Thu, Aug 10, 2006 - Page 6 News List

UK study uncovers sharp increase in crimes with knives

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

There has been a surge in knife crime in the UK over the past year, including a 60 percent rise -- 15,000 extra cases -- in robberies in which a blade was used, according to a study released yesterday. The jump in the 12 months to April will alarm the home secretary, John Reid, as he struggles to restore credibility to the government's drive against crime.

Analysis of the latest British Crime Survey also shows use of knives in muggings was up 72 percent to 42,020 attacks. Assaults by strangers rose 55 percent to 51,780.

In total, knife crime rose to 169,400 incidents last year and this year -- a 25 percent increase at a time when crime generally has fallen.

The author of the report, Chris Eades of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College, London, said government strategy for dealing with knife crime was incoherent and irrational, and the effectiveness of measures such as Reid's proposed four-year minimum sentence for carrying a knife was unproven.

"There is insufficient evidence that knife amnesty or increasing sentence length for carrying knives will decrease the level of knife use and carrying. Due to the easy availability of knives there will always be opportunities to commit knife offences," Eades said.

"They are merely a tool used in violent crime. Success will only come in dealing with the underlying causes of violence, fear and insecurity."

The report says 28 percent of schoolchildren have carried some kind of weapon in the past year -- even if it is only a "legal" penknife. The proportion carrying a weapon rises to 57 percent of all children excluded from school.

A recent Youth Justice Board survey showed that 36 percent of students who had been a victim of crime had "taken a weapon to school to defend themselves" compared with 18 percent who had not been victims.

The study stresses that although there has been "a significant jump" in some types of knife crime the long-term trend still shows a sustained drop, matching the fall in violent crime.

However, Eades said the increase in the past 12 months was significant and showed the government needed to tackle the root causes of knife crime. Amnesties would have little impact as long as unsliced bread existed, he said.

A Home Office spokeswoman said a summer amnesty had collected 90,000 knives in England and Wales.

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