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PCC welcomes Policing Minister to Bedfordshire for first event outside London to discuss tackling serious violence
Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Kathryn Holloway, welcomed the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, Nick Hurd, to discuss the issue of gangs, guns and knife crime in the county at the Home Office’s first Serious Violence event outside the capital.

The PCC and Minister also chaired a roundtable discussion to hear directly from victims who have lost loved ones, as well as from former gang members.

Over 125 people attended the conference in Luton (Thursday 25 October), arranged by the Home Office with the help of the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Bedfordshire. Colleagues from Community Safety Partnerships including police, health, education, social services and youth offending services were among those who attended along with representatives of communities in violence hotspots around the county, since Bedfordshire is currently ranked fifth in England for the number of knife offences from 2017 to 2018. The delegates were invited to share their experiences and brainstorm ideas on how to tackle the growing national issue of serious violence,  

“It was important to me that the Minister heard for himself how far we have come in recognising the problem and agreeing to work together to tackle a threat which is taking the lives of our young people. When I came into this role, just over two years ago, there were local authorities and services working with young offenders who refused to even use the word ‘gang’. I paid for a neutral, third party specialist team from the Home Office, led by an acclaimed detective, to draw together all known information within policing, youth offending, local authorities and others about gang membership and knife carrying to cut across politics. We have three different unitary councils in Bedfordshire, all a different shade of the political spectrum, but nobody can now deny they have a problem as they’ve seen the evidence.

“We are working on a strategy around these issues as a result but there’s absolutely no excuse where saving young lives is concerned; this is now not just about joint working but properly joined up working, including with health as other areas like Manchester and Glasgow have rightly seen this as a public health issue and made health the lead, not police. This is one we cannot arrest ourselves out of!” said Commissioner Holloway.

During the Minister’s visit, the PCC accompanied him to the Lewsey Farm Learning Trust where Amanda Foster runs ‘Right Time to Shine’, which works with young people at risk of becoming involved in criminality, particularly gun and knife crime. Amanda, a social worker for more than ten years, founded the organisation following the fatal shooting of her husband in Luton in April 2013 and attended the round table event before the visit to share her story with the Minister and the audience. The ‘Right Time to Shine” youth service is funded by the Commissioner.

The Minister of State for Police and the Fire Service, Nick Hurd, said: “It was highly encouraging to see so many professionals and inspirational voluntary sector leaders at the Serious Violence Engagement Event.

“The Government is committed to tackling violent crime through our Serious Violence Strategy, which promotes real, long term change combining robust law enforcement and early intervention.

“As exemplified in Bedfordshire, the key to success is effective leadership at all levels and multi-agency working. We all have a responsibility to bring about real change and we are committed to supporting communities who are protecting children from being drawn into a life of violent crime.”

“I was honoured to meet Minister Nick Hurd at the Serious Violence Strategy event, where we discussed possible ways of tackling serious crime to save the lives of young people. It was refreshing to see how genuinely concerned he is about this issue and the way he approached and interacted with the young people that he met at the centre was simply amazing. The fact that he took time out of his busy schedule to talk with the young people shows his determination to address this very serious matter. Moving forward, I believe that is extremely important for grassroots, statutory and voluntary organisations to continue to work together to support, provide and identify any gaps in services for young people,” said Amanda Foster, Founder of Right Time to Shine.

During the conference, attendees heard from the Minister, Nick Hurd, who set out the Government’s approach to tackling serious violence, Bedfordshire’s Chief Constable, Jon Boutcher, gave the local serious violence statistics and Assistant Chief Constable, Dr Jackie Sebire, outlined the national picture showing Bedfordshire as one of the most seriously affected areas for knife and gun crime in the country.

Detective Chief Superintendent Mark Lay explained the issues around drugs and the links to serious youth violence. Detective Inspector Mark Pugh, along with Samantha Berry, the operational manager for Luton Youth Services, discussed the continued need for a multi-agency approach to gang issues in the county. 

Detective Chief Superintendent Mark Lay, Head of Intelligence and Serious Organised Crime for Bedfordshire Police and the lead within the NPCC & NCA Drug Threat portfolios for the UK Drugs retail market, said: “The event was a great opportunity to give an insight into the current work being undertaken by Bedfordshire Police and partners to truly understand drug dependency and consumption in Bedfordshire and the extensive demand drug usage places on all agencies. There is an increase in use of drugs and subsequently, an increase in the profitability of the drugs market. Drug dealing is the core activity of gangs and in particular county lines. We need to look to solve the longer term issues and reduce the overall demand.

“It is not something we can deal with alone, we need the full support of everybody involved in law enforcement and just as importantly partner agencies to stem, tackle and dismantle serious violence in Bedfordshire.”

“What mattered to me is that both professionals working in the field of youth offending and members of the communities which have been most affected came up to me afterwards to say this event was a game changer. There was a huge amount of energy and goodwill to get together to beat this threat and get the message across to our children that carrying a knife and getting involved in gangs is a mug’s game which will either ruin or end their lives. I am hugely grateful to every single person who came and contributed to it,” said PCC Holloway.