Undercover police cadets buy knives in Plymouth shop sting

Underage Police Cadets were able to buy knives in Plymouth
-Credit: (Image: Devon and Cornwall Police)


Two undercover police cadets were able to buy knives from a number of shops in Plymouth despite being underage. Devon and Cornwall Police said the operation was aimed to establish how easy it was for people under the age of 18 to buy knives in the city.

Plain-clothed officers were joined by citizens in policing, as two police cadets under the age of 18 volunteered to take part in the operation. They visited 21 retailers across Plymouth, ranging from independent stores to national high street chains, in an attempt to buy different types of bladed article.

Of the 21 retailers visited, 14 passed by following the ‘Challenge 25’ protocol, requesting ID at the earliest opportunity and refusing to sell the bladed article to the young person. However, seven retailers failed to check the bladed article was not being sold to an underage person.

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Devon and Cornwall Police said no offences were committed during the operation as a plain-clothed officer stepped in before the purchase took place. If they hadn't, the seven stores would have committed the offence of selling knives to persons under the age of 18 which is a summary only offence contrary to section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

It carries a maximum of six months’ imprisonment (or in the case of an organisation, an unlimited fine). In total, the team prevented 23 knives from being sold to the underage police volunteers.

Inspector Paul Laity said: “Gathering this information is important in helping the police and our partners to understand where education and training is lacking. Whilst the results cause concern, this presents an opportunity for the police and Trading Standards to work closely with retailers across the city to improve education around the legalities, risks and penalties associated with selling bladed articles to underage people.”

Each store involved in the operation was given a pass or fail letter from the police. The letter signposts retailers to the National Business Crime Centre’s Knife Retailer Toolkit, which provides retailers with a good practice guide, training checklists and educational posters for staff and members of the public.

Inspector Laity added: “Education has been a key takeaway from the operation, and it has highlighted gaps in training for some retailers, and the need for all employees at every store to have a thorough understanding of the law using till prompts and the widely recognised ‘Challenge 25’ scheme. When challenged, some retail workers stated they were ‘just so busy’ and ‘didn’t want to embarrass the customer by asking their age’. Young people don’t get embarrassed when asked about their age, and they are used to being asked for valid ID as young adults entering pubs and clubs.”

Underage Police Cadets were able to buy knives in Plymouth
Underage Police Cadets were able to buy knives in Plymouth -Credit:Devon and Cornwall Police

“Improved education and awareness of the risks of selling age-restricted items such as knives to underage people aims to not only protect our communities from serious, violent crimes, prevent crimes from taking place and take potentially dangerous weapons off our streets, but also to empower retailers to be confident in challenging individuals to produce ID and ensure no bladed articles are being purchased by underage people.”

Devon and Cornwall Police said: "Information gathered during this operation has been passed to Trading Standards, who will be joining local police supervisors in visiting retailers to raise awareness of schemes such as Challenge 25, and No Proof of Age- No Sale (NPOANS). NPOANS is an interactive online toolkit aimed at all businesses and premises that sell age-restricted goods or services.

"It provides easy-to-use guidance on how to prevent the illegal sale of age restricted goods and services. This additional training tool is subsidised by South West Trading Standards, and traders operating in the South West can currently sign up free of charge here."

Alex Fry, operations manager for Heart of the South West Trading Standards said “We are pleased to be involved with Devon & Cornwall Police as part of this test purchase operation in Plymouth. Our Trading Standards officers work closely with the police and regularly carry out test purchases across the service area to ensure knives and other age-restricted products are not being sold to anyone under the age of 18. Retailers of all sizes need to follow the rules, and our officers are always willing to help retailers with training or practical compliance advice on avoiding underage sales.”

Inspector Laity said: “This was a really successful test purchase operation in the sense it yielded some vital results to help us understand how we can improve safety in Plymouth, mitigate knife crime and help us implement changes within the city alongside our partners and local retailers to make positive, lasting change. We will continue to work with local retailers to ensure learnings from this operation have been put into place, and we will carry out further test purchase operations in the future to ensure retailers remain vigilant.”

“I would like to thank all of the retailers who engaged with us. We will continue to build strong relationships with retailers in Plymouth in partnership with Trading Standards to improve awareness and education to prevent serious and violent crimes from taking place. We would like to reiterate that knife crime is not tolerated in Plymouth and we are working closely with our communities and partners to make Plymouth a safe place to live, work and visit.”

Inspector Laity continued: “It is important to remember that carrying out test purchase operations not only safeguards the wider community from the threat of knife crime, but also protects the safety of vulnerable individuals who may be a risk to themselves by carrying a knife, and those experiencing poor mental health who engage in self-harm. I want to ensure we are looking at every angle and use every opportunity we can to deter everyone, especially young people, away from knife crime.”