killer, 15, was sentenced to life for manslaughter in November 2017.
In February 2017, a 16-year-old died after he was stabbed on his way home from school in Leeds.
January of the same year saw the death 15-year-old schoolboy Quamari Serunkuma-Barnes following a knife attack near Capital City Academy in Kensal Green, north London.
A 15-year-old boy was jailed for 14 years for the murder at the Old Bailey in September.
Young men between the ages of 16 and 24 from economically deprived urban areas are most at risk of knife crime, the evidence shows.
Researchers analysed 1,824 subjects under the age of 25, out of a total of 3274, with knife wounds requiring emergency care at one major London trauma centre between 2004 and 2014.
Of these, just under 10% were children under the age of 16; almost 50% were aged 16-19 and just over 43% were in their early 20s.
Between 2004 and 2014, the annual number of stab wound victims in these age groups rose by 25% each year, with most cases (71%) coming from the areas of greatest deprivation.
To assess this in more detail, BMJ researchers compared injury patterns in children with those in 16-24-year-olds. Among children, stabbings were at a peak between 4-6pm, accounting for more than one in five injuries. This was compared with around one-in-10 in young adults.
Paul Vulliamy, Surgical Registrar at Barts Health NHS Trust and Clinical Lecturer at Queen Mary University of London’s Centre for Trauma Sciences, said: “We have demonstrated that there are age-specific epidemiological patterns of stabbings among young people, providing evidence for schools and children as specific targets for violence reduction strategies. We can reduce knife violence and unnecessary child deaths, but need long term evidence-based interventions in education, policing, the community and at home.”
When incidents were divided between those occurring on school days and those occurring on weekends/school holidays, the data revealed that children were more likely than teens or young adults to be stabbed on a school day.
On weekends and school holidays, the timing of stabbings in children matched those of young adults.
There were no obvious differences among the three age groups, but children tended to be more at risk of dying in hospital of their wounds, despite the comparable severity of their injuries, and the frequency of stab injuries rose significantly in the teenage years.
The researchers said: “It is clear that a multifaceted approach with sustained investment from government and the community is required for effective violence reduction.”
It was suggested that a visible police presence in areas where schoolchildren tend to congregate after school might be helpful in addressing violent incidents.
“Our study illustrates and reiterates the potent influence of deprivation, age, and gender on the risk of violent injury,” they went on.
“Long-term multiagency interventions are essential to drive sustained reductions in interpersonal violence and will be better informed by the recognition of knife crime as a pressing public health issue.”
As a result of the findings of this research, are calling for a police and community focus during the hours after school.
Karim Brohi, Consultant Trauma Surgeon at Barts Health NHS Trust, Professor of Trauma Sciences at Queen Mary University of London and Director of the London Trauma System, said: “This work shows that children and young people in London are at risk by simply due to where they live and go to school. A long-term multi-agency and community approach is needed if we are to change the culture of violence that now permeates deprive areas of London.
“Public Health approaches to violence, such as with this study, can show who is at risk and allow the community and police to respond effectively - such as through after school activities and targeted policing.”