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Alarm at 'terrifying' surge in violent crime across the Black Country

By Richard Guttridge | Wolverhampton | Crime | Published:

Work needs to be done to keep people safe after a post-lockdown surge in violent crime in the Black Country, an MP has warned.

Flowers and police at the scene of Paulius Petrasiunas' fatal stabbing in Heath Town

There is a “lot of work to do” to tackle the issue, Wolverhampton MP Pat McFadden said following a series of attacks culminating in a drive-by shooting.

A 24-year-old man was stabbed to death in the Heath Town area of Wolverhampton on July 13 before another young man, aged 20, was knifed on the Dovecotes estate on Sunday.

A 29-year-old man was then shot in the head and injured as a gun was fired from a passing car in the latest in a series of shocking attacks.

Two men were stabbed on Warley Lane, Smethwick, shortly after midnight on Tuesday, while a teenager was robbed at knifepoint in Walsall last month.

The scene in St Johns Road, Oldbury, where two cars were involved in a shooting. Photo: SnapperSK

It follows post-lockdown violence including a double stabbing in Upper Gornal, a woman stabbed in Walsall and two teenagers stabbed in Smethwick - outside the same Smethwick shopping centre where a man was knifed to death in April.

A man was also shot in the leg in Oldbury in June as violence began to soar.

Latest figures show that in the year to March, before lockdown, there were 3,437 offences involving a blade in the West Midlands, an increase on the previous year.

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Wolverhampton North East MP Jane Stevenson has raised the issue of violence in the city with the Home Secretary Priti Patel, while Wolverhampton South East MP Pat McFadden said there would be “understandable fear” over the recent drive-by shooting, which took place at 3pm in the afternoon.

He said: “It is a terrifying crime. There will be understandable fear at the news that someone was shot from a car. There is a lot of work to do to reduce violent crime more generally.

Police at the scene of the double stabbing of two teenagers at West Cross Shopping Centre in Smethwick

“It comes against the backdrop of a rise in knife crime in the West Midlands in recent years. I hope the police find and punish whoever was responsible for the latest incident and of course there is a lot of work to do to reduce violent crime more generally.”

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Ms Stevenson also spoke to police chiefs this week to seek assurances about their plans to tackle violent crime.

And she said: “The Home Secretary and I both share a commitment to make Wolverhampton’s streets as safe as possible, and there can be no excuse for the violence that we have seen.

“I am pleased that the Home Secretary has said she will do whatever is necessary to crack down on all types of crime – including the dealing and supply of drugs such as cannabis and nitrous oxide cannisters.”

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson has set up a special working party to look at the issue of violence.

The scene of the double stabbing in Jews Lane, Upper Gornal. Photo: SnapperSK

But he said there was a responsibility on the Government to ensure officers on the ground have the resources they need to deal with those responsible.

He said statistics on crime were “a wake-up call for the Government to ensure that our police forces are adequately funded”.

He added: “In the West Midlands police force area knife crime has more than doubled since 2014/15 from 1,722 incidents to 3,722 in 2018/19.

“To tackle the rise in violent crime amongst other things I have set up the West Midlands Violence Reduction Unit which is bringing together partners from across sectors including health and education. Tackling violent crime is a priority for me and that is why I have set up the Violence Reduction Unit.”

Heath Town murder victim Paulius Petrasiunas

Retired West Midlands Police Chief Superintendent Mike Layton believes a rise in violent crime was always inevitable following the fallow lockdown period where it was more difficult for gangs and others involved in criminality to move around.

He said he was a firm supporter of police stop and search powers as a tool to try and tackle knife crime, despite the controversy around them and figures showing they are used disproportionately against black people.

Mr Layton told the Express & Star: “Is it an increase in crime or is it going back to the level of crime that was in existence before lockdown?

“Activities of people (involved in crime) would have been curtailed to a degree because there are more likely to be stopped by police as there is less traffic around.There has been less recruitment going on, less marking out of territories between gangs and so much less movement of people.

“As lockdown measures have decreased I think it was just inevitable there would be an increase in movement of drugs through operations like County Lines.

Investigators at the scene of Paulius Petrasiunas' fatal stabbing in Heath Town

“That’s going to increase the potential of people in competition with each other to reassert themselves in terms of gang culture. There’s going to be an increase in drugs which is sometimes a driver for all sorts of criminality.”

Mr Layton believes stop and search is key, as long as it is used correctly.

He said: “I’m a firm believer in stop and search, as long as it is intelligence-led and used proportionately and officers who use it communicate effectively with the community they are engaged with.

“If it takes one knife off the streets and saves one life that’s good enough for me.”

The victim killed in Chervil Rise, Heath Town was last week named as Paulius Petrasiunas. Sean Bulle, 20, has been charged with his murder.

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Investigations Editor - @RichG_star

Investigations Editor for the Express & Star.

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