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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 May 2006, 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK
Knife amnesty gets under way
Scene from government advert
The government is running a television advertising campaign
A three-week knife amnesty has started in Northern Ireland.

The move follows growing concern about the number of knife attacks in the province. There are approximately 1,200 knife-related crimes in NI every year.

Anyone wanting to dispose of any type of blade can leave them at designated bins located in civic amenity sites.

The scheme has been criticised by unions, who said it could pose a hazard to employees at council recycling centres.

Phelim Jennings, who is a representative of the Siptu union at Newry and Mourne District Council, said workers there would not operate the scheme.

"To bring knives into an area where lone workers and members of the public are is ludicrous," he said.

"I have to say when we expressed this opinion to the director and manager over the service they took the same view.

"We have not got the bins in amenity sites they have placed them outside the two main depots in Newry."

Knives should be wrapped in either cardboard or paper and disposed of safely.

The amnesty is part of a government and police campaign to cut knife crime, especially among boys aged between 11 and 18.

Knives
A knife amnesty is being introduced in Northern Ireland

Criminal Justice Minister David Hanson said: "It is vital that everyone takes this opportunity to dispose of knives in a safe and secure way.

"In addition to the amnesty the government will extend legislation to Northern Ireland which raises the legal age for purchasing a knife from 16 to 18 years old. This will take effect from later this summer."

Penny Holloway, whose son Thomas Devlin was killed near his north Belfast home last August, said it was an important first step in addressing the knife culture.

"I know some people may think it doesn't go far enough, but we have to start somewhere in getting the message across to teenage boys in particular that carrying a knife is not cool," she told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme.

"I think the people who killed Thomas fall in to a different category to the target group of this campaign - the people who killed him set out deliberately that night to kill somebody."

Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland said that after the amnesty those caught with knives would face tougher action.

Tested

"If they don't (use the amnesty), we will ensure that where we find knives we will investigate, arrest and charge," he said.

"The full rigour of the law will be brought against them - one knife in that bin will make a difference."

The scheme is not a complete amnesty however, the bins will be stored for three months and police retain the right to forensically test any knife if they believe it has been used in a crime.

A telephone helpline will also operate during office hours for the duration of this campaign - the number is 028 90 901252.

The Northern Ireland amnesty will run alongside a similar five-week campaign in other parts of the UK.


SEE ALSO:
National knife amnesty announced
08 Feb 06 |  Scotland


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