Scourge of the most common murder weapon

The use of a "sharp weapon" led to the deaths of 167 boys and men and 69 girls and women in the year ending April 2005.

A knife is the most common murder weapon and was used in 29 per cent of homicides in England and Wales last year. By contrast a gun is used only about nine per cent of homicides in England and Wales. There were 77 case last year out of a total of 820 homicides.

While the total number of fatal stabbings has remained fairly constant over the past decade, with 231 in 1994 and 236 in 2004, the carrying of knives by young people is on the increase. Four per cent of people aged 10 to 25 carried a knife in the last 12 months for protection, for use in crimes or in case they got into a fight, according to Home Office research. Less than one per cent said they had carried a gun.

Carrying knives was most common among 14 to 21 year olds - 6 per cent. Three per cent of children in mainstream schools said they had used a weapon of some sort against a person at some time. For children excluded from school this rose to 14 per cent.

New powers to stop children taking knives into schools are going through Parliament. The Violent Crime Bill will also raise the minimum age for buying a knife from 16 to 18.

Ministers have promised new powers for schools and the police to search pupils for weapons. Airport-style metal detectors have already been introduced in some schools. The new legislation follows a series of high-profile stabbings in recent years involving children that have shocked the country. In November 2000, schoolboy Damilola Taylor was stabbed in the thigh with a broken bottle and bled to death at a block of flats in Peckham, south London. The 10-year-old schoolboy was on his way home from a computer club. No one has been successfully prosecuted for the crime.

In November 2003, Luke Walmsley, 14, was stabbed to death by a fellow pupil at Birkbeck Secondary School in North Somercotes, Lincolnshire, during a break between lessons. His killer, Alan Pennell, 16, thrust a three-inch lock knife into Luke's heart. Pennell was found guilty of murder and jailed for life in 2004.

In June 2004, Kieran Rodney-Davis, 15, was stabbed to death in what police believed was an attempt to steal his mobile phone in Fulham, west London. Lassells Hazel, 17, was found guilty of man-slaughter and sentenced to 10 years.

Earlier this year, 11-year-old Joe Geeling, who had cystic fibrosis, was stabbed to death. His body was found in a ditch in Bury, Greater Manchester. A 14-year-old boy has appeared in court over the case. The defendant's lawyers say he has admitted killing Joe.