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What do we know about knife crime?
Knife crime information including specific offences and facts & figures.

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Debating knife crime

Ahead of this Thursday’s (14 December 2023) House of Commons debate on knife crime, I thought it would be useful to share some facts and figures about the issue. I am indebted to Richard Garside from the Centre for Crime and Justice who pointed me towards the House of Commons Library debate pack which assembles all the key information for MPs enabling there to be an informed debate. Given the sensationalist media coverage of much knife-related crime, we are particularly indebted to the Library’s sterling work. You can find the debate pack (assembled by Sally Lipscombe, Lulu Meade & Maria Lalic) here.

Offences

There are a range of criminal offences covering the possession, sale and supply of knives and other offensive weapons and a number of new  sentencing provisions relating specifically to knife crimes. The main categories of offence are:

  • possessing a knife or other offensive weapon in public or on school or further education premises
  • possessing certain types of prohibited offensive weapons in private
  • using a knife or other offensive weapon to threaten another person in public, in private, or on school or further education premises
  • various offences relating to the sale, importation, manufacture and delivery of knives and other offensive weapons.

Sentencing

In some cases a conviction for a knife crime offence can result in a mandatory minimum custodial sentence, which requires the court to sentence the offender to a term in prison unless there are exceptional circumstances. The courts must impose a custodial sentence of at least six months in the following circumstances:

  1. where an offender aged 16 or over is convicted of any of the possession offences involving having a bladed article or offensive weapon in a public place or on school premises, and they have one or more previous convictions for such an offence (or for an offence using a bladed article or offensive weapon to threaten another person in a public place or on school premises)
  2. where an offender aged 16 or over is convicted of either of the offences of using a bladed article or offensive weapon to threaten another person in public or on school premises

Knife crime prevention orders

Knife Crime Prevention Orders (KCPOs) were  introduced by Part 2 of the Offensive Weapons Act 2019. They can be imposed on any individual aged 12 or over in the following circumstances:

  • on conviction: the individual has been convicted of an offence involving violence or the use or possession (by them or any other person) of a bladed article
  • otherwise than on conviction: the police can apply to court for a KCPO on the basis that the individual had a bladed article with them in public or on school/further education premises on at least two occasions in the previous two years (no criminal conviction is required but the court must be satisfied on the balance of probabilities that this condition is met).

A KCPO requires the individual to do, or to refrain from doing, anything specified in the order. It is a criminal offence to breach a KCPO. Suggested requirements include attending school, taking part in restorative justice activities, participating in structured educational or rehabilitative programmes, or receiving support, counselling or youth mentoring services. Prohibitions include a curfew or a requirement not to associate with specified individuals.

So far KCPOs have only been trialled in the Met. The pilot ended in March and the Government will decide on whether to roll them out depending on the results of an evaluation (which has not yet been published).

Serious violence reduction orders

SVROs are essentially an additional stop and search power. SVROs are a court order which can be imposed by adults who have used a knife in the commission of an offence. They enable police to stop and search people subject to a SVRO to see if they are carrying a knife without any grounds for suspicion. To say their introduction was controversial would be an under-statement.

Statistics

The Commons Library has also produced a briefing paper Knife crime statistics which analyses police recorded crime data, sentencing statistics and NHS hospital data. One particularly interesting chart, looks at the proportion of very serious offences in which a “knife or sharp instrument” were used between 2010/11 and 2022/23. Interesting findings include:

  • The number of homicides in which knives were used has remained pretty constant – 220 in 2010/11, 219 last year (2022/23). Knives do, however, remain the main weapon used in murders. The 2022 ONS homicide figures say there were 696 victims in 2022, 41% of whom were killed by a sharp instrument.
  • By contrast the number of serious assaults in which a knife was used has risen from 14,622 in 2010/11 to 21,555 last year.
  • The number of times knives were used in murder attempts has also risen considerably from 217 incidents in 2010/11 to 403 last year – although this figure is down from the peak of 448 in 2019/20.

The frequency of knife crime also varies considerably across the country. Last year there were 40 knife crimes per 100,000 people in Dorset and 41 in Surrey compared to 145 in London, 159 in Cleveland and 178 in the West Midlands.

Government proposals

Following a Home Office consultation earlier this year, the Government plans to implement four new measures:

  • banning certain types of machetes and large knives “that seem to be designed to look menacing with no practical purpose”
  • introducing a new police power to seize, retain and destroy lawfully held bladed articles in private premises if the police are in the property lawfully and have reasonable grounds to suspect the article will be used in crime
  • increasing the maximum penalty for the offences of importation, manufacture, sale and general supply of prohibited and dangerous weapons and the sale of knives to persons under 18 years old from six months to two years
  • introducing a new offence of possession of a bladed article with the intention to endanger life or cause fear of violence.

Crime is once again one of the key issues in the forthcoming general election and we should expect the debate to reflect this with the Government proposals discussed along with the Labour Party’s recent commitment to launch a Young Futures programme to tackle knife crime.

Thanks to the No Knives, Better Lives initiative who have produced the non-sensationalist images of knife crime used in this blog post.

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