Headmaster's murder sets off national knife amnesty

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The Independent Online
A nationwide knives amnesty will be launched this week by Britain's chief constables in the wake of the murder of the school headmaster Philip Lawrence.

From 9am on Wednesday, police stations will accept the surrender of knives with no questions being asked of the people who hand them in.

The Home Office said last night that Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, backs the amnesty. He was said to have been moved by the death, on 8 December, of Mr Lawrence, who was stabbed while trying to protect one of his pupils at St George's School in north-west London from a gang of youths.

All 43 police forces in England and Wales will take part in the amnesty. Police stations will be supplied with special bins, donated by the Daily Mirror, into which knives can be deposited.

The availability of knives shocked Mrs Frances Lawrence and her children after the death of her husband. She said she and her four children were "bewildered" that such weapons were so freely available. "Of course I am against knives, and of course they should not be readily available, as other weapons should not be readily available," she said.

Last week, MPs gave an unopposed first reading to a new Bill to strengthen further laws on carrying knives in public.

It would allow police to arrest without a warrant people carrying knives in public without a good reason and increase the maximum penalty for carrying a knife in public to six month's imprisonment.

Details of the amnesty emerged as Strathclyde police announced the results of a 12-hour anti-knife campaign during which officers searched 5.600 people. They found 43 weapons and expect to prosecute in all cases.

When, in 1993, Strathclyde police announced its own amnesty, more than 4,500 knives and 140 swords were recovered in one month The Strathclyde campaign led to a 50 per cent drop in knife-wound cases seen at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. It also led, indirectly, to a change in Scottish law which shifted the burden of proof when a person was found with a knife in public.

Previously police had to prove he had it for an unlawful purpose but now the defendant has to prove he had a lawful reason for carrying it.

A spokeswoman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said: "Whilst it remains a decision for each chief police officer whether or not to use the [special bins], there has been overwhelming support from forces for such a campaign at this time.

"Anything we can do to stop the use of knives and similar weapons in crime must be good news," she added.