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A crackdown on the illegal sale of knives to under-18s was called for today by Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker.
In a letter to Chief Executives of Local Authorities and Chief Police Officers, he emphasised concerns about young people's access to knives and asked for increased activity to tackle the problem.
Knife retailers in the ten police force areas in England and Wales, that are the focus of the Government's Tackling Knives Action Programme, will face 'mystery shopper' visits by underage children, under the supervision of police and Trading Standards officers.
Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker said:
"We are committed to tackling knife crime and getting knives off our streets. We have introduced tough laws including increasing the minimum age at which someone can be sold a knife from 16 to 18 and penalties for shopkeepers who do beak the law.
"Knife crime is a complex issue which we all need to work together to solve. Enforcement action is one part of the solution and that is why I am today calling on our partners in the police and Trading Standards to get tough with anyone illegally selling knives to under-18s. I want to see more test purchasing operations like those being undertaken in Birmingham to catch any unscrupulous retailers."
Alf Hitchcock, ACPO lead on knife crime and Deputy Assistant Commissioner Metropolitan Police said:
"For some time, police forces have been working closely with Trading Standards to address the illegal sale of knives to young people.
"Police forces are determined to make inroads into stamping out knife crime and getting weapons off our streets - but this cannot be down to police alone - retailers must take responsibility for their actions too.
"Operations such as this are considered good practice in tackling unscrupulous and irresponsible shop keepers who are willing to sell knives to young people with the full knowledge that these may then go on to be used as weapons."
Councillor Geoffrey Theobald OBE, Chairman of council trading standards organisation LACORS said:
"Council Trading Standards teams are already taking a tough stance on shops selling knives to children and carry out regular checks to make sure retailers aren't breaking the law. Recent test-purchasing operations across the country show that the majority of retailers are responsible and ask for ID whenever they suspect somebody may be under age. Unfortunately there are clearly still a minority who are prepared to profit by selling knives to children.
"The legal age for buying a knife was raised from 16 to 18 last year and it's important that retailers understand the implications of breaking the law. Councils aren't trying to hoodwink retailers, and will only use volunteers who look under 18. There is simply no excuse for selling knives to children, and retailers must accept their share of responsibility if we are to keep our streets, and our young people, safe and free of knives."
In the last year alone, a range of tough penalties have been rolled out to get across the message that carrying a knife is unacceptable, including doubling the maximum sentence for carrying a knife from two to four years, giving teachers the power to search pupils for weapons in schools and increasing the use of stop and search.
Anyone over the age of 16 caught in possession of a knife can now expect to be prosecuted on the first offence. Those under 16 can still expect to receive at least a caution coupled with a knife education scheme to help them understand the potentially devastating consequences of carrying knives.
Alongside this, the recent launch of a £3 million three year advertising campaign, designed by young people for young people, vividly gets across the message that carrying a knife can wreck lives.
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. Selling knives to under-18s carries a maximum sentence of six months imprisonment and/or a fine of £5,000.
2. The offence centres on sale so the retailer commits an offence if he sells to an under-18 year old. Anyone knowingly selling to an under-18 through internet sites, including e-bay would be committing an offence.
3. In June 2008, the Home Secretary outlined plans to focus a programme of action on knife crime hotspots and announced an initial investment of £2 million.
4. The ten areas taking part in the Tackling Knives Action Programme account for more than 70 percent of serious violence involving a knife. They are London, Essex, Lancashire, West Yorkshire, Merseyside, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Nottinghamshire, South Wales and Thames Valley.
5. On 13 July 2008 the Home Secretary announced that the ACPO lead on knife crime, DAC Alf Hitchcock (Metropolitan Police Service) would head up the new Tackling Knives Action Programme.
6. The Programme, which will run until March 2009, is delivering tough enforcement combined with education, prevention work and information campaigns designed to keep youngsters on the right track.
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