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Inside Track Focus

Scotland’s knife culture

also hurt two or three others with an axe or a machete,” William recalled. “It’s terrible. I hit one guy seven times

on the head with an axe on a Friday night. Tankfully, the axe wasn’t sharp as it would probably have killed him. I ended up going to jail for it. “Me and the guy just didn’t like each other.

Ross Reid Justice Correspondent

Scotland’s knife crime epidemic continues to cut deep into the national psyche

At an office in one of Glasgow’s most

deprived and notorious housing estates, an ambitious 28-year-old describes his determination to help some of the country’s most vulnerable children. But William is only too aware of the

difficulties in diverting local youngsters from the devastating gang and knife culture that has blighted so many Scottish communities. It is a scourge he is, unfortunately, very familiar with. A gang member at the age of 12, William

started carrying knives soon after and is aware, more than most, of Scotland’s knife- crime epidemic. In his transformation, he is now using

his experiences to try and warn another generation of the dangers of violence. “When I was a kid in Easterhouse, carrying

a knife made you seem like the ‘big man’, all your pals had a knife so it was just normal,” he said. “I started carrying knives when I was about

14 – I used to think it was cool and liked looking at the different shapes of knives. “People say folk carry a knife for protection

– I don’t think I ever took out a knife thinking ‘I’m protecting myself ’. If I was taking a knife out, I was taking it out to do something. I wouldn’t listen to anyone when I was younger and just wanted to inflict damage on people I didn’t like.” Bearing a series of deep scars across his face,

he has been both an attacker and a victim – his story is depressingly dark, but all too common in communities across Scotland. “I’ve stabbed two people in my life but I’ve

14 Holyrood 28 March 2011

He tried to hit my mate with a machete and my pals caught him and I had an axe on me that night so I just pulled it out and didn’t think anything about it. “I really didn’t think about taking weapons

out with me. I probably did it to look big in front of my mates or to show off to the local girls. I’m totally embarrassed and ashamed now, it’s so stupid but at the time, I didn’t care.” He is now at college and a trainee youth

worker at Family Action in Rogerfield and Easterhouse (Fare), a highly successful community group that amongst many services tackles territorialism and related violence.

“If I could say sorry to various individuals that

I attacked or stabbed then I would”

William added: “I feel terrible now. If I could

say sorry to various individuals that I attacked or stabbed then I would. But they wouldn’t want to see me. Justice has been done on me. I’ve done my time in jail. Of course I regret it but I can’t apologise to someone that doesn’t want to hear that from me. “All I can do now is try my best to help kids

realise how stupid and dangerous the whole thing is.” Scotland’s appalling reputation for knife

crime is notorious – a previous World Health Organisation report revealed that Scotland has one of the highest rates of violent crime in Europe. Some inroads have been made in recent

years, the number of people killed by knives nationally is reportedly down 39 per cent in the last year. Across the country, the number of people caught carrying an offensive weapon in Scotland is down to its lowest level in a decade. But last year there were still 7042 cases

where people were caught with weapons, most commonly knives.

A number of teenagers have been killed

already this year – and the signs of overall improvement will do little to ease the pain of the relatives of victims whose names join the list of those who have died at the point of a weapon. While Scotland’s shameful knife-crime culture is indeed a national scandal – it is more confined to areas in the west of the country. Just last month, stark new statistics released

by Strathclyde Police show that 36 of the 55 murders in the force area between 1 April 2010 and February 2011 involved knives. Tere are a myriad of reasons behind knife

carrying – inequality, poverty, alcohol and drugs, dysfunctional families and a lack of education are just some. In the west coast, a regular source of trouble is a bitter and violent gang culture. Despairingly, it seems there is no dispute

between many of them other than that they live on different streets – poor teenagers fighting other poor teenagers. William was one of many young kids to

get caught up in gang culture. He grew up in Easterhouse, the sprawling housing estate in the east end of Glasgow, where the average life expectancy is 66 – more than ten years below the UK national average. “When I look back it’s quite frightening

now, but growing up in that lifestyle it didn’t bother me at all,” he said. “I got caught up in it all because my brother

was involved in drugs and in gangs and I used to look up to him. When I was growing up we thought everything around was boring and we basically just wanted to do things to get a laugh. “I wasn’t an active person and didn’t get into

the football – so I just got into gang fighting. “When we were kids, we used to call the

police and stand somewhere just so they would come and chase us. It was just something to do – that was our idea of fun.” His offending led to several spells in prison,

but it was not the threat of being behind bars that led to his eventual transformation. He added: “It was when I got badly attacked

myself that I wanted to stop. I went down to a rival area to see my ex-girlfriend and a load of boys I used to hang out with ended up catching me. Tey slashed me in the face and punctured my lung. Tey just left me there. It took me about 40 minutes to walk up the road and phone an ambulance. “I was so full of drugs, I didn’t really know what was going on.

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