Surgeon finds key to tackling UK’s knife crime crisis

How operating on coalminers helped Prof Jonathan Shepherd to find new crime-fighting tool

A leading surgeon has developed a crime-fighting tool that he believes could be the key to drastically reducing knife attacks, which have become a crisis in the UK.

The Home Office last week revealed that knife-attack rates in England and Wales were at a 10-year high, with more than 46,000 incidents in the past year.

London has been plagued with knife violence, recording more than 15,000 attacks.

Last Christmas in the city, Omani student Mohammed Al Araimi, 20, was murdered in a robbery outside the luxury Harrods department store in Knightsbridge.

Professor Jonathan Shepherd has spent decades developing a tool to help police, which uses anonymous data from injured people at accident and emergency departments of hospitals.

The initiative overseen by Prof Shepherd and published in the British Medical Journal on Thursday urges police forces across the world to work with hospitals and share what could be crucial data.

Known as the Cardiff Model, after the Welsh city where it was run as a pilot scheme, it involves hospitals sending the anonymous details of violent incidents, including times, locations and the weapons involved.

The project revealed that police were unaware of three quarters of incidents being dealt with by hospital staff.

The pioneering initiative resulted in crime being cut in Cardiff by 46 per cent, and it is now being used in countries around the world.

"This is a very important way to tackle knife crime," Prof Shepherd told The National.

“In many cases, knife crime is basically people who carry knives, and perhaps use them, who are involved in gangs or the drug trade, and they are more likely to have a criminal record and will rarely report incidents to the police.

“Due to their lifestyles they are very likely to get injured. They live by the knife and some people die by the knife.

"The likelihood is that they will get injured and go to A&E and will not tell the police.

“The police rely on this knowledge to take action but without the hospitals’ help, they would never know.

“The data has helped police to identify crime hotspots, adjust police patrols, put in CCTV and identify issues near schools and parks.”

The scheme was fully introduced in London in 2018 and has resulted in all 29 hospitals in the capital forwarding data to Scotland Yard.

“We have had incidents of drug dens being discovered near two London hospitals, which were only identified solely due to the hospital data,” Prof Shepherd added.

“In London, it is a great example, where all 29 hospitals have come together to help the police.

"It is continuing to improve and is a key tool in tackling the issue of knife crime.”

In April, a report from the Cardiff University Crime and Security Research Institute showed a 45 per cent drop in people treated at emergency departments after violent crimes in England and Wales since 2010.

The national cost of violence in the UK has fallen from an estimated £75bn ($97.6bn) in 2004-2005, to £44bn ($57bn) in 2015-2016.

Prof Shepherd’s brainchild was developed when he was working as a surgeon in the Yorkshire city of Wakefield during the miners’ strikes, after a colleague told him that assaults always increased during the protests.

It led him to research how many hospital incidents the police were aware of, resulting in previously unknown hotspot areas becoming safer.