Page last updated at 11:20 GMT, Wednesday, 31 May 2006 12:20 UK

Tackling the scourge of knife crime

The fatal stabbing of young footballer Kiyan Prince outside his London school put the issue of carrying knives firmly back in the headlines. BBC News takes a look at the numerous attempts to tackle knife crime.

Knives on display
A knife amnesty was brought in on 24 May
For years, legislation to combat the scourge of crime involving knives has exercised politicians and presented a challenge for several governments.

Back in 1988, when the Conservatives were in charge, the Criminal Justice Act created an offence of carrying something with a blade or point in a public place without good reason with a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

That piece of legislation made an exception for folding pocket knives of less than three inches.

It also created an offence of having a knife or bladed weapon at school with a maximum sentence of up to four years in jail.

Amnesty

The Conservatives also tried to make it harder for young people to obtain knives. The Offensive Weapons Act of 1996 amended the 1988 Act to outlaw the sale of knives and other bladed items to under-16s.

The maximum penalty for breaking that law is six months in jail and/or a 5,000 fine.

We have banned the manufacture, sale and importation of 17 bladed, pointed and other offensive weapons, in addition to flick knives and gravity knives
Home Office

Meanwhile, the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament, aims to up the minimum age someone can buy a knife to 18.

Other pieces of legislation include the Knives Act 1997, which creates offences relating to the marketing of knives in a manner to encourage violent behaviour, or as combat weapons.

The Act extended police powers to stop and search suspects, which are contained in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said the government would not tolerate "the carrying of bladed weapons and are doing everything we can through legislation, enforcement and community work to prevent it".

"We have banned the manufacture, sale and importation of 17 bladed, pointed and other offensive weapons, in addition to flick knives and gravity knives," she said.

She also highlighted the current knife amnesty launched on 24 May as "one of many tactics the government and police are using to tackle knife crime".

'Sentences needed'

"It is already an offence to carry a knife in public. Those found guilty face a penalty of up to two years imprisonment. Possession of an offensive weapon carries a maximum penalty of four years imprisonment. Murder would result in an automatic life sentence," she added.

Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, says a mandatory prison sentence for carrying a concealed blade is required to tackle a worsening culture of knife crime.

We believe there must be tougher sentences for people carrying knives
David Davies
Shadow home secretary

But for the Conservatives, shadow home secretary David Davis says the government needs to back up "tough talk on tackling knife crime".

He accused ministers of being more interested in "announcing headline-grabbing initiatives than taking the action needed to protect the public".

"We believe there must be tougher sentences for people carrying knives," he argued.

"Only last Monday, in the House of Lords, we suggested an amendment to the Violent Crime Reduction Bill to raise the maximum sentence for carrying a knife from two years to five, which the government kicked into the long grass."

Challenging the culture

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman, said the recent spate of "horrific knife crimes" demonstrated how serious the issue had become.

"We urgently need to challenge the culture that makes it acceptable to carry knives. The sentence for carrying a knife in a public place should be the same as that for carrying a gun," he said.

"While the current knife amnesty is welcome, we need to do more to prevent knives being sold to children in the first place."



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