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Nearly one in four shops is breaking the law on underage knife sales in some areas, according to council trading standards departments.
In test purchases in one area an underage teenager was sold a machete, another was sold a lock knife and a 14-year-old managed to buy a nine-inch serrated knife. It is illegal to sell knives to anyone aged under 18. The Local Government Association (LGA) called it worrying, and called on retailers to fund underage test purchasing operations and work more closely with councils to help improve compliance. The LGA says greater fines and tougher sentences are also needed for irresponsible retailers breaking knife sale laws.
Seven out of 29 shops, including two major supermarket chains, sold a knife to a person under 18 in test purchases partly undertaken by Devon, Somerset and Torbay Trading Standards Service, with Avon and Somerset Police. Blades sold included a machete, a lock knife and kitchen knives. A nine-inch serrated knife was sold to a 14-year-old. Four retailers, including a major supermarket chain, sold either razor blades or craft knives to a 15-year-old boy and a 16-year-old boy, in separate test purchases undertaken by Royal Greenwich Trading Standards and the police.
Most retailers do pass test purchases on underage knife sales. The LGA says it’s concerned with those who broke the law, particularly when the latest crime figures from the Office for National Statistics show a rise in recorded knife crimes.
Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Despite most retailers passing test purchases of knives, trading standards teams at councils across the country are uncovering some shocking abuses of the law. Knives are lethal weapons in the wrong hands and it’s vital that shops do all they can to prevent them falling into the hands of young people because just one illegal knife sale could have tragic consequences.
“Knife crime has risen significantly in the past year. Clearly there are many different ways that people access knives, whether from home, high street stores or online sales, but we need to make sure that the retail supply of knives is managed robustly across all sales points. The recent government announcement on collection points for online knife sales is an encouraging step, but needs to be backed up with action on the high street where the sale of knives needs to be checked consistently, for example, by asking for proof of age if a retailer is unsure the buyer is under 18.
“With councils experiencing ongoing funding pressures, we are calling on the retail industry to step up and fund underage test purchasing activities and liaise with councils to help improve safety standards and compliance with the law on knife sales. Councils will be working with retailers to educate them about their responsibilities when it comes to selling knives, continue to carry out test purchasing and won’t hesitate to take enforcement action against anyone selling such dangerous weapons unlawfully. Tougher sentences, including larger fines, are also needed to reflect the seriousness of selling knives to children.”
Retailers who sell a knife to someone aged under 18 face up to six months in jail or a fine of up to £5,000. Those who fail test purchases are either prosecuted or cautioned, or have receive warnings and compliance advice on underage knife sales.