…we were both saddened by yet another knife crime incident filling the headlines

By 2nd May 2024 No Comments

Yesterday I had my usual, early morning telephone call with my friend and long-term colleague Jason Morgan, the CEO of Charlton Athletic Community Trust (CACT). Jason calls me from his car on his commute in to work from home in Abridge, Essex.

Usually, we talk through all things Charlton Athletic and about the day ahead, meetings we are having, ongoing projects etc. Yesterday morning though we were both saddened by yet another knife crime incident filling the headlines in the newspapers. This time in Hainault, East London, somewhere Jason knows well.

A man armed with a massive sword went on a rampage, tragically killing a 14-year-old boy and seriously injuring four other people, including two police officers. This, plus the fact that, according to Home Office data, at least 14,577 knife crime offences were recorded in the year to December – a rise of 20 per cent on the previous year – prompted Jason and I to be in an extremely reflective mood yesterday morning.

Back in May 2008, Jason and I were informed of the tragic murder of young Charlton fan and talented actor, Rob Knox. Rob who had just finished filming ‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’ was attacked and murdered in a pub in Sidcup. I was Commercial Director of Charlton Athletic back then and, as I do again now, I worked closely with Jason and his colleagues at CACT.

Jason and I knew that we had to try and do something to use the power of football to combat the scourge of knife crime, especially as Rob’s tragic murder had brought this issue remarkably close to home. After holding meetings with senior police officers, MP’s, Councillors, social workers and with the full support of the Knox family; Jason and I formally launched a campaign called ‘Street Violence Ruins Lives’ (SVRL), football’s first anti-knife crime programme, at Charlton’s ‘live’ Sky TV match with Reading at The Valley, which was attended by then Government Minister Tony McNulty MP.

We followed this up with a CACT fundraising Dinner to raise awareness of SVRL and to highlight just how important programmes such as this can be to address knife crime. At this Dinner, which was attended by then Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson; Rob’s father Colin Knox announced our call to introduce a minimum 6-month custodial sentence for anyone found carrying a knife.

Charlton Athletic’s ‘Street Violence Ruins Lives’ campaign, which is now an important part of CACT’s award-winning ‘Early Help and Prevention’ programme, delivers diversionary work in estate-based settings and crime hotspots and we are both immensely proud of ‘SVRL’ and of what it has achieved and what it continues to achieve. However, yesterday morning Jason and I couldn’t help thinking that, 16 years on and despite evidence of the success of our programmes and indeed of other club’s work in this area, and after years of receiving ‘pats on the back’ platitudes of support from Government and The FA; there is still no nationally co-ordinated, and funded programme of Youth Engagement to utilise the reach and influence of professional football to tackle youth knife crime – and no sign of deterrents such as the one we called for back in 2008 of minimum 6 month custodial sentences being introduced.

I have been in football 36 years – I am currently back involved with Charlton Athletic using my experience where I can, to help the club’s commercial operation – but without doubt creating SVRL with Jason and seeing the splendid work it continues to do, is one of my proudest achievements.

It’s just sad that yesterday morning Jason and I both felt a sense of frustration and it has to be said, weariness at the situation and we both reflected on just what might have been achieved if, instead of nice words, our strategy and our call for custodial action had been fully embraced by the authorities.

More information on CACT’s ‘Street Violence Ruins Lives’ campaign can be found here….