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Knives sold to children as young as 13 in test purchase operation

One in eight retailers failed to abide by the Offensive Weapons Act, selling knives and bladed articles to children as young as 13 in a recent test purchase operation by Avon and Somerset Police.

On Saturday 20th April, officers and staff from Avon and Somerset Police, in collaboration with Trading Standards and volunteer police cadets aged 13 to 17, executed an undercover operation to test compliance from local retailers on the age-restricted sale of knives to anyone under the age of 18.

Cadets visited 80 shops across Avon and Somerset, supported by plain-clothed officers, in an attempt to purchase a knife or bladed weapon. The tests included both large retailers and supermarkets as well as private and independently owned shops. Whilst the majority of retailers refused to sell, 10 retailers unlawfully sold a knife or bladed article to underage cadets. One instance involved the sale of a machete-style knife to a young cadet. Another retailer also failed multiple test purchases on the same day.

One cadet, Cameron, aged 15, said: “It’s good that we’re trying to get knives off the street, with us doing this, hopefully it’s teaching the shop that they need more training.”

Another, aged 13, said: “It’s worrying, it’s not safe for the public if kids are able to buy knives without ID.”

This operation came just weeks after Avon and Somerset Police sent a letter to the retailers urging them to help them in their ‘fight against knife crime’. The letter, which reminded retailers of their legal responsibility not to sell knives to under-18s, stated:

“We know that many children and young people are purchasing and carrying knives with the false perception that this will keep them safe, when in fact, carrying a knife increases their risk of being involved in violence. Knives in the hands of young people can lead to very serious consequences and they are 50% more likely to be a victim of knife crime if they are carrying one themselves. 

“This is why we are calling on you, our local retailers, to help play a vital part in breaking this chain. We know a lot of sales likely take place online but where our retailers do sale knives or bladed articles, we urge you to help us prevent these from getting into the wrong hands.”

Chief Inspector Mike Vass, Knife Crime Lead for Avon and Somerset Police, said:

“Whilst we saw a lot of reassuring best practice by many of the stores visited as part of this operation, any knife sold has the potential to bring tragedy to our communities, something we have seen far too much of in recent months.

“We cannot police our way out of knife crime and serious violence on our own, it needs to be a society-wide approach to address and do all we can to tackle this very real threat to young people, which is why we call on our partners and communities to play their part.

“We have worked closely with Bristol City Council Trading Standards to ensure that all available sanctions are considered when dealing with those retailers who failed their test purchase, prosecuting where we can and providing education programmes and targeted work to ensure that lessons are learned to prevent knives getting into the wrong hands.”

Sarah Saunders from Bristol City Council Trading Standards said:

“It is illegal to sell knives to anyone under the age of 18. Any sale of this nature is hugely concerning. Trading Standards Officers can offer retailers advice and practical guidance through the No Proof of Age, No Sale scheme which will help them to avoid selling age restricted products to children and to help protect our communities from harm.

“We are committed to working with Avon & Somerset police to reduce knife crime. It is an ongoing threat to our communities, particularly our young people.”

This proactive operation to tackle knife crime is part of ongoing work that Avon and Somerset Police are doing in response to some of the tragic incidents which have taken place this year, in which several young people have lost their lives to knife crime.

To find out more about the work of Avon and Somerset Police in tackling knife crime, visit: Operation to tackle serious youth violence and knife crime (avonandsomerset.police.uk)

Anyone with information about shops that sell age restricted products to children can report it anonymously via Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133 or by visiting Contact the consumer helpline – Citizens Advice