A former gang member has been warning schoolchildren on the Isle of Wight about the dangers of carrying a knife.

As part of Operation Sceptre – the national week of action against knife crime and the Constabulary’s own peer on peer campaign Never Choose Knives – school children on the Isle of Wight have been visited by ex-gang member Omar Sharif, to hear his experiences and inspire them early in life to make positive life choices.

Last year, 315 children and young people (Under 25) were caught in possession of a bladed implement in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

On the Island, there were 12 in 2016/17, 15 in 2017/18 and 16 in 2018/19 (all possession of weapons offences with “bladed implement” linked, with a suspect under the age of 25.)

Omar Sharif, 27, is a Pride of Britain award winner and runs his own company ‘Omar Inspires’.

Omar spends his time travelling all around the UK delivering educational and empowering seminars at schools, colleges and key note speaking at conferences. Growing up in London where gun and knife crime were a way of life, Omar became involved in a gang when he was 16 years old.

But when three of his friends died as a result of knife crime, it was a horrifying wake-up call and Omar knew things needed to change.

Omar moved to a different part of the city, despite pressure from gang members, to start again. However, when the business he set up didn’t take off, he became homeless.

He made a bigger decision to move outside of London to start over.

This week, (Tuesday and Wednesday), Omar joined officers from the Island’s Neighbourhood Policing Teams to speak about his experiences to more than 2,000 pupils at Priory School in Whippingham, Medina School in Newport, Ryde Private School, The Island Learning Centre in Newport, Christ the King School in Newport, Carisbrooke Primary and Carisbrooke College in Newport, Island Free School in Ventor.

Omar said:

“It’s important for teenagers to understand the consequences of carrying a knife and that there is an alternative, even if they are feeling pressured by their peer group.

“A lot of (young) people caught carrying a knife aren’t carrying a knife with the intent to hurt someone, they carry a knife because they think it’ll make them feel safe. That’s why I started carrying a knife… the problem with that is… it doesn’t protect you.

“Young people can often feel lost and unsure of what to do about knife crime, my experiences will hopefully inspire these young children that there are more positive choices out having heard first hand my struggles and seeing we all can choose a happier and fulfilling future away from the misery and fear of violence.

“I fully support the #NeverChooseKnives campaign, the focus is on those vulnerable people living within our communities who could be targeted by others connected with drug and knife-related crime, which can have a devastating impact.”

Chief Inspector for the Isle of Wight, Rob Brind said:

“Whilst the Isle of Wight is not considered a hot spot for knife crime, Op Sceptre has enabled officers and partners to emphasise preventative measures with young children by educating them early about the risk and consequences of carrying a knife.

“This information has equipped them to realise that they are more at risk than if they were unarmed, we have been able to signpost them to the help that is available through a trusted adult or speaking to us on 101, or anonymously through www.fearless.org.

“It’s preventative solutions such as this that will continue to keep our young people and communities safer on the Isle of Wight.”

If you are a young person, parent or teacher worried about knife crime, visit the Safe4Me website and find out more about the #NeverChooseKnives campaign: https://www.safe4me.com

If you notice unusual activity in your street, or you are concerned about someone carrying a knife, call 101, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

For more information on the national campaign visit: https://www.knifefree.co.uk/