U.K. School Kids Strap on Stab-Proof Vests

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U.K. School Kids Strap on Stab-Proof Vests

Postby GOSA » Wed, 2007-03-28 07:55


U.K. School Kids Strap on Stab-Proof Vests as Knife Crime Soars

By Nick Allen

March 22 (Bloomberg) -- Ashgar Jilow used to sell stab-proof vests to nightclub bouncers and security guards at his London military surplus store. Now his clients are kids as young as 10 who fear they're going to be knifed at school or on the street.

``Some of them are so tiny the vests don't even fit under their school uniforms,'' said Jilow, 55, who sells about three of the 120-pound ($230) vests a week. ``Parents don't know what to do to keep their kids safe.''

Every week in London 52 teenagers are victims of knife crime, according to the Metropolitan Police. A child is stabbed to death in Britain every two weeks and knife killings outnumber gun homicides three to one, said Norman Brennan, a police officer and director of the Victims of Crime Trust.

``Knife crime is out of control and kids carry them like fashion accessories,'' Brennan said. The youngest child to be suspended from school for brandishing a blade was just five.

Last week two teenagers were knifed to death in London. Adam Regis, 15, was attacked March 17 on his way home from the movies in Newham, an east London borough that is being regenerated by the 2012 Olympics. He called his girlfriend for help as he bled to death, police said.

Three days earlier, Kodjo Yenga, 16, was stabbed to death as a gang of boys and girls chanted ``Kill him, kill him'' in Hammersmith, west London, where homes sell for more than 1 million pounds, eyewitnesses said.

Gang Culture

Statistics indicate that more children are reaching for blades as gang culture spreads. Some 42 percent of boys aged between 11 and 16 in state-funded schools admit to having carried a knife, according to the Youth Justice Board, which oversees punishment of child offenders.

Natashia Jackman, then 15, was stabbed in the eye with a pair of scissors at Collingwood College in Camberley, Surrey, by a 14- year-old girl who didn't like her taste in music.

``I came from a private school,'' Natashia said in court, according to a transcript of her testimony. ``When I started realizing that there were gangs and when I realized that stabbing was common in state schools, then I started worrying about it.''

Her assailant was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in jail in December.

Some students have brought machetes, combat knives, swords and sharpened screwdrivers at school, police say. Girls have been caught with blades hidden in lipstick and mascara tubes.

Security Guards

``I wouldn't blame any parent for giving their child a stab vest if it makes them feel a bit more secure,'' said Nancy Odunewu, a pastor whose son Emmanuel, 19, was stabbed to death in Lewisham, southeast London, in November 2006. ``If I could have done anything to save my son then I would have.''

She said all schools should have security guards and airport- style metal detectors. George Mitchell School in Leyton, east London, became the first in the capital to use handheld metal detectors for random checks.

Juvenile knife crime first grabbed the public's attention in the U.K. when 10-year-old Damilola Taylor was fatally stabbed by other youngsters on his way home from school in Peckham, east London, in November 2000.

Prime Minister Tony Blair opened a community center named after Damilola in 2001. In February 2004, a 14-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of stabbing another teenager at the facility.

In 2004, 170 pupils between the ages of 12 and 14 were convicted of possessing knives, double the 2000 figure. Last year, one teacher was injured by a pupil every school day. In the 12 months to March 2006, knife crimes rose 73 percent, according to the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London.

Knife Amnesty

The report said the government's strategy for tackling knife crime was ``incoherent'' and criticized the lack of data. Home Secretary John Reid announced March 19 that, beginning in April, police will record knife crimes as a separate offense for a ``more detailed understanding'' of the problem.

The government's Violent Crime Reduction Act, passed last year, increases the maximum sentence for possession of a knife in a school or public place to four years from two and raises the minimum age for buying a knife to 18 from 16. An amnesty last year brought in more than 100,000 weapons.

Kids Company, a south London charity partly funded by the government, works to turn around the lives of violent children who have been expelled from school.

``At street level, children are getting killed,'' said Camila Batmanghelidjh, a psychotherapist who runs the program. ``They are sleeping with knives under their pillows because they don't feel safe.''

There's no doubt schools are getting more violent, said Jilow, whose military supply store has received 400 enquiries from parents about protective products.

``The 15- and 16-year-olds have started to ask for bullet- proof vests,'' he said. ``Some want it for protection, some as a status symbol. One group wanted to buy a gun. They wouldn't believe me when I said I didn't sell them.''
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