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Curse of knife crime and the 'madness of history repeating'

A 16-year-old boy stabbed to death in a suspected gang fight brings the death toll of young knife victims in London this year to ten.

In his own words, Chief Superintendent John Sutherland, the former Borough Commander for Southwark, describes why he cannot stand by "as the madness of history continues to repeat itself".

Chief Superintendent John Sutherland

It may not be on the front page of every newspaper, but there are children dying on the streets of London. Victims of the curse of knife crime.

Flowers at the scene of the stabbing of 16-year-old Kodjo Yenga Credit: PA

In 2007, I stood at the scene of the murder of Kodjo Yenga and watched as his family wept.

Kodjo Yenga Credit: PA

It happened in a quiet residential street in an otherwise unremarkable part of West London. The weapon used was a knife.

Flowers at the scene of the stabbing of Ben Kinsella Credit: PA

In 2008, I stood with the congregation at the funeral of Ben Kinsella. He had been enjoying a night out with friends when he was brutally attacked by strangers. The weapon used was a knife.

Ben Kinsella Credit: PA

And in the days immediately following his death, I had sat with his dad and sister in the quietness of my office and tried to find the words to say.

In 2011, I stood at the scene of the murder of Milad Golmakani: a children’s playground next to some flats in a corner of North London. The weapon used was a knife.

Milad Golmakani Credit: PA

In 2012, I stood at the scene of the murder of Dogan Ismael: a first floor walkway in a South London Estate.

A few feet from where he fell, a collection of flowers was resting against a wall – placed in memory of another young man murdered in exactly the same place just a few weeks before.

In both cases, the weapon used was a knife.

And I cannot stand by as the madness of history continues to repeat itself. No parent should ever have to bury their child.

The immensely sad privilege of policing is to be first on scene; to be the first shoulder for a family; to lead the hunt for those responsible; to seek justice on behalf of those no longer able to seek it for themselves.

And to speak up about what it all might mean.

I do so now not just a police officer – but as a Londoner and a Dad. This extraordinary city is my home – and these lost children were growing up alongside my own.

We need to have a conversation about Stop & Search.

I mean a proper, grown up conversation – free of mischief, ignorance and misunderstanding. I know it’s a controversial topic – one that has stirred up any amount of criticism of the police – but I also know what I have seen during more than two decades at or close to the front line of policing:

Stop & Search saves lives.

It’s as simple as that.

We, the police, have an absolute responsibility to use the power professionally – and never lightly – but, dear God, we have a responsibility to use it.

Because, if not us, then who?

Who will confront the men of violence?

And what is it that those who advocate for a reduction in the use of Stop & Search are suggesting as an alternative?

An anonymous police officer posted this stark challenge on Twitter last week:

‘Would you rather we had our hands in your kids’ pockets – or in their chest cavities?’

We need an answer to that urgent question.

Then we need to understand that, having used the power well, Stop & Search is not the long term solution to Knife Crime. It is simply the means of stemming the flow.

As others have suggested before me, this is not a problem we are going to arrest our way out of. The reality is that it’s a ‘whole society’ problem – one that demands a ‘whole society’ solution.

And, unequivocally, it begins at home. With the absence of good fathers and the presence of domestic violence; with the absence of a safe family environment and the presence of alcohol and drug misuse; with the absence of positive adult role models and the presence of malevolent ones; with the absence of hope and the presence of undiagnosed mental health conditions…

These are not simple things and, barring miracles, they are not going to be resolved overnight – or in anything close to the kind of short-term timescales demanded by this impatient world of ours.

There are some remarkable families out there who have lived through these realities – and some amazing practitioners, charities and community organisations who know and understand what they’re doing. We need to listen to them; we need to have the courage of our convictions – and we need to invest heavily in the things that actually work.

We need to do this in the knowledge that we may not see the full fruits of our labours for 10, 20 or even 30 years. We need to do these things because they are the right things to do.

The alternative is unthinkable.

God help us.

The views of John Sutherland do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News.