Special report: Cleveland Police battle second highest knife crime rate in UK

The area covered by Cleveland Police was the second worst place in the UK for knife crime in the year ending March 2021.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the force area experienced more crimes involving bladed weapons proportionate to the population than Greater Manchester Police and London's Metropolitan Police.

Between April 2020 and March 2021, 122 incidents of knife crime were recorded per 100,000 of the population.

Only West Midlands Police recorded more at 156.

ITV News Tyne Tees was invited to join Cleveland Police on patrol to discover why knife crime has become so pervasive, what's being done to prevent it, and how it affects those left behind.

Policing knife crime

Sergeant Michael Forster is part of Cleveland Police's knife crime unit.

In line with the statistics, Sgt Forster says he has borne witness to knife crime becoming commonplace in the area.

But the frequency of such incidents does not make them any easier to prevent or less shocking to attend to.

"It happens regularly," he told us. "When you turn up to a stabbing, it's probably one of the worst jobs you can turn up to. Quite often people have extensive injuries.

Some may argue that it was perhaps always likely that knife crime levels would be high in Cleveland.

Cleveland Police cover a relatively small and largely urban area, and different forces record knife crime incidents in different ways.

But Cleveland Police bosses acknowledge there is an issue with knife crime and have identified some of the causes.

"We are aware that knife crime is an issue here and there is no point pretending that it isn't," said Detective Chief Inspector Steve Chatterton.

"Cleveland is a complex area to police. There's high unemployment and it's quite a deprived area in pockets as well.

Treating knife crime

Victims of knife crime in the force area with serious injuries are invariably taken to the major trauma centre in Middlesbrough's James Cook University Hospital.

Surgeons there say they are being presented with stab wounds frequently.

"Numbers equate to roughly one every three days - and that's somebody being assaulted with a knife, this is not accidental," said Barney Green, surgeon at James Cook University Hospital.

Living with the consequences of knife crime

On Monday 17 February 2020, 18-year-old Taylor Black was found dead at a house in Stockton.

The Northumbria University student - who dreamed of one day becoming a journalist - had been stabbed more than 60 times.

Cleveland Police warn of dangers of carrying knives after three teenagers stabbed within a week

"I know everybody says that their children are perfect, but Taylor was - absolutely," his mother Lindsey Allison said.

Lindsey understands the impact of knife crime on a family perhaps better than anyone.

Her brother Nicky committed suicide upon learning the details of his nephew's death.

"He couldn't deal with how he passed," Lindsey continued.

"It doesn't just destroy the person that's passed. It destroys the family, literally the whole family and probably their family too."

Rachel Bullock: My night with Cleveland Police’s knife crime unit

Around 560,000 people live in the Cleveland Police area and I’m one of them.

It’s why I was struck by knife crime figures which appear to bear no semblance to the place I call home; not once have I or anyone I know been threatened or confronted with a knife.

Never have my children ever heard of another child taking a blade into school. I’ve never been unfortunate enough to witness a knife point robbery. It’s why I was so keen to investigate where these figures which place Cleveland above London and Manchester for knife crime rate.

Riding along on the frontline with Cleveland Police showed me a whole new perspective. Sergeant Michael Forster looked with professional eyes at situations I viewed as fairly innocent.

A man standing on a street corner with a holdall; two young men who started walking quickly away when they saw our marked police van – all stopped and searched.

Other people also stopped for various different reasons slowly built a night shift which revealed just how easily deadly weapons can be hidden from view.

 This report also led me to meet Lindsey Allison, the mother of Taylor Black who was stabbed to death in a house on one of the Stockton streets we patrolled that night.

Lindsey’s loss is indescribable. Unbearable. Her precious boy’s life taken in just seconds. The other frontline of knife crime.

I came away from the experience with two lasting thoughts: the first is the relief that I’ve never encountered knife violence. Its sudden, vicious nature taking life so quickly whether intended or not.

Secondly, a renewed respect and admiration for the police officers who face this threat every night. Officers who work so hard to protect the public. I truly hope Cleveland wins its war against knife crime, my time with the unit means I can genuinely say it’s not for the want of trying.