CHILDREN as young as 12 in Swindon are afraid to go outside at night because they fear they may get stabbed.

School pupils spoke to the Adver at an anti-knife crime rally held in Penhill, which aimed to teach them about the dangers of possessing blades and the punishments they could face for getting caught with them.

Fernbrook School pupil Lydia, 12, from Liden, was among 20 youngsters at the event.

She said: “I know people who are in gangs and carry knives.

"You could be walking down the street at night and someone could come out and hurt you, you never know what’s going to happen.

“Gangs are a big problem in Swindon. It’s really stupid to carry a knife because you could hurt other people and yourself.”

Fellow pupil Valeshka from central Swindon is in the same year group as Lydia.

She said: “I know lots of people who carry knives and have heard of people being stabbed. There are a lot of fights going on and people arguing.”

At the rally, former gang member Charlie Pearce talked about his regrets and Vicky from the Swindon Youth Offending Team revealed the most common reasons given for carrying knives – peer pressure and protection.

Charlie now works as a youth worker for the NHS in Oxford. He said: “I was brought up at a time where there was no education about this, so I found out the hard way after spending 35 years in gangs, getting stabbed twice and shot once.

"I never carried a knife – if I had, I probably wouldn’t be here today.

“There are a lot of knives around and the fallout from one bad spur-of-the-moment decision can be massive.

"I’m here to help people make positive choices because it’s never too late to change. I want to stop them becoming another statistic and spending their lives in prison.”

Vicky warned that carrying a knife puts the carrier at a higher risk of harm and that gangs from London and Birmingham are exploiting Swindon youngsters by tempting them with money and false promises of power and friendship.

And she revealed that the reasons for knife crime increasing are related to county lines criminals coming into the county and convincing vulnerable people to sell drugs, and to the police recording these offences in a different way.

Children saw shocking CCTV footage of a father-of-four in London being stabbed 10 times and watched first aider Stacey Wood use a red marker to demonstrate the devastating effects of being stabbed in the heart, spine and bowels.

WARNING: Graphic injury detail

Pupil Lydia added: “This event gets people more aware of what really happens if you carry a knife and it gave ways out to people who do that. I didn’t know you could get in trouble even if you don’t carry a knife, if you’re with someone who does have one.”

Grange Leisure manager and MMA promoter Gary Turland told youngsters about a new free training scheme organised by him, the police and youth workers to teach young people discipline and fitness as an alternative to being out on the streets.

After the talks with pupils from Fernbrook, Swindon Academy and St Luke’s, parents found out about the signs of knife crime and where to go for help and support if they think their child may be involved.

Central Swindon North Parish Council youth worker Aaron Webb and Voluntary Action Swindon’s Jo Roberts organised the event at John Moulton Hall.

Aaron said: “The schools engaged well.

"The pupils really liked Charlie, his speech was very powerful.”