Published: 08:10, 31 January 2018
A spike in knife crime across Canterbury has been blamed on drug dealers from London as the city’s police chief insists he will not allow a “turf war” on his patch.
The number of people caught carrying blades in the district has soared by 50% in the last two years, with a third more crimes in which they have been used as a weapon.
Only this month, Canterbury police officers tweeted that they were "taking knives off the street on every shift".
Area commander Chief Insp Mark Weller says the rise is largely caused by drug dealers travelling down from the capital.
"Our message to anyone coming to Canterbury to deal drugs, and carrying knives or blades is that it will not be tolerated," he said.
"There are turf wars over drugs in London, but that is not going to happen on our patch.
"We are operating a zero-tolerance policy against drugs and knives."
In a flurry of tweets this month, police in the district shared images of knives being confiscated in stop and search and other operations.
They included ones seized from suspected drug dealers – including those who were involved in what is known as ‘cuckooing’, where dealers take over the homes of vulnerable people and use them as bases for their illicit trade.
Chief Insp Weller says officers are working closely with their colleagues in the Met Police, swapping intelligence on drugs gangs who also operate outside the capital.
"It’s a constant cat-and-mouse game because they are very switched on about moving it around,” he explained.
"And they often use younger people with little or no convictions."
Despite the rise in offences, which Chief Insp Weller was also down to a different way of recording crime, he insists there is no knife culture in the district and there should be no cause for alarm.
"Although the percentage increases look high, the actual numbers are not," he said.
"The good thing about these numbers is that we are not talking about stabbings in Canterbury, which are very rare.
"And the chances of any member of the public becoming embroiled in something like this with a knife is very remote."
On January 3, a 19-year-old stopped in the city was charged with possessing a knife in public and dealing heroin and cocaine.
The day before, in Herne Bay, a 42-year-old was charged with a knife offence following a disturbance in the Rose Inn.
On January 5, police tweeted that a 15-year-old from London was arrested on suspicion of cuckooing at a house in the Canterbury, where a number of knives were discovered.
Three days later, a cyclist was robbed of cash by two men wielding a knife along an alleyway between Greyfriars Gardens and St Peter’s Grove.
Chief Insp Weller says the pro-active enforcement by officers has led to more knives being seized, especially by the city’s community policing team.
"We are actively protecting vulnerable people because drug gangs just use them as a commodity,” he said.
"A by-product of the work we are doing is we are finding a few more knives. I think it is very likely we have stopped a death because we are so robustly policing organised criminality with zero tolerance."
Security firm boss Oli Nonis says there has been a “massive” rise in knives on the streets in the last three years.
His staff at Akon work the doors of clubs and bars across the city and often discover blades during searches of customers.
“It’s a worrying trend,” he said. “There used to be a certain type you might suspect could be carrying a knife, but now it is all sorts.
"We have already confiscated two knives on the door this month, but I lost count of how many last year, although they are all recorded in our incident log.
"I’m not surprised there are more knives out there, especially with the rising use of drugs and dealers because there just isn’t the deterrent."
Last year, Akon doormen working at The Cuban nightclub in Canterbury were confronted by a knife-wielding thug from London.
Gideon Wallace, 19, drew the weapon after he was thrown out of the popular venue for vomiting over the bar.
Only the actions of the brave doormen, who rugby tackled him to the ground, prevented a potential tragedy.
But Mr Nonis is still angry and frustrated that Wallace was spared a prison sentence when he was eventually brought to court.
"The only way to stop people from carrying knives is by much harsher sentencing, including immediate custody," he said.
"To be honest, I started to lose faith in the justice system some time ago, and I know some police officers, who are increasingly stretched, feel the same."
In 2015, the government introduced tougher ‘two-strikes’ sentencing, meaning adults convicted more than once of being in possession of a knife face a minimum six-month jail sentence.
From February 12 to 18, a nationwide knife amnesty, called Sceptre, will be in operation.
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