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Last Updated: Monday, 22 November, 2004, 19:53 GMT
Crackdown targets knife culture
Slashed face
The terrible consequences of a knife attack in Scotland
First Minister Jack McConnell has announced a five-point programme to clamp down on knife crime.

The maximum jail term for possessing an offensive weapon will be doubled from two years to four under the proposals.

He wants to ban the sale of swords and introduce a licensing scheme for retailers selling knives.

He also announced plans to give police more powers of search and arrest and to increase the age limit for buying a knife from 16 to 18.

The new measures are being drawn up by a cabinet sub-committee chaired by Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson.

The cabinet agreed to establish the group last Wednesday when it received a stark presentation about knife crime in Glasgow from Strathclyde Police.

Offensive weapon

"We had a particular discussion on the issue of knife crime recently and we have agreed a package of measures that we will be consulting on early in the New Year," said Mr McConnell.

"We will be putting forward the action we believe is required to tackle the scandalously high level of knife crime in Scotland."

He said that 50% of the homicides in Scotland in 2002 were caused by knives or other sharp instruments.

I don't think people are aware that as soon as they take a knife out, they become potential murderers
Dr Andrew Murtay

"There can be no reason for people buying swords off the street for use or to have in their homes," he said.

He said too many young men thought it was acceptable to carry a knife or other offensive weapon.

"It is not acceptable. The law in Scotland must be clear, the system must protect innocent victims and the culture of Scotland, particularly in our cities, in relation to knives and violent crime, must change," he said.

Dr Andrew Murtay, a surgeon at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, backed the crackdown.

He said: "If you stab someone in the chest, it's just a random chance whether you end up giving them a minor wound, or whether you kill them.

"I don¿t think people are aware that as soon as they take a knife out, they become potential murderers."

BBC Scotland political editor Brian Taylor said the most controversial aspect of the proposals would be the new powers for police to search those they suspect of carrying a knife.

"The reason for the clampdown is that the knife culture, the possession of knives, is actually on the increase," he said.

"I'm sure that opposition politicians, when they get hold of the details of the first minister's proposals, will look at them closely but probably fairly sceptically and wonder if in practice it will make a difference."

Murder rate

The anti-knife measures are expected to be contained in the executive's Police Bill, due to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament early next year.

Scotland has an average of 21.6 stabbing murders per million people in the population - a higher figure than every other European country except Northern Ireland (26.5) and Finland (28.6).

Statistics released in November last year showed that Glasgow had one of the highest murder rates in Western Europe at 58.7 per million of population - higher than in Belfast and double that of London.

Mr McConnell unveiled the proposals at a news conference in Edinburgh as he marked three years in office.

Jack McConnell
There can be no reason for people buying swords off the street for use or to have in their homes
Jack McConnell
First Minister
Turning to the proposals, he said that the sale of swords was "fundamentally wrong".

The Conservatives' justice spokeswoman, Annabel Goldie MSP, said: "Jack McConnell is living in cloud cuckoo land if he thinks that imposing longer sentences for knife crime whilst his justice minister fails to end automatic early release is a crackdown on crime.

"Increasing the sentence for possession from two to four years means that anyone convicted for the full term will still be automatically released after two years."

The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland said: "It is a change of culture which is required and this can only be achieved through concerted and focussed partnership working, with education, pro-active enforcement and severe penalties perhaps the best way to invoke change.

"Any new legislation, designed to address the current culture of carrying knives and, crucially, deal severely with those who would use knives to commit violent crime, will be welcomed by Acpos, who will engage with partner agencies in ensuring that any new laws are implemented to best effect."

Sectarian attacks

Mr McConnell also took the opportunity to call for an end to sectarian attacks and described the scenes of violence after the weekend's football match between Rangers and Celtic as "horrible".

The first minister said tackling sectarianism was the responsibility of the government, the police and the two clubs themselves.

"And it is the responsibility of every individual player who steps foot on the turf at Ibrox or Celtic Park to represent the positions that those clubs represent.

"They need to recognise their behaviour can incite the horrible, ugly scenes that were seen in Glasgow on Saturday night.

"They need to recognise their behaviour at games - which has been better for the last two or three years - was unacceptable on Saturday, and in the future has to be more restrained."

Stabbings 'a public health issue'
17 Oct 04 |  Scotland
Weapons seized by metal detectors
01 Mar 04 |  Scotland
Police use knife crime powers
28 Feb 04 |  Scotland


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