Knife or offensive weapon offences at 10-year high in England and Wales

Jamie Grierson Home affairs correspondent
Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty Images

The number of knife or offensive weapon offences receiving cautions or convictions in England and Wales has hit a 10-year-high.

In the year ending September 2019, the criminal justice system dealt with 22,286 knife and offensive weapon offences, a 3% increase on the previous year and the highest number since 2009 when 26,364 were recorded.

The increase was driven by a rise in the number of cautions or convictions for offences involving possession of an article with a blade or point.

Offenders are now more likely to receive an immediate custodial sentence for a knife and offensive weapon offence, and sentences are getting longer, according to the Ministry of Justice data.

Guardian graphic.

Nearly four in 10 (38%) knife and offensive weapon offences resulted in an immediate custodial sentence last year, compared with 23% in the year ending September 2009. The average length of the custodial sentences has increased from six months to 8.1 months over the same period.

The figures cover the opening three months of Boris Johnson’s tenure as prime minister. Johnson has placed “safer streets” at the heart of his political vision, but critics have dismissed his hardline approach to crime as populist.

Guardian graphic

Barnardo’s chief executive, Javed Khan, said: “Knife crime devastates families and communities, especially as victims and offenders are often children. We need to tackle the root causes and understand why those involved carry knives.

“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. Often they have no qualifications, no job prospects, and no role models, making them vulnerable to criminal gangs who force them to deliver drugs and carry knives to protect themselves. We need to reach them before they reach for a knife.”

He added: “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.”

Johnson has reportedly 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 causes of crime that would involve long-term reforms to health and social care, youth services and education.

The justice minister, Chris Philp, said on Thursday: “This government is determined to turn the tide on knife crime. We are recruiting 20,000 more police officers, extending stop and search and making sure the most violent offenders spend longer behind bars. These figures should serve as a stark warning to those carrying knives: you are more likely to be jailed, and for longer, than at any point in the last decade.”