Anti-knife crime campaigners, including bereaved parents, have said they will continue to cause disruption until change takes place, with the movement likely to spread across Britain.
A demonstration dubbed #OperationShutdown saw supporters gather in Whitehall, central London, asking for a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee to tackle the surge in violent crime in recent years.
Moving from Downing Street, they marched to Westminster Bridge chanting and carrying placards bearing the images and names of knife crime victims, before shutting down the River Thames crossing for about an hour.
Grieving parents were among those at the demonstration on Wednesday, including one man, who only wanted to be named Drummer, whose 16-year-old son Ozell was stabbed to death in Birmingham in May last year.
“There is only so much disruption and shutdown that the country and Government are prepared to take before they realise that this issue is not going to go away,” he said.
He said that all politicians know about knives is “cutting onions”, and that the movement of #OperationShutdown will and needs to spread to other cities because “it is not a London problem”.
“This is not going away because knife crime is not going away,” he said of #OperationShutdown. “We can’t go away until knife crime goes away.”
Tracey Hanson, whose 21-year-old son Josh was stabbed at a bar in west London in 2015, was also at the demonstration, which was attended by campaigners from across the UK.
She said the group received a message of support from the office of London Mayor Sadiq Khan to say he “fully supports” what they were doing and commending them.
“That was a really heartfelt message and I took it on board and I am very grateful for that,” she said.
“Should we be here doing this? No, we should not, but we are and I hope we are going to make a change,” Ms Hanson added, saying that they all decided to come together about eight weeks ago.
She said the issue needs to be tackled at grassroots level across the country, with immediate cash injections given to communities, organisations and families which want to make a difference.
The group is also calling for an independent investigation into school exclusions, better rehabilitation of prisoners to stop them going on to kill, and for full jail terms to be served for murder and manslaughter.
Suzanne Hedges described to the crowds gathered on Whitehall how her son Ricky Hayden was fatally stabbed with a machete in September 2016.
Speaking to the Press Association, she said of knife crime: “It is not just inner cities now, it is spreading out, something has to be done. The Government need to get off their backsides, a Cobra meeting is needed to sort this out.”
Taking comfort in the bereaved families and friends standing together, Ms Hedges said they all felt the same emotions, adding that no matter what colour, religion or nationality, they “all feel the same pain”.
Gogglebox star Sandi Bogle said it takes everyone – police, teachers, and the community – to come together and demand change, adding: “The Government better be listening.
“Brexit has taken up too much time and money, and for what? Nothing has come out of it – but our kids are dying.”
The reality TV figure also asked where the celebrities that children “look up to” were, adding: “They need to start making a difference for these kids.
“They take their money – buying records and turning up to concerts – and yet they are not coming out to support what’s going on. Where are all the sports people? Open up a sports club for the kids – they have nothing to do.”
Some of the country’s most senior police officers have already said the highest levels of government need to come together to deal with the causes of violence.
Former National Police Chiefs’ Council chairwoman Sara Thornton said co-ordinating the response was a job for Number 10, while Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said all official bodies need to “step up” their efforts.
The Government has granted an extra £100 million for police in the areas worst affected by knife violence and has given officers beefed-up stop and search powers.
But plans to make police officers, teachers and nurses accountable for failing to spot the warning signs of violent crime were criticised.
Chairman of the Police Federation John Apter called the proposals “a bit of an insult”, while Royal College of Nursing acting chief executive and general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said it would put increased pressure on frontline staff.