Teens buying knives illegally online as criminals 'move with digital age'

Underage teenagers buying knives online remains "a really concerning picture" for police, with illegal dealers selling weapons via social media.

The national lead for policing knife crime, Commander Stephen Clayman, said forces in England and Wales are keen to cut off the supply of weapons as part of efforts to stop injuries and deaths.

He said knives are being sold on TikTok, Snapchat and sites run by Facebook and Instagram owner Meta, while the Home Office revealed plans for knife detection technology and harsher punishments.

He told Sky News knife crime is "moving with the digital age" and said he is looking to retailers to take care over age verification.

Social media sites could also help by limiting harmful content, he added, and he is confident following talks with firms around ways technology can limit what teens are exposed to online.

"Knife crime is not the preserve solely of young people, but clearly we see, where young people are concerned, more proliferation, more public space violence, more use of these large intimidating weapons," he said.

Some young people involved in criminality particularly favour what he calls "status knives", more than a regular kitchen knife.

"It's still a really concerning picture in terms of the accessibility of knives online," he told journalists.

Official figures show knife crime rose by 7% in the year to December 2023.

In the year to March 2023, 82% of teenage homicide victims were killed with a knife, compared to 73% in the previous year.

As part of plans to combat the rise, all police forces in England and Wales will ramp up action for a week this month and again in November as part of Operation Sceptre.

The Home Office announced on Tuesday a £3.5m package for research and development of new technologies to detect knives from a distance when a suspect passes through two points.

An additional £547,863 will also be given to the Metropolitan Police to fund four more live facial recognition camera vans.

Policing minister Chris Philp told Sky News he supports a "substantial increase in the use of stop and search" and live facial recognition, where those wanted for serious criminal offences are on a watch list and flagged by the technology, is being rolled out.

He also said the government is hoping to use new technology that scans people at a distance to detect if they are carrying knives.

Read more:
Swiss Army Knife maker's new version without knife
Data shows knife crime on the rise

Laws around zombie knives, machetes and swords will be tightened up from September, giving police greater powers to seize weapons found in private properties.

It will be illegal to possess, sell, manufacture or transport zombie-style knives and machetes.

The maximum penalty for the possession of these and other banned weapons will also increase from six months to two years.

A surrender and compensation scheme is due to launch this summer.