Dealers in combat knives face jail

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A government-backed Private Members' Bill to jail dealers in combat knives won all-party support yesterday as it received an unopposed second reading in the Commons.

Jimmy Wray, the Bill's sponsor, secured the backing of the Home Secretary, Michael How- ard, for the measure, despite initial government resistance on the grounds that "combat" weapons could not be distinguished from household knives.

Under the Bill, it would be an offence, punishable by up to two years in jail, to market a knife in a way which "indicates or suggests that it is suitable for combat" or will "stimulate or en- courage violent behaviour". It will also be an offence to sell, hire or offer for sale a knife suitable for combat. Whether a particular knife is "suitable for combat" will be for the courts to decide.

Mr Wray, who came top of the private members' ballot, criticised the Government's failure to come up with a workable definition of a combat knife sooner: "It is not beyond the wit of reasonable people to tell the difference between a knife designed to cut through bread and one designed to cut through people," he said.

If someone could show a lawful purpose for having a knife doing so should not be an offence. "I believe we can get the balance right," he added.

Mr Wray, MP for Glasgow Govan, conceded that the carrying of an offensive weapon in a public place was already illegal. "But that is not enough. We must also tackle supply by banning the sale of weapons that have only the purpose of wounding and killing. The tide of public opinion has turned against these weapons being available."

The MP said the names of some knives - including an "SAS shoulder-holster knife and a Rambo short sword" - alone betrayed their purpose. The Bill, a response to the appeal by Frances Lawrence after the stabbing of her late husband, Philip, would also extend police powers to allow an officer of superintendent rank or above to order the stopping and searching of people or vehicles within a specified area for 24 hours, renewable for 24 hours.

The Home Office minister David Maclean pledged the Government's support, saying: "I believe the proposals in this Bill will make a significant contribution in stamping out the unpleasant and unacceptable ways combat knives are marketed."

Alun Michael, his Labour counterpart, said: "We are pleased that the Government has finally acted to curb the menace of combat knives."

A judge yesterday gave a warning about knives after a public-school boy was cleared of murder. Mr Justice Moses told Teesside Crown Court: "Nobody listening to this case can have doubted the terrible results of carrying knives." The 15-year-old, a pupil at Barnard Castle School, Co Durham, was cleared of murder and manslaughter over the death of Ian Gamble, 16, who was knifed in the heart.