Surrender a knife, not your life.
Experts from the county’s armed police, coroner’s office and paramedics joined Judge Jamie Tabor, QC who compared the event and Judge Michael Cullum, QC, who presided over the trial, together with family and friends of victims, who have been directly affected by knife crime. Educating the young about the dangers of carrying a knife, the consequences of potentially horrific outcomes and what the law advocates were all covered in a compelling programme that was as emotional as it was powerful.
The late afternoon session began with the sentencing of 16-year-old William Steele*, a youngster who had done well in his GCSEs and could have gone on to enjoy a bright future. The fact that he was responsible for the stabbing of a fellow student meant he was facing a substantial sentence behind bars and a very different future. It didn’t matter to the judge that Steele was responsible for the care of his partially disabled mother, or that he was the oldest of three children. It also didn’t matter to the judge that Steele was young, hadn’t been in trouble before, and that the victim of his crime had been threatening him. It didn’t matter that Steele carried the knife, with no intention of using it, because he was frightened of someone. It didn’t matter that the victim had goaded him. William Steele was found guilty of a criminal act and the judge had no choice but to send him to prison.
When Steele was ‘taken down’ to begin his three-year incarceration, the courtroom heard a 999 call following a fatal stabbing. It was a chilling few minutes to hear how operators deal with violent assaults. More hard-hitting evidence was presented when CCTV footage of the unprovoked stabbing of two young victims was played. One of the victims did not survive the single stab wound to his heart. He was found lying injured in the car park by his sister who had narrowly missed the perpetrators of the horrific violent attack. He died later in hospital. He was just 20 years old.
Following the CCTV footage, an armed response officer described some of the violent crimes he has attended. He told the courtroom how terrifying it would be to have five armed officers pointing guns at you because you’ve committed a serious assault. Armed officers don’t want to shoot, but they have firearms for a reason…
Rapid response paramedics work alone, without stab vests and are just as exposed to violent incidents as all other emergency services. They are haunted by what they’ve seen and experienced and are deeply affected by the violent assaults they attend. Equally, those working in the coroner’s office, surrounded by death, find it incomprehensible that people inflict the injuries on others that they do. “Bodies are fragile,” said the representative.
Working in the emergency services makes it extremely difficult to share your daily experiences with family and friends. The stench of blood never leaves those carrying out their roles as front-line staff and the trauma is long-lasting. These jobs are the real-life stuff of nightmares.
Next to speak was the perpetrator of two knife crimes who served considerable time in prison. He explained to the courtroom that he was: “Probably the most embarrassed person in the room,” as he told his own story of violent assaults he carried out following a night of arguing and drinking. It cost him everything he had.
“Wise up,” were the words used by a victim’s best friend, who described what it was like to lose someone he considered ‘family’. His words were a poignant reminder of just how much the family and friends of victims suffer following violent crimes involving knives. He was echoed by Nick Gazzard, who stood in the same witness box in Court 1, when he spoke at the trial of Hollie’s murderer just two years ago. For all family and friends affected by knife crime, the devastation is absolute and the loss incomprehensible.
Gloucester Crown Court has a simple message for all those who carry knives, and all those who use them: the law will deal harshly with perpetrators of knife crime. It may have been a ‘mock’ court, but the stories behind violent crime couldn’t have been more real.
*Some names are fictional.