Sunderland family's battle for tougher knife crime sentences

John Johnson knows only too well the tragedy knives can inflict.

Monday, 29th January 2018, 3:10 pm
Updated Monday, 29th January 2018, 3:51 pm
John Johnson, right, is joined by wife Kath, and supporters of their campaign for tougher knife sentences.

His son, Kevin Johnson, 22, was stabbed to death outside his Sunderland home on May 19, 2007, after complaining to youths that their rowdy behaviour was keeping his new baby awake.

The three teenagers locked up for life after they were convicted of his murder were aged only 16, 17 and 18 at the time of the killing.

In the decade since, taxi driver Mr Johnson has campaigned tirelessly for tougher sentences for knife crime while also talking to pupils at city schools to deter them from carrying them in the first place.

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There have been petitions, rallies alongside relatives of other murder victims and meetings with politicians as high up as then Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Mr Johnson and wife, Kath, 68, have been joined by Kevin’s partner, Adele Johnson, who changed her surname from Brett after his murder as the couple were planning to marry.

Kevin’s son, Chaise, who was just months old when his dad was murdered in Partick Road, Pennywell, has also joined his family on marches as a poignant reminder of how knife crime can alter other people’s lives within seconds.

Mr Johnson, from Ryhope, speaking after the Echo revealed that pupils younger than 10 were carrying knives into school, said: “A young child lost his dad that night. This is the danger with knives that young people do not realise. They do not understand the aftermath until it is too late. They do not realise the impact it has on other people for the rest of their lives.”

Yet Mr Johnson feels that today’s laws are still not tough enough to prevent more families from suffering in the future like his own.

He said: “We’ve met politicians of all parties. They listen to you, I’ll give them that, but they do nothing whatsoever about it.

“The starting point should be four years automatic in custody for possession. No ifs, buts or maybes. But who ever gets four years? Instead it is a fine or a couple of months in prison.That is why knives are becoming so popular. There just isn’t a strong enough deterrent.”

In theory, just carrying a blade can land a youth aged 10-17 with four years in custody.

They face an automatic four-month minimum detention and training order sentence for their first knife possession offence.

But magistrates and judges can waive mandatory terms if they are “satisfied that there are circumstances relating to the offence or the offender that make it unjust to do so in all of the circumstances”.

Latest nationwide figures suggest the courts are often presented with these circumstances. An estimated 4,290 10-17-year-olds in England and Wales received either a caution or sentence for knife possession in the year ending last June.

While the Ministry of Justice figure represented a 61 per cent increase in those dealt with since 2013, only a fraction received an immediate custodial sentence. Just 563 were locked up - around one in every eight - compared to 2,201 - just over half - who received community sentences.

A Home Office spokesman insists: “Knife crime has devastating consequences and this government is determined to do all it can to break the deadly cycle and protect our children, families and communities.”

Tony Stuart Hawkes, then 17 and of Mortimer Street, Ford, Sunderland, was the first to stab demolition worker Kevin and received a 16-year minimum tariff.

Dean Curtis, 18 at the time and of Forest Road, Ford, also attacked Kevin and was told he could not apply for parole for 17 years.

Jordan Towers, then of Fell Road, Ford, was just 16 at the time of the attack and was convicted of murder on the grounds of joint enterprise. He is serving a minimum 13-year life sentence.