Ex-knife crime convict
seeks to stop others

Hanif Mohammed, who now works with youngsters, was given a job after a five-year jail sentence

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At the age of 24 Hanif Mohammed killed someone with a knife in what he candidly describes as a “horrific” stabbing in the Yorkshire town of Todmorden. Eleven years later he is fast becoming the media’s go-to expert on knife crime and has engaged with over 20,000 troubled youngsters about the dangers of carrying a knife.

“I understand why it’s becoming the norm in some areas for youths to do this,” he said. “I can look back on my own experience and see exactly how it happened. A young man walking around certain places is going to feel like he’s missing a trick if he’s not carrying a knife when it seems like everyone else has one.”

Hanif is assistant director of Sheffield-based In2change, which targets young people in disadvantaged areas as well as prisoners and ex-offenders. He met In2change’s founder Brian Wreakes while doing a 10-year jail sentence for manslaughter and was offered a job in the organisation when released on licence after serving five years.

Social deprivation

Hanif’s unique insight into the causes of knife crime is much in demand. In 2017 Sheffield experienced England’s second-highest increase in violent crime after London, with over 2,300 recorded incidents. Last May there were five knife-related killings in the city in just 13 days. The fortnight prior to Hanif talking to Big Issue North saw three non-fatal stabbings.

“I lived outside the law when I was young and I can see a correlation between social deprivation, school exclusions and long-term offending,” he said. “Unfortunately that was my background. At the age of 13 I was excluded from school, I rebelled, grew up lacking self-belief and realising being violent or displaying aggressive tendencies is really effective on the street. People are going to be fearful of you if they know you carry a knife.”

He now talks to teenagers in schools, colleges, prisons and pupil referral units for those excluded from school or displaying emotional and behavioural problems. Youngsters he talks to tell him they carry a knife for protection and because of peer pressure.

Surrender weapons

“I find they live in a bubble in deprived areas where the only thing they have is their perceived dignity, and feel that if anyone violates that or disrespects them, all they’ve got to live by is their name on the street. It’s a very narrow mindset,” he said.

A central part of Hanif’s anti-knife pitch is to ask groups of teenagers to watch a chilling enactment of a knife crime at In2change’s specially constructed theatre. It starts with a young man’s knife being found at home by his partner and a phone call from a mate saying: “It’s all kicking off here… bring a knife.” The incident progresses to a fatal stabbing, then police interview, a trial in a realistic courtroom, and finally being locked up in a stark jail cell.

He talks them through the evidence that can be gathered against them and introduces the legal expression “joint enterprise”, which means that no matter which person actually used the knife the whole group might get charged with murder.

Hanif himself plays the prisoner in the final scene. “I just wander round this small cell trying to come to terms with spending years there. I share my thoughts with the audience and say things like: ‘Oh my god, I should have listened to my partner. I shouldn’t have gone out with a knife.’”

Another knife crime initiative in Sheffield is the provision of a bin for people to surrender weapons anonymously outside the Rock Christian Centre in the city’s Burngreave area. In the past few months dozens of knives have been surrendered, as well as a sword, catapult and police baton.

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