KIDS as young as 13 getting stabbed on the way to school, drug brawls in broad daylight and kids hiding knives in their shoes – it sounds like a scene from lawless London.
But we’re actually in the seaside town of Blackpool where knife crime is rising faster than in the capital.
New figures released this week show that Manchester, Liverpool, Blackpool and Slough are more affected by knife crime than some London boroughs.
This week, Sun Online visited Blackpool to see just why this seaside town has become a the latest victim of our knife crime epidemic.
It was a far cry from the slot machines, neon lights and donkey rides the town is famed for.
We found huge swathes of the town are effectively no-go zones, controlled by armed dealers working for county lines drug lords, who ship drugs from big cities to small towns using dedicated phone lines.
It’s no surprise that drugs and crime have decimated Blackpool.
Blackpool is home to eight of the 10 most deprived areas in England, with hundreds of residents living in run-down, ramshackle bedsits, which used to be guest houses and B&Bs.
Stabbed beside the sea
Blackpool now has a higher rate of stabbings than famously ‘gritty’ areas including Croydon, Hounslow and Bromley.
As county lines drug gangs have tightened their grip on the region, stabbings have soared – knife crime in Lancashire as a whole has doubled in five years, with 1,151 offences in the year to March 2019.
In February this year, a 13-year-old boy was stabbed in the chest and another boy, 14, was later charged over the attack.
In March two men in their 20s were injured in a double stabbing next to Wilkos in the city centre with the linked attacks happening within 30 minutes of each other.
Police launched an attempted murder investigation after a man in his 20s was left fighting for his life after being attacked at a block of flats in May, while a 46-year-old man was stabbed in the leg near to the The George Hotel in the city centre in June.
These attacks came after 16-year-old Sam Brown was stabbed outside his home on the day he was supposed to sit a GCSE English exam.
He was stabbed by 19-year-old Thomas Knowles after joking around with a mate and throwing a wheelie bin in Knowles’ garden.
Robert Heneghan, who was dubbed the ‘Imp of Satan’ when he became the youngest person to get an ASBO when he was 10, was jailed for life after stabbing Sam Bee to death at a house party in Blackpool.
A court heard how factory worker Sam Bee, also 19, attempted to calm down jobless Heneghan as he scuffled with another party-goer, only to be told: “Shut up or I’ll knock you out.”
Seconds later he stabbed him to death.
Robert was just ten when he became Britain’s youngest ASBO holder[/caption]
Kids who’ll do anything to survive
The effects of the growing county lines business is not just seen in the shocking knife crime stats.
Blackpool, nicknamed “Crackpool”, was last year revealed as Britain’s drug capital, with hospital admissions of drug users eight times higher here than in London.
And with little funding going into treatment and support after the council had £450 million cut from its budget, the town has become a money making playground for dealers.
“We have an awful lot of children and teenagers who are living in deprivation and whatever way they can find to earn money and support households, legally and illegally, they are doing it. That includes drugs and knives,” said Ashley Hackett, chief executive of Blackpool Football Club Community Trust .
Children in Blackpool don’t need to be involved with drugs to be victims of knife crime.
A 15-year-old girl told us of a fight between rival knife-carrying school pupils on Blackpool’s promenade where those involved had been lucky to escape serious injury.
Blackpool students Lauren (left) and Keeley (right) have been threatened by people armed with knives near their home[/caption]
“I believe knife crime is a very serious issue,” the girl said.“It does scare many students and we don’t feel safe to be in certain areas of town.”
Students Keeley, 17, and Lauren, 18, have both been threatened on the estate where they live.
“I got threatened with a machete in a park by a group of lads when I was playing football,” Keeley told the BBC.
Lauren also admitted she didn’t feel safe in the town, saying: “Me and my mate were walking home and a guy came out and threatened to stab one of my mates.”
Beverley Keenan, 54, knows only too well the devastating consequences of knife attacks.
Her brother Wayne was brutally stabbed to death by his friend Mark Oldfield at his Blackpool flat in June 2000.
“There’s been more knife crimes going on since my brother’s death. It’s rife. Every time you open the paper, another kid’s dead,” she said.
On Blackpool’s large Grange Park estate in the north east of the city, a mother-of-eight, who was too scared to be named, told us her children knew of friends who took knives to school “stuffed in their socks or bags” as protection.
“My youngest child is nine,” she added.
“And I worry how safe he’ll be when he gets a bit older. So many teenagers seem to want to carry knives.”
One thing which is clear from talking to locals in Blackpool is that they feel it’s the town opportunity forgot.
The once-thriving resort has lost millions of pounds in income after cheap air travel slowly killed the local tourism trade.
A two-bed house can now be picked up for as little as £40k – just a sixth of the price of the national average at £232k.
A huge 5.7 per cent of the population is unemployed, in comparison to the national average of 4 per cent, and locals claim they feel “ignored” and that nearby cities Liverpool and Manchester get more attention.
Knife crimes per 10,000 people
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A Lancashire Police spokesman said:
“We have a zero-tolerance policy towards knife possession, and anyone who is found to be in possession of a knife could face up to four years in prison.
“Selling a knife to or buying a knife for anyone under the age of 18 is a criminal offence and we work closely with our partners at trading standards to educate retailers.
“Nationally, young people who end up in hospital with a knife injury have usually been stabbed with their own knife – carrying a knife puts you at risk. You don’t have to use the knife to get a criminal record – just being in possession of a blade in public is illegal.”
As a result, more and more people are turning to crime to make money – and county lines dealers are honing in on the opportunity to expand their operations into smaller towns, often using violence to drive out local dealers and exploiting children and young people to sell drugs.
Byron Highton, whose 18-year-old brother was stabbed to death with an axe in neighbouring Preston in 2014, told the BBC the whole country is suffering.
He said: “We are suffering just as much as anywhere else. The whole country is suffering from knife crime, but small cities in the north like us get no mention.