Knives disguised as lipstick and combs for young women being promoted via Instagram

Helen Chandler-Wilde
A woman poses with a 'hidden comb blade' sold by Alien Outfitters, among many knives disguised as ordinary items - Instagram

Instagram is being used to promote illegal knives designed to be attractive to young women, The Telegraph can disclose.

The knives – some disguised as lipsticks or combs and highly decorous – are being promoted through the photo-sharing website. The site, which is owned by the social media giant Facebook, is accused of "reprehensible" behaviour by promoting products banned in the UK.

An investigation by the Telegraph has uncovered a trail involving a US business specialising in selling knives to women that are then imported to the UK.

This newspaper discovered a young British mother who was bought an illegal "flickknife" decorated with a mermaid, for a Christmas present by her husband. The woman even gave the knife a name – calling it "Baby". The importation of such knives is illegal under the UK’s strict knife crime laws. Instagram is used to promote the knives and link to the company’s website, based in North Carolina.

The Ben Kinsella Trust, a campaigning charity set up in memory of Ben Kinsella, a 16-year-old stabbed to death in Islington a decade ago, said it was appalling that Instagram was helping promote the US company Alien Outfitters.

"Instagram’s action in hosting this site is reprehensible,” said Patrick Green,  the charity’s chief executive. “They are glamorising these knives as fashion accessories.  This is a forum where young people openly encourage each other to break the law by buying flick knives and concealed knives which are illegal for any age group."

The knife, fourth from the left, iooks just like a lipstick apart from the blade Credit: Instagram

He added: “From the colours, designs, and model names such as mermaid and fanciful rainbow, they are clearly aimed directly at young women. They look like toys. They are not toys.

“They are weapons that bring devastation to hundreds of families each year.  The vendor goes to great lengths in the small print to distance themselves from any liability, clearly indicating that they understand the dangers that these knives pose."

Alien Outfitters uses photographs of young women to sell the knives. A flick-knife, described as their "rainbow blade", is modelled by a woman, and captioned with the hashtags #girlpower and #likeagirl.

A comb knife from the site Credit: Instagram

The knives are relatively cheap. One knife, disguised as a comb, is available on the site for £9, while another which looks like a lipstick costs £11.50.

The website also promotes bladed knuckle dusters made to look like cats. Each blade is an ear of the cat. The store posted a picture of a woman posing with one, with the caption "kitty keychain puncher". Women have commented below saying "for self defence" and "I’m getting one!! I dare somebody!!!"

The shop’s website says the knives and knuckle dusters it sells are only for ornamental use by over-18s, and buyers must check their local laws before ordering. However, they can be posted anywhere in the world, and the shop asks buyers themselves to verify that they are over 18. It is not clear what further checks are made.

Selling most types of knife to anyone under 18 is illegal in the UK. Depending on the type of knife, possession, importation or ownership can be illegal for adults as well and carry tough penalties.

Knuckle dusters are among the items being sold by Alien Outfitters Credit: Instagram

Knives that are illegal to import, sell or  be given as a gift include many of the weapons being promoted on Instagram by Alien Outfitters. They include flick knives and disguised knives, such as the lipstick knife, and bladed knuckle dusters.

While violent images are banned under Instagram’s terms of use, it is not clear that the promoting of knives themselves breaches those terms. Instagram had by Saturday declined to comment. Alien Outfitters failed to respond to an email request for comment. On its website the company says: "All knives are intended for decorative and ornemental [sic] purposes."

One British woman from Eastbourne boasted about a knife she received from Alien Outfitters on her Facebook and Instagram pages. Michelle Berwick, a mother-of-two, said her husband had purchased the knife, decorated with a mermaid, for her as a Christmas present.

Michelle Berwick who has bought and then displayed knives on Facebook from US company Alien Outfitters Credit: Facebook

She posted two videos on Facebook showing off the knife and opening and closing its brightly coloured blade with the flick of a switch. The pastel-coloured weapon is a flick knife, which is illegal in the UK. One video she posted with the knife is captioned: “Still obsessed with my baby. It’s literally the most fun thing to play with.”

On the Instagram site used by Alien Outfitters, she posted: “I have the rainbow chain link knife. Her name is Baby. She’s beautiful.”

Mrs Berwick refused to discuss the knife when approached by the Telegraph but her husband Dwayne Berwick defended the purchase of what he called an “interesting trinket”. He confirmed he had bought it through Alien Outfitters.

The “interesting trinket” bought for Michelle Berwick Credit: Facebook

He said: “It was never my idea that she should stick it into her handbag and take it out - it was more of an interesting trinket. I bought it from Alien Outfitters in the US and to be honest the import taxes cost more than the knife itself.”

Asked if he had concerns that designing knives specifically to appeal to women could lead to a fresh epidemic of knife crime, he said: “I can see there may be fears over that, that some women may take them out and use them. But that is not why I bought it for Michelle. She has always been fascinated with knives and brightly coloured things and I thought the rainbow design would appeal to her.

“I bought one for a friend as well and I think they are being freely imported into the country - it’s not illegal or anything.”

An Instagram spokesperson said the @alienoutfitters account had been reviewed and a number of posts had been blocked for UK users after the Telegraph brought the content to their attention.

"Illegal activity is not allowed on Instagram. Our guidelines clearly state that people must always follow the law when offering to sell or buy goods.

"People can report content they think is against our community guidelines using our in-app tools.

"Our global team of reviewers check these reports 24 hours a day and move quickly to remove any violating content or accounts," the spokesperson added.

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