Reformed drug dealer's warning after Preston knife crime doubles

Stephen Mellor
Stephen Mellor
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Knife crime in Preston is on the rise, with no simple answers in sight.

Preston now ranks among the worst places in England and Wales for knife crime, with 11.9 assaults, robberies, threats to kill, murder, attempted murders and sexual offences involving a knife or sharp instrument recorded per 10,000 people in 2018 - a rise of 70 per cent from 2016.

Jon-Jo Hightons mum Tracey at her sons graveside

Jon-Jo Hightons mum Tracey at her sons graveside

This compares to 2.4 serious knife crimes per 10,000 people in Wyre and 2.7 per 10,000 people in Fylde.

In Blackpool, the figures stands at 14.3 offences per 10,000 people.

Across Lancashire, the figures show knife crime has doubled in five years, rising from 455 offences in 2014, to 981 in 2018.

Figures obtained by the BBC revealed that, across England and Wales, almost half of all suspects in serious knife crime offences last year were aged 24 and under.

People aged 18 to 34 were the most likely to be victims of knife offences, while suspects were mostly the same age or younger.

More than 3,000 suspects last year were under 18.

Preston man Stephen Mellor has seen the situation from several sides.

At 17 he started dealing ecstasy then heroin, undercutting other dealers.

Less than a year later he was behind bars for rival heroin dealer John Dookie’s murder.

In prison Stephen learned to read and write, and obtained several qualifications, including an Open University degree as a sports psychologist, diplomas in sports nutrition and sports science, and NVQs in engineering and personal training.

He got parole after 14-and-a-half years.

Since his release in 2011 he has been passionate about steering other young people away from following a similar path and has worked with young people as a support tutor.

Earlier this year he set up the Yooof Zone on Lune Street in a bid to try to steer other young people away from the path he chose as a teenager.

He said: “I believe we will continue to see a sharp increase in knife crime in our city until the funding and hours are put in to the right place by the right people.

“Time and time again we see the youth culture being let down by the people who should be doing all they can to help and support them.

“I now work in schools delivering workshops and mentoring on a one-to-one basis.

“It’s unfortunate that it matters what postcode you live in now - carrying a knife can just be down to a little fact as that.

“It’s obvious they do not feel safe going out in their area so therefore carry a weapon.

“There is help out there, but for these kids to access it they need to go out of their ‘areas’ and have trust in the services.

“This is why Yooof Zone is unique as we are not an authority, but a safe place to try and guide these kids back onto the right path and excel. We as a city need to support charities like this, as now it’s on our doorsteps and will no doubt escalate.”

Dave Blacker MBE, works with young people at Blackpool Boys and Girls Club to combat antisocial behaviour in the resort.

The children there recently produced two anti-knife crime posters with the help of Lancashire Police and Blackpool Council.

Dave said: “We have been working hard over the past 12 months on improving relationships between police and young people. We have had visits from the hate crime officer, because we have members of different nationalities at the club, we have had visits from the dog handlers and we have had regular visits from PCSOs asking them what their concerns are.”

In an effort to support the club’s anti-knife crime campaign, Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw paid the children a visit on Friday to discuss the issue.

Their posters will be sent to local schools to be put on display.

National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Knife Crime, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Duncan Ball, said: “Bringing violence down is a police priority. For the second time this year, Operation Sceptre will bring together all police forces in England and Wales in a coordinated effort to tackle knife crime.

“This week of intensification will see intelligence led stop and search, weapons sweeps and community engagement. Officers will carry out test purchasing operations to see if retailers are selling knives to those under the age of eighteen.

“Preventing young people from carrying knives is not something police forces can do alone. Early intervention to steer young people away from violence and action to tackle the root causes are crucial.”

Mother of murder victim calls for more education in primary schools

Tracey Highton’s life was torn apart when her 18-year-old son Jon-Jo Highton was murdered in the street in August 2014.

He suffered a lethal wound to the neck caused by a blade, and had also sustained several other wounds to his face and body.

Several men are serving lengthy jail terms for their role in his brutal death.

Now her other son, Byron, works for Manchester-based charity the Safety Guide Foundation, which goes into schools and educates children about the dangers of carrying knives.

“It’s so sad they’re having to go into primary schools, but its as important as English and maths because it’s that serious,” said Tracey.

“I think it’s very important these people go round schools. I’m really proud of him. Some kids have even handed knives in after listening to him.

“There are several issues.

“There’s not enough police. There’s no discipline for kids so they’re growing up with no boundaries.

“They’re not scared of authority.

“Most of all there’s little deterrent.

“When I was a child I was playing games in the street. If I had to come in a 5pm for my tea I did it.

“Our experience never goes away, and I have to push those thoughts away.

“I wouldn’t wish my pain on anyone.

“We are at the point where something more needs to be done.”

What the police say

Police in Lancashire they have a “zero tolerance” approach to tackling knife crimes.

A forces spokesman said: “We are continuing to raise awareness of the dangers of carrying a knife among children and young people, regularly visiting schools to talk to students about the dangers of carrying a knife. We have a zero-tolerance policy towards knife possession, and anyone who is found to be in possession of a knife could face up to five years in prison. Selling a knife to or buying a knife for anyone under the age of 18 is a criminal offence and we work closely with our partners at trading standards to educate retailers.

“Nationally, young people who end up in hospital with a knife injury have usually been stabbed with their own knife – carrying a knife puts you at risk. You don’t have to use the knife to get a criminal record – just being in possession of a blade in public is illegal. We regularly take part in weeks of action including national knife surrenders but this is not just a police issue and we continue to work closely with partners to educate people on the dangers of carrying a knife as it could have tragic consequences.”

Doubled in just 5 years

Knife crime in Lancashire has doubled in five years, rising from 455 offences in 2014 to 981 in 2018.

Preston also ranks among the worst places in England and Wales for serious knife crime, with 11.9 crimes per 10,000 people recorded in 2018.

In Lancaster there were 5.8 knife crimes per 10,000 people.

In West Lancashire there were 5.7, in Chorley there were 4.7, and in South Ribble there were four.

The safest areas, with less than one crime per 10,000 people, include Monmouthshire in Wales (0.5), Uttlesford (0.7), East Cambridgeshire (0.9), and Breckford (0.9). Places with less than two recorded serious knife crimes per 10,000 people include Cornwall, Devon and Dartmoor, East and Mid Devon, Dorset, Caerphilly, South Cambridgeshire, North East Derbyshire, the Derbyshire Dales, North Kesteven, Norwich and the Isle of Anglesey.