Thugs fuel boom in baseball bat sales

Sales of baseball bats are booming in Britain - not because of any enthusiasm for the all-American ball game, but because they are the ideal weapon for thugs who want to hand out a beating.

Far more bats have been sold than there are baseball players in the UK. They have been used in violent crimes ranging from killings and robberies to road-rage and domestic attacks.

At the Glastonbury festival last weekend a 26-year-old man from Bootle, Merseyside, was taken to hospital critically ill after being beaten with baseball bats by three men when he tried to scale the festival's perimeter fence. Police are treating the attack as attempted murder.

Although baseball is a small, minority sport in the UK, most big sports shops sell the bats which come in various sizes and are made of solid wood or metal.

"There is no doubt the use is increasing and it is of course very much a favoured weapon in Northern Ireland for punishment beatings. They cause a lot of damage," said Ivan Hill, senior lecturer in criminology at the University of Sunderland.

"Taxi drivers in some areas carry small baseball bats or batons for protection and people are becoming more self-defence-minded. There have been several recent cases where burglars have been hit over the head with a baseball bat kept by the bed."

The first recorded non-sporting use of a baseball bat was by Al Capone in 1929. But it is a difficult object to police. South London-based Detective Inspector Geoff Whitehouse said: "It can be construed as an offensive weapon, but we have to prove that someone intends to use it for causing injury. You could get a couple of people walking down the street with a bat and they say they have just come from a game on the common. We are going to be struggling."

According to design engineer Mike Leigh, the baseball bat is more suited than a cricket bat as a weapon because it is better balanced. "It is rounded and heavier at the bottom so that once you let it go the weight itself does the damage," he said.

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