Justice system dealing with highest number of knife crimes in decade

By Flora Thompson, PA Home Affairs Correspondent

The number of knife crimes being dealt with by the police and courts is the highest in a decade, official figures show.

There were 22,286 knife and offensive weapon offences formally dealt with by the criminal justice system in England and Wales in the year ending September 2019, according to Ministry of Justice (MoJ) statistics.

This is a 3% rise on the previous year (21,553) and the highest since September 2009 (26,364).

The rise is driven by the number of offences for possession of a knife or weapon – up to 17,048 from 15,965 the previous year, according to a report.

The figures follow Tuesday’s announcement that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will lead a new Cabinet committee looking at ways to tackle crime.

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This came after data released by the Office for National Statistics in October revealed that police-recorded offences involving a knife or sharp instrument hit a record high in the year to June, up 7% on the previous 12 months to 44,076.

The latest MoJ figures show that for most offenders (71%) this was their first crime of this kind.

According to the report, offenders are now more likely to be handed an immediate jail sentence for knife and weapon offences, and for longer.

In the year to September, 38% of lower level knife and offensive weapon offences like possession or making threats with a weapon resulted in an immediate custodial sentence compared with 23% for the same period in 2009.

The average length of prison sentences for such crimes also rose over the same period, from six to eight months, the document said.

The report stressed the figures for the latest year were provisional estimates.

Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said: “We need to tackle the root causes and understand why those involved carry knives.

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“Increasing the number and length of sentences can only be part of the solution, as this may not deter young people who are suffering a poverty of hope.

“The new Government urgently needs to work with charities, education, health, youth workers, the criminal justice system and local communities to find long-term solutions, so vulnerable children have a reason to turn away from crime.”

Mr Johnson has ordered all Whitehall departments to take action on tackling crime.

He told ministers that every department should consider itself a criminal justice department as part of a drive to look at the “complex causes of crime” which would involve long-term reforms to improve health, social care, youth services and education.

On Thursday, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The Government is taking urgent action to tackle knife crime and keep people safe.

“These figures should serve as a stark warning to those carrying knives that you are more likely to be jailed and for longer than at any point in the last decade.”

Mr Johnson has “made clear that making our streets safer is an urgent priority for his Government.

“Driving down violent crime and making sure that serious offenders are properly punished and spend longer behind bars is a clear priority for the Government.”