Operation Sceptre sees more police deployed across Havering, Redbridge and Barking and Dagenham to tackle knife crime

The Operation Sceptre team on the streets of Romford on Saturday night. Photo: Ellena Cruse

The Operation Sceptre team on the streets of Romford on Saturday night. Photo: Ellena Cruse - Credit: Archant

As a wave of knife crime breaks across the streets of the capital, a Recorder reporter joined police officers for an in-depth look at what exactly the authorities are trying to do about it.

The capital has suffered its bloodiest month in nearly a decade and in response, the Met have launched a range of tactics to combat it, including an extra 300 officers in hotspots.

Kitted out in a stab and bulletproof vest, although I hope I won’t have to test its abilities, I pull out with a team of officers who are part of Operation Sceptre – a knife crime reducing initiative across London.

We met at Romford Police Station, Main Road, on April 8, and head out to work the night shift from 8pm to 6am.

Sgt Mangham, who used to work as a financial advisor but didn’t like sitting behind a desk, said knife crime, gangs and the drug trade are often connected.

In the last few weeks, knives have been recovered from town centres across Havering, Redbridge and Barking and Dagenham, and while a few known gang members live in the vicinity, the lure of the night time economy brings affiliated members both from inner London and Essex.

As part of the team’s shift, Pcs Price, Payne and Janson look for concealed weapons tucked away in crevices on public roads as well as carrying out stop and searches if there is enough intelligence to warrant it .

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“Tougher penalties for carrying a knife has meant that these people don’t want to get stopped with one on them,” said Sgt Mangham

“They will hide it in accessible locations, so they can grab them when they want them.

“We often find them around here with knife handles poking out.”

As we walk down an alleyway, shinning a torch over rubbish, bricks and unlit corners, I never knew so many back streets existed behind the shiny shopping centres in the town centre.

They have always been there, much like the gangs operating in London today, but the number of deaths hitting the headlines has put a spotlight on both.

As well as searching on the ground, measures have also been employed higher up.

The sergeant revealed that the roofs of nightclub smoking areas have been covered in netting due to violent attacks.

In the past people would get their friends to pass knives they had hidden outside over the walls of bars - having another barrier, albeit a material one, makes it harder.

The netting and alleyway searches may seem simple, but they land results.

Without them, and the thousands of knives recovered across London, who knows how many more names could be on the fatalities list in the morning.

“Our aim is to make it harder for gangs to operate here and having a presence deters them,” added Sergent Mangham.

“There is a lot of A class drugs around here and the kids are used to sell them.

“One kid has a burner phone, another has the drugs, another has the money, so it makes it hard to catch all three - we have stopped guys with £1,000 on them in the past, but they will say something like they are on their way to buy a car, and that by itself will not meet the standards needed for a prosecution.

“The ones running it all are much higher up the chain and remove themselves from the lower level dealings.”

The officers carry out Operation Spector on top of their other duties but said more resources and more officers have been diverted to dealing with knives and violent crimes.

During my night out with them, we blue light it to a suicide attempt, break up fights, visit people who are believed to be involved with an illegal rave and also help a very drunk Olaf snowman needing help to get home.

Asked if the wave of stabbings hitting London worried Sgt Mangham he said: “Crime ebbs and flows.”