Britain Struggles With Rise in Knife Attacks


Daniel Frederick, a 34-year-old father of three, was returning to his home on a London public-housing estate shortly after New Year’s when a group of teenagers stabbed him in the back seven times, yards from his flat near a children’s playground.

Mr. Frederick, a security guard, was targeted in a case of mistaken identity, police believe, but the assault was part of a crime trend that London’s mayor said this week would take a generation to solve: a surge in knife attacks in a country with relatively low levels of violent crime.

Mayor Sadiq Khan was speaking on Monday after a spate of four unrelated knife homicides in London in five days—the youngest victims were 15 and 17—put renewed focus on the national trend. A fifth knife killing followed that night.

With strict British laws making guns hard to obtain, knives have become the weapon of choice for members of London gangs, who youth workers say fight over territory and are prepared to kill over trivial slights. As stabbings become more frequent, more young people feel compelled to carry knives for their own protection, fueling a cycle of violence.

Mr. Frederick’s sister, Louise Samuel, was at the hospital with her brother when he died in January. The five assailants, all 16 to 18 years old, were sentenced last month to a total of 64 years in prison.

Ms. Samuel, a former youth worker, said she can understand the peer pressure that drove them. She has already forgiven the boys, she said, and would like to meet them, “Just to know why they are so angry.”

Mr. Khan has set up a special unit of police, youth workers and doctors to target the causes of violence, which he said were “extremely complex, involving deep-seated societal problems like poverty, social alienation, mental ill-health and a lack of opportunity.”

The British government last month established a £200 million ($261 million) fund intended to put children who are 10 to 14 years old and at risk of violence on the right track before they become perpetrators.

There is little consensus on why knife violence began increasing in 2014, after declining for years, and continues to grow. Some opposition lawmakers have blamed government cuts to police numbers, while those in power argue that changes in drug trafficking, such as the greater involvement of teenagers in the sale of drugs, is the key factor.

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