Police amnesty nets 40,000 lethal weapons

Violent Britain: Labour renews calls for tighter knife controls
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The Independent Online
JASON BENNETTO

Crime Correspondent

About 40,000 knives, machetes, swords and other weapons were handed in at police stations in England and Wales during a four-week amnesty, it was revealed yesterday.

News of the vast haul of lethal implements was greeted by fresh calls from Labour and a chief constable for legislation to restrict the sale and advertisement of knives. The Home Office is currently reviewing the law on dangerous blades, which includes considering action against shops and mail-order firms.

With results from two of the 43 police forces still to come, the total number of weapons handed in had reached 37,600 yesterday. The final figure is expected to be about 40,000.

The weapons were placed in special bins at police stations in England and Wales. Along with kitchen and sheath knives people also left ceremonial swords, cleavers, flick knives, bayonets, CS gas canisters, air pistols and knuckle dusters. Most will be melted down.

The police said the exercise, which came in response to the murder of headmaster Philip Lawrence, 48, who was stabbed outside his school in Maida Vale, west London, had been a "huge success". In the Metropolitan Police area 3,741 knives were handed in. Staffordshire had the highest turn-out with 4,804 weapons. Surprisingly, some forces with large urban areas had relatively few knives given in, such as in Merseyside were the total was 595.

Eleven police forces received more than 1,000 weapons each. Both Devon and Cornwall and Sussex police forces had more than 1,300 weapons handed in. The area with the fewest retrieved knives was the City of London with 21. Norfolk and Kent forces have yet to issue figures.

Maria Wallis, Assistant Chief Constable of Sussex Police, who co-ordinated the campaign, said: "We must start getting the message to young people that it is not macho to carry knives."

She added that some of the weapons handed in might be forensically examined if they were believed to have been involved in a specific crime.

Pauline Clare, the Chief Constable of Lancashire Police, said yesterday that she would support new legislation to outlaw the sale of knives to people without a "legitimate" reason for wanting them. She said sales could be covered by a system of licensing similar to that for firearms.

Sir Paul Condon, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, told the Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs last week that he would support new restrictions on the sale and advertisement of blades. He also warned of a growing knife culture among teenage gangs.

Jack Straw, Labour's home affairs spokesman, yesterday proposed new controls on knives, including a ban on their sale to people under 16 and statutory powers to control the advertising of mail-order sales and the display of military-style blades.

He is also pressing for warning labels to be attached to legitimately sold knives detailing the legal restrictions on carrying them.

The Offensive Weapons Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, will increase the maximum penalty for carrying a knife without a good reason from six months to two years and an unlimited fine.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, yesterday praised the amnesty which he described as an "excellent campaign".

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