Stabbing injuries soar as police vow to stamp out gang attacks

Stabbing injuries soar as police vow to stamp out gang attacks

Talking points

  • The Alfred hospital’s data shows a 50 per cent rise in people being treated there for life-threatening stab wounds this summer.
  • A top surgeon says severity of stab injuries is  getting worse.
  • A police officer says carrying knives is now an accepted method of protection for young people, with some feeling they have to “arm up” as a result of suburban gangs.
  • Youth advocates to roll out anti-knife campaign from May.
  • Senior police say they’re doing all they can to dismantle gangs, disbanding five last year and arresting more than 500 gang members.

Hospital data shows serious stabbings are on the rise in Victoria as the state grapples with an emerging knife culture among teenagers and young adults.

The state’s major trauma hospital, The Alfred, says the number of patients it treated with life-threatening stab wounds rose 50 per cent this summer compared to the previous year. And one of its top surgeons fears the severity of injuries is getting worse.

The scene of a fatal stabbing in Bourke Street, Docklands.Credit:Paul Jeffers

One police officer says carrying knives has become an accepted method of protection among some young people. A growing number of teenagers are telling police they feel they need to “arm up” to protect themselves from knife-wielding suburban gangs.

The concerns have prompted youth workers to create an anti-knife education campaign led by stabbing victims, who will speak to youngsters about the dangers of carrying blades.

Knife attacks in Melbourne at the weekend left two young people dead and a string of others seriously injured.

Just months ago, youth advocates raised the alarm, saying they feared bloodshed on Melbourne streets and that children as young as 10 were carrying knives for protection.

On Thursday, senior police said they were doing all they could to dismantle gangs, revealing five were disbanded last year and more than 500 gang members were arrested as part of a widespread crackdown.

But a police officer, speaking anonymously because they are not authorised to speak to the press, said violent crime involving knives and young people had never been worse nor more brutal.

“Stabbings aren’t just gang-related any more. As a result of these gangs carrying knives, everyone feels like they need to be armed up,” the officer said.

“Everyone’s carrying knives now and everyone is getting stabbed as a result. Ten years ago, stabbings weren’t a thing. Now every second job is an assault where a stabbing is involved.”

The Alfred hospital, which houses the largest trauma centre in Australia, treats the state’s sickest and most severely injured patients, including about 2000 major trauma cases each year.

Data from The Alfred reflects an escalation in violence over the past 15 months, with a 50 per cent rise in people being treated for life-threatening stab wounds across December, January and February compared to the previous summer.

There were 21 patients treated for severe stab injuries each month, totalling 63 people. Those injured were mostly men aged 25 to 40.

Surgeon Meei Yeung, who is deputy director of trauma at The Alfred, said she believed the severity of penetrating wounds was getting worse. “These aren’t just superficial wounds,” she said.

Dr Yeung, who’s been a part of the trauma unit since 2007, fears many in the community may not fully understand the dangers a stab wound can cause. She said while a tiny puncture wound of a few millimetres might be all that’s visible from the outside, underneath there could be “extreme havoc”.

“It can be very deceptive. The wound itself does not equate to the damage it’s caused,” she said. “It appears knife crime is increasing and the severity is increasing as well.”

The scene on the corner of Horton and Elizabeth streets, North Coburg, where Declan Cutler, 16, was killed early on Sunday.Credit:Penny Stephens

Two young people — Declan Cutler, 16, and Alier Riak, 23 — were killed at Coburg North and the Docklands respectively during a spate of extreme violence on Melbourne streets last weekend.

A 15-year-old was also stabbed at Flinders Street Station, an 18-year-old critically injured during a knife attack at Federation Square and an Uber driver attacked with a knife at Fitzroy.

Youth Activating Youth co-founder Ahmed Hassan, who was last year recognised as Victoria’s Young Australian of the Year for his work with young people, said he was still reeling from the impacts of the weekend’s violent crimes.

Alier Riak and Declan Cutler were both killed during separate attacks on Sunday. Credit:

His organisation forecast the surge in knife crime, raising the alarm in December as data showed knife attacks requiring hospitalisation had risen more than 60 per cent since 2015.

At the time, The Age revealed data from the Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit showed nearly a third of injuries in 2020 were inflicted by people not known to their victim, including nearly 50 from gang attacks. Victoria’s coroner reported 29 people were killed using knives and pointed weapons in 2020 alone.

Mr Hassan’s organisation is preparing to launch an awareness campaign in May after securing funding for a UK-style Drop the Knife, Save a Life project.

He said the project would involve victims of knife crime sharing their experiences with youths as part of workshops to be offered to schools, mental health services and community centres in Melton, Hume, Wyndham, the City of Melbourne, Moonee Valley and Brimbank.

The knife found near the crime scene in Coburg North. Credit:Nine News

They’re not the only ones looking to make improvements. An incident at Brunswick supermarket in October prompted Woolworths to pull knives and scissors from shelves across the country. This week, the supermarket chain said some knives had been permanently removed from sale.

Mr Hassan said the only way to curb the rise in knife crime was through early intervention.

“We need to get into schools and sporting clubs and community centres to spread the message,” he said. “Nothing hurts more than seeing a young life lost that could have been prevented.

“Young people are carrying knives in their pockets, fearing they might not know when they’re going to be approached. We don’t want to see this escalate further.”

Last weekend’s stabbing deaths follow several major knife attacks in Melbourne this year.

In January, a 32-year-old Fitzroy man was hospitalised with serious stab injuries after being attacked by four men during the day on Clarendon Street in South Melbourne.

On January 13, a 16-year-old boy was stabbed and another teenager assaulted at the Manor Lakes Shopping Centre, in Melbourne’s west. Nine males, aged between 15 and 18, were later charged.

On January 18, Joshua Tovey, 29, was stabbed to death at a home in Hastings. His brother has been charged.

Victorian Crime Statistics Agency data, released this week, showed an overall crime rate drop of 12.6 per cent in the year to December 2021.

In a year dominated by COVID-19 lockdowns, prohibited and controlled weapons offences — which include the carrying and possession of weapons but not use on a person — also dropped 17.8 per cent with 99,203 offences.

But other violent crimes did rise.

Threats to inflict serious injury increased 9.3 per cent with 1084 reports, and unlawful assault 20.4 per cent with 394 reports. Aggravated home invasion with a weapon rose 32.7 per cent with 65 offences.

Data from the Australian Institute of Criminology also showed that across the country, knives or other sharp instruments were the leading cause of homicide in 2019-20, accounting for 37 per cent of all killings.

When asked this week about what Victoria Police was doing to combat knife crime, the force declined to comment.

But on Thursday, Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent said police were “totally committed” to disrupting and dismantling gangs; 512 gang members were charged over 5361 offences in the year to December 2021.

He said of those arrested, 290 people had been remanded in custody and five known gangs dismantled.

Mr Nugent said while some gang members would inevitably spend long periods of time in the justice system, a focus had to be placed on helping those who were attracted to a gang lifestyle but had never been in trouble with the law.

“[These crimes] inflict … a lifetime of pain and suffering for families,” he said.

Mr Nugent said homicide squad detectives were continuing to investigate the weekend’s “tragic” deaths, labelling those responsible as “gutless cowards” who hunted in packs. No arrests have been made.

“What we saw last weekend was tragic and disappointing. Thankfully, it’s not the norm. We just won’t tolerate that,” he said.

Anyone with information on the latest string of knife attacks is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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