June 1, 2009 / 11:29 PM / 10 years ago

UK youths in street knife "arms race"

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Britain is in the grip of a knife “arms race,” especially in deprived city areas, as more teenagers arm themselves for protection, an inquiry by Members of Parliament said on Tuesday.

A policeman holds a lock knife over a selection of dangerous weapons seized by Lothian and Borders police at St Leonard's police station in Edinburgh, Scotland in this May 23, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/David Moir

The rise in youths carrying knives and knife-related violence in the last few years has been driven by a lack of trust in the ability of police and parents to keep kids safe, the Home Affairs Committee study said.

“We are seeing a spiraling of the arms race as far as knife crime is concerned,” said committee chairman Keith Vaz. “Young people carry knives because they fear that others are carrying knives.

“This spiraling of knife possession puts all young people at risk. We have to stop this arms race,” he said.

While the report stressed the number of teenagers who actually use knives in acts of violence is “very small,” and that the overall murder rate has been stable since 2006, it found killings with knives had jumped 26 percent in Britain from 2005 to 2007.

The wave of violence, it said, mostly emanated from deprived inner city areas where groups of youths fought turf wars.

It also said evidence from hospitals showed that knife injuries had become more common since 2006, and that the fallout from knife crime was costing the country an estimated 1.25 billion pounds ($2 billion) a year.

The report found that older teenagers were more likely to carry knives, but also that children as young as seven had been caught with blades.

It said 11 was a key risk age for first carrying a knife, presumably linked to the transition from primary to secondary school and the pressures that step-change involved.

The committee said it supported the use of prison sentences for knife possession and the use of widespread stop-and-search powers, but that it had noted the failure of custodial sentences to prevent re-offending.

The opposition Conservatives criticized Labour for not being tough enough on offenders.

Citing government figures, they pointed out that just one person received the new maximum sentence of four years for possession of a knife in the year to September 2008.

Evidence gathered as part of the inquiry also found that violent DVDs and video games have a negative influence on those who watch and play them. It said the games increased a person’s predisposition to be violent by some 10 percent.

Editing by Steve Addison

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