Mental health services key to preventing violent crimes, says Khan

Mental health services key to preventing violent crimes, says Khan

Too many people with mental health issues who have committed violent crimes missed out on treatment as a result of cuts to support services, Sadiq Khan has warned.

In an interview with the Guardian ahead of this week’s local elections, he said such crimes were preventable and said years of austerity has left NHS mental health provision on its knees.

The mayor of London’s remarks came after a “devastating” attack by a man armed with a sword left a 14-year-old boy dead and four others injured in east London, including two police officers who sustained serious wounds.

Khan praised officers for running towards the suspect, even though he was armed, to try to keep the public safe. The Guardian understands police are investigating whether the individual has a history of mental ill health.

“We’ve had too many examples in recent years of people responsible for the most serious crimes having mental ill health,” he said.

“I’m in no way excusing criminality but it’s quite clear there are complex causes – deprivation, poverty, alienation, lack of opportunity, ill health. Of course we’re tough on crime and support the police, but we also need to be tough on the complex causes of crime.

“We need to make sure that young people in particular get proper medical treatment rather than waiting years and years and in the end having to have a crisis before they get the help they need.”

There has been a fall in homicide rates in England and Wales since 2008 yet despite this, research shows that the relative contribution of mental ill health as a proportion of all homicide has increased.

Khan highlighted the case of Barnaby Webber and Grace O’Malley-Kumar, stabbed to death in Nottingham last year by Valdo Calocane, who was given an indefinite hospital order for manslaughter by diminished responsibility, after he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

“I studied the awful case in Nottingham … and how those families were let down because of the failure of the state to take action against this person who had mental ill health,” the Labour politician said.

“I’m afraid the bad news is that my years of experience tell me that there are too many people who should be receiving medical treatment who aren’t and go on to commit serious acts of violence, sometimes homicide.

“It’s perverse in my view that it’s only when they’re in custody that they receive the treatment they should’ve received as outpatients.

“I don’t think these crimes are inevitable, I think they’re preventable, just as austerity was a choice made 14 years ago, the consequences we’re living with now.”

Khan, who is running for a third term as London mayor, said that if re-elected he would approach mental health as a public health issue, mirroring the national Labour party’s focus on early intervention.

He has pledged to invest in a pilot scheme with mental first aiders and counsellors in 30 schools across London. NHS data showed 120,000 children waited six months or longer between referral and treatment in 2022-23.

“Not all of those are going to go on to commit acts of violence, and not all of those will become criminals. But even if a small fraction are, that’s a big number,” he said.

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Khan’s Tory rival, Susan Hall, has so far resisted politicising the attack despite knife crime being a key election issue. But former Conservative party chair Greg Hands, a London MP, asked on X: “What has our great capital city come to when a 13-year-old [sic] boy is killed in a sword attack?”

The Tottenham Conservative party posted a video of the suspect on X, with the words: “Knife crime has risen 54% in London and is at a five-year high. We can’t go on like this.” The post was later deleted.

In response, Khan, who visited Redbridge earlier in the day, said: “Today of all days, I really don’t want to get involved in using this poor boy as a political football.

“All I’d say to those who wish to capitalise on this politically is look at the evidence around the country over the last 14 years: police numbers being cut; youth clubs closing down; cost of living crisis increasing.”

Knife crime offences in London rose year-on-year to 14,577, according to the latest official figures, up 20% but not yet at levels seen before the Covid-19 pandemic. However, figures also show Londoners are less likely to be a victim of crime than people across the country as a whole.

Khan said: “You can’t run away from the fact that crime across the country is far too high. You can pick and choose the numbers you want but it’s a fact that people feel scared.

“London’s not the exception, people across the country don’t feel safe. I’m angry that the government has got away with austerity, cuts in the police and youth clubs and the NHS. It was a choice.”

Khan has doubled funding to the Metropolitan police to £1.1bn since he came to office in 2016, while government funding to the force was cut by 32%, or £1bn over the same period. He has also invested hundreds of millions of pound in youth clubs, which have seen savage cuts.

He denied that a recent joke suggesting that Hall should stop watching gritty US cop series The Wire made light of the situation. “No,” he said. “I’m angry about the Conservatives choosing pictures from Penn Station in New York in their party political broadcast. I’m proud of the fact that, warts and all, this is the greatest city in the world.”