New knife curb to ban sale to under-16s

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The Independent Online

Crime Correspondent

People aged under 16 are to be banned from buying knives, the Government has decided.

The move is part of the clampdown on what police believe is a growing knife culture in Britain - highlighted by the stabbing to death of London headmaster Philip Lawrence.

New laws to ban the sale of knives will be added to the Offensive Weapons Bill, which has all-party backing and is currently going through Parliament.

The Government is expected to announce the change on Friday.

Once the Bill becomes law it will be illegal for shopkeepers to sell knives to under 16-year-olds. They are already barred from selling cigarettes and glue to youngsters. At present there are no age restrictions on buying knives.

Kitchen knives, daggers, combat-style blades, and "survival" weapons are among those expected to be covered under the new regulations. Ministers still have to decide on the wording of the new legislation and whether all knives will come under the ban. The changes will be added as amendments to the Bill in the next few weeks.

It is understood that the Home Office would also like to introduce restrictions on the sale and advertisements of knives via mail order catalogues, however this appears unlikely because of the difficulties in enforcing any new laws.

Tim Kirkhope, Home Office Minister, has already spoken out against children buying "razor-sharp kitchen knives or commando-style daggers".

The Offensive Weapons Bill, which is to be renamed, will increase the maximum penalty from six months to a two-year jail sentence or an unlimited fine for carrying a knife without good reason. The maximum sentence for carrying an offensive weapon such as a cosh or knuckle duster would also go up from two to four years.

There has been increasing concern about the growing availability of knives and the apparent increasing willingness of people to use them during attacks.

More than 37,000 knives were surrendered last month in an amnesty in England and Wales. Of the 677 murders in this country in 1994, 236 were stabbings.

The Bill, which was introduced by Conservative MP Lady Olga Maitland, was brought in the wake of the fatal stabbing of Mr Lawrence, who was murdered outside his school.

The Association of Chief Police Officers supports a ban on the sale of knives to children, although there is concern about the practicalities of trying to enforce the law.

Last month Sir Paul Condon, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, told the Home Affairs Select Committee that he would welcome any restriction on the sale of knives to young people.

"There is a growing willingness by young people to carry knives... as part of a street culture," he said.

In 1985 London saw a peak of 2,758 knife offences committed by adults and young people. By1993 the figure had fallen to 2,332 but last year the authorities saw it rise again to 2,550.