Irresponsible knife retailers putting lives at risk, warn Lib Dems in local government

Nearly one in four shops are breaking the law on underage knife sales in some areas, with blades sold to children as young as 13, council trading standards teams have revealed.

In test purchases in one area an underage teenager was sold a machete, another was sold a lock knife and a 14-year-old managed to buy a nine-inch serrated knife. It is illegal to sell knives to anyone aged under 18.

The worrying findings come as latest official figures show a 20 per cent annual rise in knife crime in England and Wales.

Following the recent government proposal to ban home delivery of knives to prevent underage sales, the Local Government Association (LGA) is calling for the retail industry to fund underage test purchasing operations and work more closely with councils to help improve compliance levels.

The LGA says greater fines and tougher sentences are also needed for irresponsible retailers breaking knife sale laws.

Trading standards teams at councils nationwide have been alarmed at the results of some of their test purchases to ensure retailers are complying with the law. Findings and follow-up enforcement include:

  • Seven out of 29 shops (nearly one in four), including two major supermarket chains, sold a knife to a person under 18 in test purchases partly undertaken by Devon, Somerset and Torbay Trading Standards, together with Avon and Somerset Police. Blades sold included a machete, a lock knife and kitchen knives. A nine-inch serrated knife was sold to a 14-year-old
  • Nine out of 35 shops (26 per cent) failed a test purchase and sold a knife to someone underage in Nottinghamshire
  • Of 725 test purchases carried out by London Trading Standards and the police across the capital in 2016, 96 (eight a month) sold knives and blades to children as young as 13.
  • Four retailers, including a major supermarket chain, sold either razor blades or craft knives to a 15-year-old boy and a 16-year-old boy, in separate test purchases undertaken by Royal Greenwich Trading S=tandards and the police
  • A trader who sold a four-piece craft knife set to two underage teenagers has been ordered to pay more than £2,000 in fines and costs following a prosecution by Croydon Council.

Although most retailers passed test purchases on underage knife sales, council trading standards teams remain concerned with those who broke the law, particularly when latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show there were 34,703 recorded knife crimes in 2016/17, a 20 per cent increase on the previous year.

Those who failed test purchases have either been prosecuted or cautioned, face prosecution or have received warnings and compliance advice on underage knife sales.

Cllr Anita Lower, Lib Dem lead member on community safety issues, said:

“Despite most retailers passing test purchases of knives, trading standards teams at councils across the country are uncovering some shocking abuses of the law.

“Knives are lethal weapons in the wrong hands and it’s vital that shops do all they can to prevent them falling into the hands of young people because just one illegal knife sale could have tragic consequences.

“Knife crime has risen significantly in the past year. Clearly there are many different ways that people access knives, whether from home, high street stores or online sales, but we need to make sure that the retail supply of knives is managed robustly across all sales points.

“The recent government announcement on collection points for online knife sales is an encouraging step, but needs to be backed up with action on the high street where the sale of knives needs to be checked consistently, for example, by asking for proof of age if a retailer is unsure the buyer is under 18.

“With councils experiencing ongoing funding pressures, we are calling on the retail industry to step up and fund underage test purchasing activities and liaise with councils to help improve safety standards and compliance with the law on knife sales.

“Councils will be working with retailers to educate them about their responsibilities when it comes to selling knives, continue to carry out test purchasing and won’t hesitate to take enforcement action against anyone selling such dangerous weapons unlawfully.

“Tougher sentences, including larger fines, are also needed to reflect the seriousness of selling knives to children.”

Anyone who suspects that knives are being sold illegally should contact their local council’s Trading Standards via Citizens Advice on 03454 040506.

 

ENDS

 

CASE STUDIES:

  • Test purchases by London Trading Standards and the police across the capital in 2016 led to 96 retailers selling knives and blades to children as young as 13.
  • An operation which resulted in nearly one in four shops selling knives – including a machete, a lock knife, kitchen knives and a nine-inch serrated knife – to a person under 18 following test purchases partly undertaken by Devon, Somerset and Torbay Trading Standards together with Avon and Somerset Police, can be read here and here.
  • In test purchases in Nottinghamshire, nine out of 35 shops (26 per cent) failed a test purchase and sold a knife to someone underage.
  • Test purchases resulted in four retailers selling either razor blades or craft knives to a 15-year-old boy and a 16-year-old boy, in separate test purchases undertaken by Royal Greenwich Trading Standards and the police can be read here and here.
  • In a prosecution by Croydon Council a trader who sold a four-piece craft knife set to two underage teenagers was ordered to pay more than £2,000 in fines and costs.

NOTES TO EDITOR

  1. Retailers who sell a knife to someone aged under 18 face up to six months in jail or a fine of up to £5,000.
  2. Office for National Statistic figures (table 3) show that police recorded 34,703 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument between April 2016 and March 2017, a 20 per cent rise on those recorded in 2015/16.

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