My son was stabbed 64 times in UK's hidden knife crime hotspot where thugs carry 'Rambo' blades as fashion accessories' | The Sun

AT a bustling branch of McDonald's, toddlers sit munching on Happy Meals, but there is no missing the metal detectors.

Security staff are waving customers down with specialist ‘wands’ looking for concealed weapons – a grim reminder that nowhere is safe in one of Britain's deadliest knife crime hotspots.


Although it is among the UK’s smallest forces, with just over 1,400 officers, Cleveland Police is dealing with a shocking epidemic of stabbings that eclipses even London and Greater Manchester.

More youngsters than ever now carry knives, according to private security staff who patrol the pubs and clubs of Teesside, and bereaved mothers have told The Sun of their pain at seeing lives “taken away in the most horrifying way”.

Airport-style security gates have been brought in at some nightspots, while kids are being caught secretly armed with weapons including machetes, 10-inch "Rambo" knives and canisters of CS gas.

In a desperate sign of the times, volunteers have even begun handing out potentially life-saving ‘stab’ packs around town to stem the never-ending tide of bloodshed.

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"Knives have become a fashion accessory and now all the kids think they have to carry one. It's terrifying,” says security boss Glenn Bartlett, owner of Close Protection Services in Middlesbrough.

"Back in the day if you had a problem with someone you fought each other with your fists and probably bought the other guy a pint afterwards.

"Now kids don't know how to fight, they carry a knife so they don't have to.

“A lot of the time it's out of fear, but whatever the reason, if you use a knife the outcome is going to be the same – lives will be ruined forever.”

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Knife crime capital

In the year ending March 2021, the area covered by Cleveland Police – which includes the county district boroughs of Middlesbrough, Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees, and Redcar and Cleveland – was found to be the second worst place in the UK for knife crime.

Up to 122 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument were recorded per 100,000 of the population – more per head than Greater Manchester Police and London's Metropolitan Police, and second to only West Midlands Police nationally.

This week, newly released ONS figures showed that in the year to March 2022, this figure has risen further to 139 per 100,000.

"We've seen a massive rise in knife possession, it's the worst it's ever been across Teesside and now our doormen all carry wands,” says Glenn.

"It's bad enough that we have to do that at pubs and clubs, but we also provide security at two branches of McDonald's in Middlesbrough and they carry wands with them there too.

"It's a common sense precaution because kids as young as 15 are carrying knives everywhere they go, so if our staff see a gang of kids going in who they're unsure about they'll be scanned for knives.

"It seems crazy you have to do that, but that's how things are.

"We're discovering machetes hidden down the back of kids' jeans."



Glenn's firm teamed up with two others to equip all their doorstaff with wands, covering 60 pubs and clubs across Teesside.

It followed a horrific stabbing at The Keys in Yarm, near Stockton on Tees, at the end of May.

A 26-year-old man suffered serious injuries outside the venue after an altercation believed to have started inside.

Glenn says: "The doorstaff had to deliver CPR until the ambulance arrived to take him to hospital.

"It really brought home the danger we're now facing every weekend."

The victim survived the assault, which saw three people arrested and one man facing court accused of wounding.

The incident led The Keys to install an airport-style security gate to scan all customers entering the premises.

"It's all about customer safety,” says manager Jake Taylor. “There are so many things happening in nightclubs, pubs, restaurants, and even on the streets, and we want people to come into this venue and feel safe.

"We want parents to send their children out and know they are in good hands and that there is a responsible company remaining proactive."

‘Sickening and needless’ death

Lindsey Allison, 44, is one parent who believed her son was safe as he went out to a birthday party in Stockton in February 2020.

Taylor Black, 18, a student at Northumbria University who had ambitions to become a journalist, died in a frenzied attack which saw him stabbed 64 times – 40 of those to the head – and left with the knife embedded in his skull.

His killer Nathan Costello, 33, is serving a life sentence with a minimum term of 19 years for a pitiless attack he had planned in advance.

"Taylor's death was sickening and so needless," says Lindsey. "He was a gentle, decent young man with his whole life ahead of him and that was taken away in the most horrifying way.

"My family is living day to day and we're looking after each other, keeping ourselves busy and occupied.

"But I feel in so many ways that my life as I knew it ended that day, it's something you learn to live with but you can never get over."


The aftermath for Lindsey has been shattering. Her brother, Niki Exley, 31, took his own life after discovering the horrifying details of Taylor's injuries during the trial last year.

Niki had been like a father figure to Taylor and his younger brother Shae, nine.

School cleaner Lindsey was struggling to keep going herself when she discovered the devastating impact on Shae.

One night before bed, the youngster handed her a letter he'd written in pencil, entitled "Stop Knife Crime."

She sobbed as she read her son's scribbled note, which said: "It’s ok to cry, let the tears roll down and then wipe them off and go and be a star just like our loved ones would want you to. You shouldn’t be scared because they are always with you and they live in a safe place called heaven.”

"It was devastating to read those words from Shae because they came from a little boy who had suffered so much,” Lindsey says.

"He lost his big brother and the uncle who was like a father figure and he put it so simply and so beautifully that it broke my heart.

"If reading the words of a little boy who lost two people he loved because someone chose to use a knife doesn't deter people from carrying them, then nothing will."

Tougher sentences


Shelly Butler, 44, is another grief-stricken Teesside mother pleading for an end to the knife-crime madness.

Her daughter Toni, 25, was killed in a knife attack by another young woman in Thornaby, and in the aftermath Shelly launched a petition demanding tougher sentences.

Toni's killer Keegan Barnes, 28, was convicted of manslaughter and jailed for eight and half years in March.

"Toni's death has destroyed us and the evil creature who killed her will be out of jail within four years,” says Shelly. “What kind of deterrent is that to someone carrying and using a knife?

"My two youngest children are in counselling, they have been distraught since they lost Toni.

"My eight-year-old daughter is petrified to be in the house on her own now and her brother, who is 12, is struggling to cope.

"He broke down one day and said to me: 'my big sister loved me, why did she leave me? What if I forget her?'

"I had to say to him, 'she didn't leave you, she was taken away from us by a horrible person'."


Toni, a support worker for vulnerable adults, had been at Barnes' flat in Thornaby, a suburb of Stockton, in June last year when she was stabbed twice in the leg.

Barnes' trial heard she used fresh paint to cover blood spatters on the walls as her victim lay dying and then took Toni's bank card to buy crisps at a nearby shop. She didn't raise the alarm as Toni's life ebbed away.

Shelly is campaigning for tougher sentences that reflect the severity of the crime, and hopes her petition will make people realise the “devastation left behind when someone is prepared to use a knife”.

She adds: "I've discovered there's a code among the real lowlife that says if you stab someone in the lower leg you won't get done for murder.

"How sickening is that? And it's exactly what happened in Toni's case.

"I feel as though I'm functioning, just existing day to day for the sake of my other four children, but that's hard when you are stuck with this feeling that justice hasn't been done.”

Pit of despair

Chris Cave, aged 17, was "in the wrong place at the wrong time", his mum Theresa says.

Chris, a 'good kid' who had started his first job with Virgin, was at a flats complex on Redcar's Lakes estate when he was set upon by a gang fuelled by drink and drugs.

Sean Matson, then 20, eventually confessed to Chris's murder halfway through his trial at Teesside Crown Court.



In the aftermath of Chris's murder, Theresa, 58, was trapped in a pit of despair, spending her days sitting on the steps where she found his lifeless body.

She would pour out her thoughts by scribbling them into notebooks, trying to make sense of the pointless, motiveless murder.

That was in 2003 and Theresa has now become one of Britain's strongest voices in the battle to combat knife crime.

She established the Chris Cave Foundation to support and educate families and communities affected by violent crime.

And she has watched in horror as the statistics show her home district has become one of the most dangerous in the UK.

"It's devastating to see those figures for this part of the world,” she says. “When Chris was murdered it was a rarity to have someone stabbed to death in such a terrible, needless crime.

"But now knives are commonplace, kids carry them casually and we're seeing so many young adults in this region murdered or seriously injured."

Theresa has her own theories on why the Cleveland area – plagued by low incomes and unemployment – is suffering so badly.

"There's an element of bravado,” she says. “We're a small community and some of the kids, probably influenced by social media, want to be like the gangs in the bigger cities so they want to carry knives.

"But what is here for the young people? They have nowhere to go because the local authority slashed youth services and put them on the street corners.

"You have youth centres asking £25 per child for a trip to Flamingoland. If you survive on Universal Credit as so many do, you can't begin to afford that.

"So what do they do? They gather on street corners and read grown adults on social media calling them scum because of that.

"They are full of anger and torment and resentment. There's no such thing as a bad kid but the lack of opportunities in this part of the world is having a devastating effect on these young people.

"That's why we are out there talking to them and educating them and going into schools to tell them about the devastation of being left behind when the boy you loved so much is suddenly taken away.

"Every morning I wake up in yesterday, to the time before Chris was murdered. That never changes, but I've been trying to channel my energy into making a difference."


Theresa has worked tirelessly since 2005 to spread the anti knife crime message, firstly in schools in South Yorkshire and later back on Teesside.

Her latest initiative is to circulate "stab packs" with the help of funding from Cleveland's Police and Crime Commissioner.

Students at Stockton's Riverside College have volunteered to fill over 1,000 of the packs with lifesaving equipment to staunch blood loss and deliver mouth to mouth.

In doing so they have learnt a valuable lesson in life saving – and also the lethal capacity of a knife blade.

"You can see that it made them think and so many of those young people asked if they could take a pack home,” says Theresa. “That's where we want them, in the pockets and handbags of young people where they can save lives.

"Of course it's terrible that we have to do this, that knives are carried around as fashion accessories, but we have to be realistic and save as many young people as we can reach.”

Theresa has been joined in her campaign for a specialist Violence Reduction Unit in Cleveland by Barney Green, a surgeon at James Cook Hospital.

He played a major role in the Government's decision to now grant more funding to Cleveland Police's Crime Reduction Unit.

He said: "The strain in resources is key. If an individual is brought in by ambulance with police escorting, goes through A&E and needs theatre treatment, you are talking about a £20,000 cost for that episode if you take aftercare into account. 

"It's also very clear that sewing someone up does not get rid of the problem, but getting in at the grass roots level just might.

"We need to educate kids about the devastation and damage a knife injury does to a body and those around the victim."

Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner Steve Turner says he had “long been aware” of the problems of knife crime in Cleveland, and that his team lobbied hard to receive the funding for the new violence reduction unit.

He adds: “We are already targeting some of the area’s most violent wards with more action to come as we refine and target the hotspots where we can have the biggest impact.

“The long-term key to stopping this culture of violence is to get upstream of any violent, criminal or anti-social behaviour and try to channel young people’s energies into more positive activities.

“It’s too simplistic to think we can arrest our way out of this problem, we must take a long-term, strategic view, whilst still making an impact in the here and now.

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“We have already invested in organisations like the Chris Cave Foundation to make young people aware of the consequences of carrying a knife  and we are funding training to give young people the confidence to be active bystanders.

“That means they can tackle their peers when they see them carrying a blade and tell them to put down their weapon.”


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