Tougher sentences demanded as two in three knife criminals spared jail
Less than one in three criminals arrested with a knife in the West Midlands are sent to prison, new figures reveal.
The region has been plunged into a knife crime epidemic, with the number of cases up by 20 per cent over the last year, while in the UK more than 40 people have been stabbed to death so far in 2019.
According to Ministry of Justice figures 1,182 people were cautioned or convicted by West Midlands Police in 2018 for possession of a knife or offensive weapon.
But just 347 of them – or 29 per cent – were sent straight to prison.
The figure represents a seven per cent drop on the previous year and is under the national average of 34 per cent.
In 326 cases across the region knife criminals were handed a community order, 256 offenders were given a suspended sentence and a further 99 were fined or discharged from court without a sentence.
One in four criminals cautioned or convicted were children, according to the data. A total of 313 criminals were re-offenders, while 61 had been cautioned or convicted three times or more.
Justice minister Rory Stewart said people caught with a blade were more likely to get jailed than at any time in the past 10 years.
“Knife crime destroys lives and shatters communities, and this government is doing everything in its power to tackle its devastating consequences,” he said.
“Sentences for those carrying knives are getting tougher - they are more likely to be sent straight to prison, and for longer - than at any time in the last decade.”
West Midlands Police has prioritised knife crime, and was one of seven forces to receive a share of £100 million in government funding to target the issue.
'Stiffer sentences for those carrying knives'
Violent criminals caught carrying knives should be subjected to stiffer sentences under UK law, the region's police commissioner claimed.
David Jamieson said that Britain’s courts were often failing to hand out sentences that reflected public demands for justice after criminals had been arrested and charged.
He was speaking after new Ministry for Justice figures showed that more than two-thirds of all knife crime offenders in the West Midlands were spared jail last year.
The figures include repeat offenders and come despite “two strikes and out” laws requiring minimum six month sentences for anyone caught with a blade for a second time.
West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Mr Jamieson said: “In many cases of us arresting people you find the courts do not take a line that is reflective of the public view.
“What I would say to the courts is that they should be taking the most appropriate action at the moment, with harsher sentences for those very nasty people who are willing harm on other people. For those really serious, nasty people, who are intent on doing serious harm to other people, the courts should provide a sentence that reflects that nastiness and seriousness.”
West Midlands Police Chief Constable Dave Thompson has declared knife crime across the region an “emergency”, and has implemented extensive stop and search powers in Birmingham following a spate of fatal stabbings.
The force said it had stopped and searched 408 people using its new powers over four days earlier this month, arresting 24 people and seizing 14 weapons.
Anyone caught with a knife for a second time should automatically receive a six month jail sentence under Section 28 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.
But since the legislation was brought in there have been widespread concerns over its implementation.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid recently unveiled plans for new knife crime prevention orders, which will place curbs on people such as limiting their use of social media to stop gang rivalries from escalating.
How easy is it for children to buy a knife?
An undercover 17-year-old was sold a knife after a series of test purchases in Wolverhampton.
It came as part of an operation between Whitmore Reans Police and Wolverhampton Council’s Trading Standards to crackdown on knife crime in the city.
The operation, called Lithium 1, saw a 17-year-old licensing apprentice going undercover to put shop owners to the test – and see how simple it is to purchase a knife.
George, an apprentice at the council, visited shops across the city – with all but one following the legal procedure to ask for proof of age.
The shop, which has not been named due to ongoing investigation, sold the 99p knife, which was displayed on the shop counter, to the underage teenager.
George said: “Most stores I visited asked for ID to prove I was 18 before I could buy the knife.
“I made up different excuses each time to see if anyone would allow me to go ahead without any identification – but each person serving turned me away. When I walked into the final shop, it really shocked me. It was so easy to walk away with a knife in my hand. The knives were cheap and clearly displayed on the counter.
“Most young kids have a pound in their pocket and that’s all the knife cost – a pound and potentially someone’s life.” The shop owner, who believed the apprentice was of legal age, received an official police warning.
The operation comes after a series of stabbings in the West Midlands and London, with Home Secretary Sajid Javid calling for the “senseless violence” to end when visiting the region.
Councillor Steve Evans, cabinet member for city environment, said: “The recent spate of tragic violence across the country underlines the importance of investing time in operations like this to educate shop keepers and protect young people in getting involved in knife crime.
“I’m pleased the majority of shop owners are carrying out their duties correctly, but it is still disappointing to see not all are challenging those who look under the age of 25.”