Knife crime

This month began with the fatal stabbing of a 15-year-old boy at a seaside party in Lancing. It has ended with a 22-year-old man being stabbed to death in a street in Brighton and a middle-aged man being knifed in Worthing.

Sixty years after Brighton Rock, a new generation of Pinkie Browns are on our streets.

Like Graham Greene's young monster, they seem addicted to violence.

Fatal stabbings may be relatively rare but they have increased nationally by nearly a fifth in the past ten years.

And while much attention focuses on gun crime, almost a third of homicides are caused by knives - three times the number caused by guns. In fact, knives are now involved in 150,000 violent crimes a year.

We cannot be complacent about the prevalence of knives in youth culture today. Two years ago a survey conducted for the Youth Justice Board found, disturbingly, that almost one in three young people in mainstream schools had carried a knife.

In the past year, offences of violence against the person and drug offences have increased in Sussex.

Violent crime is no longer confined to our city centres.

In my own rural constituency, in the once peaceful village of Storrington, a pregnant woman was mugged this month in daylight - punched in the stomach in front of her two-year old child.

The Government has been extraordinarily slow to react to mounting public concern over violent crime.

Last year it even opposed Conservative proposals to toughen sentences for carrying knives. Only recently has it relented.

But legislation is useless unless it is enforced. Research last year found that more than a quarter of shops stocking knives sell them illegally to children under 16. Yet on average only six people a year are sentenced for this crime.

Law enforcement requires police officers on our streets. When, in the Nineties, Mayor Giuliani and Commissioner Bill Bratton pioneered "zero tolerance" policing in New York City, and put far more cops on the streets, the city - once one of the most violent in the world - saw a 70 per cent reduction in homicides in just eight years.

The Government claims to have increased police numbers. So where are they? They are tied up with paperwork in police stations. Less than a fifth of a police officer's time is spent on the beat.

Meanwhile, patrolling is increasingly reliant on community support officers - and under Gordon Brown's stewardship as Chancellor the number of CSOs promised for Sussex has been cut back by 171.

When offenders are caught and convicted they should serve their sentence so that the public is protected and victims feel that justice has been done.

Yet this month 2,000 criminals were released early from prison onto the streets, including from our local jails - 17 from Ford and nine from Lewes.

Hundreds of violent offenders have been let out onto the streets, and some have immediately committed new crimes.

Recently we saw the appalling case of Sean Henry, a murderer jailed for kicking and beating a person to death, released early from prison and then shooting a shop manager in Horsham.

The Government's management of the penal system has become a national disgrace.

We need to address what is driving violence in society - and tackle it.

Gangs are recruiting ever younger children in their activities.

Family breakdown, a lack of male role models, failing schools and the increasing prevalence of drugs are all factors that enable a culture of violence to thrive and help to glamourise weapons.

David Cameron is right to argue that marriage and stable families must be actively supported.

And I agree with one chief constable who said recently that those who support violent criminals should be held responsible for their actions and yobs should be excluded from communities where they are causing trouble.

I know that mending our broken society can't be achieved by political gestures. But violence can be tackled.

What's needed is tough law enforcement, determined social action and real political leadership, as Mayor Giuliani showed in New York City, to make our streets safe again.

Michelle Taylor