Shock at illegal knife sales to children

KNIVES are being sold illegally to children as young as 14 in Suffolk, trading standards chiefs have revealed.An undercover survey carried out in the county has pinpointed a number of retailers breaking the law -and shops could now face prosecution in a new clampdown on the problem.

KNIVES are being sold illegally to children as young as 14 in Suffolk, trading standards chiefs have revealed.

An undercover survey carried out in the county has pinpointed a number of retailers breaking the law -and shops could now face prosecution in a new clampdown on the problem.

The news comes at a time when fears are growing about the prevalence of knife crime nationwide and after a mounting toll of tragic stabbings.

In the latest incident, a father-of-two was stabbed to death outside his home in Hackney, east London, by a gang of youths on Sunday night.


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And a teenager who stabbed his 16-year-old friend through the heart with a kitchen knife in Halifax, West Yorkshire, was found guilty of murder yesterday.

Suffolk County Council is now being asked to use its powers to give permission for trading standards officers to carry out “covert test purchasing operations” with powers to prosecute traders who flout the law.

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They would see youngsters go into shops and try to buy blades. Shopkeepers repeatedly breaking the law could be prosecuted, with the offence carrying a sentence of six months in prison, a £5,000 fine or both.

But Joanna Spicer, portfolio holder for public protection, admitted there were “far too many youngsters walking around with knives than there should be”.

“We have no idea how many knives are used in a threatening way rather than knife crime. We have anecdotal evidence of knives in schools, but this is difficult to collect,” she said.

“There is high-profile awareness of not selling alcohol and cigarettes to underage children and we now need to alert shopkeepers, the public and children themselves to the legislation on knives.”

It is illegal to sell knives, blades, axes or razors to teenagers under the age of 16, with some exemptions such as replacement cartridges for safety razors.

But during an initial trading standards and police exercise to assess the scale of the problem in Suffolk, 14-year-old boys were able to buy kitchen knives in two stores out of the five they visited in Ipswich.

The survey coincided with the five-week knife amnesty earlier this year, which saw more than 1,500 weapons handed into police stations across Suffolk.

Figures released at the same time showed that knife-related incidents in the county have risen by 30% between 2001 and 2005.

A spokesman for Suffolk police said: “We are targeting violence in a public place as one of our priorities and included in that is knife crime.

“The success of the recent knife amnesty, in which more than 1,500 weapons were handed in, shows that local people are playing a part in getting offensive weapons out of circulation.”

He said that in 2003-4, 53 crimes involving a knife were committed by under 16-year-olds in Suffolk, rising to 66 the following year and dropping to 36 this year .

But he added: “Any initiative to reduce the amount of knives in circulation, that could be brandished or used as a weapon, is to be welcomed.”

Trading standards are hoping a crackdown on the illegal sale of knives will be as effective as a similar campaign against underage alcohol sales.

The operations would also raise awareness of a parliamentary Bill introduced this summer proposing to raise the age limit on buying knives to 18.

The county council's cabinet is being asked to authorise trading standards to tackle underage knife sales, using the council's powers under the Local Government Act 2000, at its meeting on October 10.

rebecca.sheppard@eadt.co.uk

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