Knives most common weapon in youth murders

Knives were used in almost four out of 10 killings of young people in the UK, more than any other weapon, figures showed today.

More than a dozen young people have been killed by knives in London alone this year, but the UK still has one of the lowest knife homicide rates in Europe, with 0.23 deaths per 100,000 people, along with Azerbaijan (0.06), Germany (0.23), and Slovenia (0.23), the World Health Organisation (WHO) figures showed.

The WHO said a knife was used in 39.5% of homicides, and in 12% of all violent crimes, among young people aged 10-29 between 2004 and 2006.

And more than one in 10 hospital admissions for assault in the UK involved the use of a sharp implement, the figures showed.

The WHO said 15,000 young people were killed in Europe every year, with 40% of these deaths involving knives, but much of the violence could be prevented by using a public health approach.

Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, said: "There is much to be gained by adapting the experience of some of the most successful European countries in preventing violence."

Pointing to the UK as an example, she said: "If all countries reached the same homicide rates as the lowest in the region, Europe could potentially save over 13,000 young lives per year. In other words, nine out of 10 such deaths could be avoided.

"This makes compelling arguments for increased investment in violence prevention, especially when rising unemployment and weakened social welfare are associated with increased violence."

Hospital admissions for assault with sharp weapons ranged from 0.9 per 100,000 in the UK to 6.9 per 100,000 in Finland.

And 85% of those aged between 10 and 25 in England and Wales who carried knives said they did so for self-protection.

But the WHO report also raised concerns about the effectiveness of knife amnesties.

"Although a knife amnesty can help to raise awareness of the problem and may remove some weapons from circulation, the sheer number of knives available in homes and elsewhere limits their effectiveness," the WHO said.

In England and Wales, a national five-week knife amnesty ran in 2006, collecting almost 90,000 knives and leading to reductions in knife-enabled offences at around five weeks after implementation.

But offences had returned to pre-amnesty levels by eight weeks, the WHO said.

"A broader initiative was implemented in Strathclyde, Scotland, in 1993. A knife amnesty was combined with a mass media campaign, improved safety measures in drinking environments and communication with both knife retailers and young people.

"Again, serious stabbings presenting to a local emergency department declined up to the first 10 months but surpassed pre-initiative levels a year after the intervention."

The WHO's European report on preventing violence and knife crime among young people also found deprived sections of society were disproportionately affected by knife crime.

The report added that the weapons carried by young people "may vary substantially within countries".

"For example, in the United Kingdom, guns in Manchester but knives in London and Glasgow," the WHO said.

Young people who get involved in violence and weapon-carrying also tend to be involved in other forms of delinquency and risky behaviour, the WHO said.

A UK study found that males who had been convicted of violent crimes between the ages of 10 and 21 tended to be troublesome, difficult to discipline and dishonest at 8-10 and to be frequent truants, liars and bullies at 12-14.

By 18, they reported drug use, heavy alcohol use, gambling, drink-driving and sexual promiscuity, the study found.

A Home Office spokesman said: "These statistics are now four years old, but the fact is that these terrible crimes remain stubbornly high.

"That is why we are reforming the police service and slashing red-tape to ensure the people who know best, communities and local forces, are free to use their knowledge to tackle this problem."

He said the police were doing "excellent work to tackle knife crime and violence amongst young people", with more than 26,000 searches for knives taking place in London alone since April.

"Other agencies also have a key role to play and this year the Government is providing £4 million to local partnerships to support their work in tackling serious violence involving young people," he said.

"We are also committed to ensuring hospitals share A&E data so action against youth violence can be targeted at the times and places it is most needed.

"We also need to further empower communities, including young people, to reject violence and stand together against those who seek to intimidate or hurt others."