Kids and knives
There have been few more emotive issues recently than that of teenagers carrying and killing with knives. At its height last year, British coverage of the subject attracted attention around the world - often for its perceived sensationalism.
Anti-knife campaigns - whether by newspapers, the relatives of victims, government
or the police - have become a recurring event, as has the sparring between political parties over the rights and wrongs of knife crime statistics. Here's a few recent cases.
Unravelling these statistics is difficult. The time-lag doesn't help. The latest annual figures for cautions, prosecutions and convictions cover 2007. Categories often overlap and, historically, knife-crimes haven't always been counted separately. Scotland also records their figures in a different way from England and Wales. So interviewing those whose actions are at the heart of all this controversy - the teenagers convicted of murder and manslaughter with knives - couldn't be undertaken lightly. Some would say that it shouldn't be at all. So it's worth explaining how this week's Panorama - Jailed for a Knife - happened.
The reporter Raphael Rowe first approached the Ministry of Justice for permission to do so after talking to a mother whose daughter had been stabbed to death by another teenaged girl. Many months after a harrowing trial, she told him that she was now willing to meet the killer in prison to ask her why she had carried a knife, what had prompted her aggression and anger.
Filming or arranging this meeting wasn't possible but, after a long wait, the authorities instead saw merit in allowing Raphael into two selected Young Offenders' Institutions to speak to convicted knife offenders who had expressed remorse for their crimes.
Eight were selected by the Ministry of Justice and the Prison Service. Our interviews with five of them reflect a range of crimes - some inner-city and gang-related, some the result of teenage fights in smaller towns. We could never assume that the families of their victims, or the victims themselves, would be comfortable with these interviews. They might find them traumatic and unacceptable. So, wherever possible, we wrote to those affected - via the Ministry's Victim Liaison team - to make it clear what we planned to do.
We said we aimed to challenge the offenders about their behaviour, to throw light onto what had led to their crimes and to show other youngsters, who might be tempted to carry a knife, the consequences of doing so. In subsequent letters, e-mails or phone-calls, some families expressed very strong views about the punishment (or lack of it) they felt these offenders had received - feelings which were put to our interviewees.
It should be pointed out that expressions of remorse and changed behaviour can affect how long offenders continue in prison after their minimum recommended sentence - 12 or 13 years in some cases - has passed. But those we spoke to did appear remorseful, understanding that "sorry" would never be enough. They didn't expect sympathy for the circumstances of their crimes, arguing that sentences could be stronger. Viewers will have to make up their own minds.
It was a sobering four days for the team, including producer Katy Stead and assistant producer, Alison Priestley, seeing young men grasping to understand their crimes, the lives they had destroyed and the grim future many resented them even having. By the end though, they hoped there was some value in trying to warn other young people away from what they had done.
Much later, Panorama commissioned a poll about views on knife crime. It seems to suggest a large majority (especially among 16-24s) could see clear benefit in young people hearing what offenders like our five had to say. We're hopeful there is.
Tom Giles is deputy editor of Panorama.