|Edges is grateful to the Sunday Mirror
who have given Permission for us to publish this article.
THEY are barely out of their childhood... but on their streets, on their estate, even the youngest carry deadly blades. Strutting and swaggering around, they are a grim illustration of the knife culture that now threatens towns and cities across the country.
A 15-year-old brags that he's called Killer, a fancy-handled flick-knife in his palm. His 13-year-old brother grips a double-edged military dagger, with a small hand that not so long ago would have been holding a favourite toy. A 16-year-old wields a fearsome serrated blade, nine inches long, curved at the tip. "Like Rambo's", he smirks.
They're still kids. They ought to be into football and pop. But they lead daily lives governed - and blighted - by Britain's knife epidemic.
"Everyone I hang around with carries a shank," Killer says. "A shank, man - a knife.
You've got to. And if you want people to respect you and do as you want then you got to be ready to use it."
He's a slight, hunched figure in a grey hooded top, the kind of kid whose gangs haunt the corners of shopping parades everywhere. And it would be easy to dismiss his claims as just loudmouth adolescent boasting. But then self-styled 'Killer' adds a chilling, casual remark: "Getting caught with a knife is no big deal," he shrugs. "I've stabbed people with it - and look, nothing has happened to me. You can't walk around here with nothing at all on you."
He's from a generation growing up with the idea they are outside the law. That they can threaten and wound with impunity. That a knife is as much an everyday accessory as an iPod.
Killer and his mates roam the Blakenhall estate in Wolverhampton, but the epidemic has spread across countless neighbourhoods just like it. The last fortnight has seen a spate of brutal stabbings throughout Britain. At least six victims died - among them a student who intervened in a domestic row on a train, a pupil killed at the gates of his school and a father of three knifed on his way home from a community fun day.
Police and crime analysts warn that the toll is rising.
Killer and his mates, the W2 crew, have named themselves after the local postcode.
But it's especially ironic to find them on the streets of Blakenhall, of all places. Ten years ago they were all toddlers at St Luke's Primary School - the scene of a knife attack that shocked the nation.
On a summer's afternoon, paranoid schizophrenic Horrett Campbell ran amok with a machete among the nursery class at a teddy bear's picnic. Three children were seriously wounded. Only the heroism of their nurse Lisa Potts, who shielded the youngsters under her skirt and took the blows herself, prevented a massacre, for which she was awarded the George Cross.
It was a day of horrific brutality and shining courage. Which of those, you might ask despairingly, inspires the generation of Blakenhall's kids, years later? Killer's younger brother, the baby-faced Boy, expelled from two schools for violent behaviour, says: "All of us in W2 have got shanks. It's the way things are. They are easy to get hold of. People get them off the internet or car boot sales. You can buy a good one for a tenner. I know I can get away with it 'cos I'm only 13. Police can't do anything. I'm more frightened of getting beat up and stabbed than I am of the police."
And there's Street Soldier, 16, who claims he was "nearly killed, man" in a brawl with a rival gang. That was just as he was finishing his GCSEs. "They were all shotting (dealing drugs) up our ends (our patch) on purpose and we knew they wanted to kick off with us.We only shot weed and sometimes some rock (crack cocaine) but these guys were coming heavy with strictly class As. Most of them were older than us and a few of them came down a gym where we all hang out. They tried to grab one of my bros and a group of us were trying to stop them dragging him out. Lucky I had my Rambo knife with me. They were egging each other to jook (stab) me. I thought this was it. I just went mad and started waving my blade around but I got caught twice on the leg and on the back of my shoulder."
He has a selection of seven blades, he says. All sizes, all types. He'll even hire you one... just tell him what it's needed for.
Rhino, who turned 16 last week, takes his knife into school.Why? He looks at you like you know nothing. "Sometimes there are fights in there over weed deals," he says. "It was easy to walk into class with a knife. Other kids knew I carried one - that's what stops them telling. They know they have to leave school some time and that's when they are in trouble."
In another city, Derby, on another estate, the same circle of threat and violence is spreading wider. Carl, 18, keeps an eight-inch hunting knife in the pocket of his Adidas tracksuit bottoms, stroking it to remind himself it's there."All the stabbings just make me more determined to protect what is mine," he says. "Before I got myself this knife, I was robbed of enough things. I have it for my own protection."
He doesn't need any reminder of how lethal a blade can be. His friend Simeon Grignon, 26, a keen amateur footballer,was stabbed to death in the centre of town in January. "It just shows what can happen if you don't look after yourself," Carl says. "There are bad people out there, hundreds of them carrying knives."
Derbyshire police recorded 1,484 knife-related crimes in 2004 and 2005 and a week does not pass without reports of knife-point muggings. In Nottingham, just 10 miles down the road, three people were stabbed last weekend alone. The police are holding a knife amnesty and 500 weapons were handed over in its first week.
But Carl will not be adding his blade to the pile. "That would be like asking for trouble," he says. "You leave yourself a target. This is like warfare, and it goes on every day."
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