The Women Fighting Against The UK's Violent Crime Epidemic: Here Are Their Stories
Sixteen-year-olds openly carrying knives, frequent tit for tat between rival gangs and the constant sound of screams was a given in areas like Glasgow back in the early 2000s.
Although the UK government is quick to applaud Scotland's public health approach as a reason for drastically reducing knife crime - it's important to remember the many community members who have dedicated their lives to help achieve this goal.
In 2005, Strathclyde police set up a violence reduction unit (VRU) in an effort to address a problem that had made Glasgow, in particular, notorious.
There were 137 murders recorded in and around Glasgow in 2003 and knife crime involving young men was plastered on every newspaper - earning Scotland’s largest city the unenviable soubriquet “violence capital of Europe”.
Even a report by the United Nations described the country as being one the most violent countries in the developed world.
But by 2016/17 the number had more than halved to 62, according to data collected by the Justice Analytical services, and in 2018 this had reduced further to 59.
And while the unit rightfully deserves praise for taking a more humane and urgent approach to the epidemic that cuts the lives of Scotland's children short - it's worth noting that knife crime and gang coercion is still taking place even if it is at a lower rate.
The figures have reduced in-part because of the many contributions made by community leaders. The parents, siblings and friends who lost their loved ones to knife crime have turned a tragedy into something that can help their community.
They work day-in-day out in their local areas campaigning and sometimes doing it off the back of their own pockets.
Having lived in Scotland almost all my life - I've read the countless stories of women - mothers in particular - who have made it their mission in life to give back to others, provide a safe space for vulnerable teenagers and campaign against violent crime.
Women like Lynn Burns. Her son, Sam, was murdered in 2013 and died from a single stab wound to his chest. Lynn, who has previously described the loss of her son as a moment that changed her life forever, partnered with Crimestoppers, fearless.org and the No Knives Better Lives programme run by YouthLink Scotland, in support of their new youth crime initiative.
The partnership with the organisations was to encourage young people to speak up anonymously. She can frequently be heard speaking with local communities and recently with Justice Cabinet Secretary Humza Yousaf on how families of violent crime victims can be better supported.
But this isn't something new - women have been on the forefront of campaigns for decades.
More than 100 anti-knife crime campaigners marched through a South Lanarkshire town back in 2011 to commemorate George Mathieson, 22.
Mathieson was a tree surgeon, who was stabbed in an unprovoked attack in Cambuslang in November by Darren Smith, 20, a knife offender who was on early release from prison.
Mathieson's mother, Michelle, led the march.
And then you also have women like Khaleda Noon, who set up Intercultural Youth Scotland, an organisation that indirectly contributes to the mission of reducing violent crime and gang coercion by providing a safespace for youths living in Scotland. Intercultural Youth Scotland is a grassroots nonprofit, led by young people of colour.
The charity provides a culturally appropriate youth service, with an emphasis on fairness in employment, positive destinations and performing arts, all of which has a positive impact on young people’s mental health.
While it may not directly focus on combatting youth violence - the issue of knife crime and gang coercion can only be solved through a holistic and public health approach lens, according to the VRU, so organisations such as Noons' make considerable impact.
At Awallprintss - we've started a series highlighting the work of women that are fighting against the issue of violent crime across the UK. This is part one of our ongoing series - we're looking to continue highlighting and speaking to more women - particularly those from minority communities.
Theresa Cave - Mother of Chris Cave
On June 5th, 2003, Theresa Cave’s son, Chris Cave was stabbed to death and since then, Theresa and her son Tom, have fought tirelessly against not only knife crime, but gun crime too. Ms Cave founded the ‘Mothers Against Violence’ in 2005 to allow families to meet and feel supported through the tragic grieving process of losing a child to such violent circumstances.
Ms Cave lost her son after he went around to a friend’s house to watch a DVD after work. A gang of boys came to the door, but Christopher had asked them to leave which they did. However, 10 minutes later, they reappeared, but they were armed with a knife and they stabbed Christopher.
His mother was only 20 yards from the attack and managed to be beside her fatally wounded son as he took his last breaths. That was enough for Theresea to want change.
“When I started, I had nothing but a photograph of Christopher. I would knock on doors and knock on the Home Office doors trying to change laws, trying to change rules. I brought trauma counselling for children, it seemed like nothing at the time but it was something.” explains Ms Cave.
Whilst Ms Cave was working from home trying to spread the word of the dangers of knife crime, she took over a campaign called Point Seven from a friend who could no longer financially keep it going and built up her foundation from there.
Ms Cave said: “I [also] took over a programme called Point Seven from a friend of mine who was a police officer and I was working with him. After the funding went bust, he gave it to me. I have since extended it and made it my own. Now we have interaction sessions and I have been running it around the country now for 12 years.”
The pandemic has put a lot of stress on young people and once the restrictions were lifted, the number of young people being attacked by knives also rose in the UK too.
Ms Cave noticed this change and said: “The funding stopped, the youth centres closed and kids were put back on the corners. The kids’ self esteems had dropped and through Covid, everything was erupting online. They were like caged animals. They all started arguing online and when the restrictions were lifted, everyone had an enemy.”
The pandemic brought high rates of unemployment and redundancies, many of whom are still recovering from it and it is a well known factor that poverty often breeds violence. Three-quarters of London’s most violent boroughs are among the 10 most deprived areas, according to statistics.
There is hope, however, and Ms Cave wants those going through the same thing to understand that what they are going through is normal and there is indeed someone out there that can help.
“When you work together, you can move mountains. When you are talking about families and parents who have lost children, it is not just the grief that you need to look after, you need to look at rent issues and other financial factors among other things. We have links to everyone that can help. It is about bringing support and letting them know they are not alone and what they are feeling is natural.”
Her relentless campaigning has caught the attention of police forces and even Prime Minister David Cameron. A recent venture is the "stab packs", which proved a success back in 2019 when the charity said 1,500 packs were being handed out to be used to stem bleeding.
Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger also funded 500 of the packs, which contain gloves, bandages and antiseptic and cost £1.25.
But the pandemic has put a lot of stress on young people and once the restrictions were lifted, there was a fear among campaigners that some children had fallen through the gaps of social care and distanced themselves from organisations or youth work.
Ms Cave hopes that with more funding, and the ability to move around now that the restrictions have eased significantly, more can be done to spread awareness and speak out more about the danger of knife crime that has changed not only her life, but so many others too.
Julie Taylor - Grandmother Liam (Fish) Taylor
Liam Taylor was only 19 years old when he was stabbed to death outside a local village pub by three men.
The men that attacked him were around the same age as Liam and the attack was believed to be in retaliation for an event that took place later that evening. Liam died from multiple stab wounds at the scene and his friend needed medical attention after being stabbed in the leg.
Liam’s grandmother, Julie Taylor, was heartbroken as anyone would be after losing their grandchild in such a horrific way.
Mrs Taylor said: “When his mum called me to say he had been stabbed to death, she was screaming ‘He’s dead, he’s dead.’ At first, I thought she was drunk, I just could not understand. Then it hit me so hard. I could not believe that it was my grandson.”
Despite the vicious attack, which took place late January 2020, Liam had managed to drag himself into the Rose and Crown pub and medical personnel were called around 8pm. Sadly, Liam could not be saved and a post mortem examination revealed that Liam had died from a stab wound to the chest.
Despite the attack appearing in numerous papers and online sources at the time, Mrs Taylor felt that herself and Liam’s mum were not giving much support.
Mrs Taylor said: “Liam’s mum had a Victim Support worker round, but did not get any help - they just asked questions. I got help from bereaved mums, but she [Liam’s mum] does not speak to anyone about what happened. She cannot accept what happened so we just joke that he is on holiday.”
Mrs Taylor and the rest of Liam’s family have had no choice but to support each other and they often rely on others to feel comfort and support. However, Mrs Taylor had enough of others feeling down and decided to start The Liam Taylor’s Legacy.
Through the campaign, Mrs Taylor has had mums and others contact her seeking help and has been trained to pick up weapons and knives from places.
“I speak to parents, I have been to court to support a family, and I give support to anyone who needs it. I speak to youths about knife crime, county lines and gangs, amongst other things.”
It is also through this legacy that the determined, super gran started a life saving kit called The Bleed Kit. A kit which contains vital supplies to stem blood flow. The kits have been presented around the UK in supermarkets and outside nightclubs and pubs.
Mrs Taylor is also raising money to supply defibrillators to restart hearts to ensure a better chance of survival. She is fully aware of the power these kits have as she said:
“Through our Facebook page, people contact us all the time. Just the other day, a doorman called and asked if he could have a kit as he noticed that knife crime was becoming more frequent in his area.”
There has been a big push for the police to stop and search youths to ensure they are not carrying anything that can cause serious harm to not only others, but themselves too.
Mrs Taylor thinks that could be the best way forward: “My personal opinion is more police, more knife crime prevention is the best way. Stop and search knife spots as well as police talks to children in their first year of secondary school about gang life. Parents also need to search their children’s rooms and bags. They should also keep an eye on their mates. If they don’t like them, they should ban them from seeing these friends.”
Mrs Taylor continues to support those who need it through her Facebook site and routinely does marches throughout the UK.
“I am more than happy to travel, self-funded, and speak to anyone anywhere about Liam and knife crime. I have a deep passion to save others from growing through the nightmare we lived through.
Mrs Taylor will be doing an Easter fundraiser on Saturday, 6th March at St Andrew’s church hall on Melbourne Avenue. Her plan is to buy more bleed kits to go into local communities.