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Home Office Attacked by Peers Over False Information on Zombie Knives Ban

A press release by the department containing misleading information was only corrected after House of Lords objections

Zombie knives and a machete for sale. Photo: Mark Mercer/Alamy

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The Home Office has been attacked by peers for disseminating false information exaggerating the strength of its new crackdown on people owning zombie knives used in a spate of recent stabbings.

The policy was promised by Rishi Sunak last year after rising public concern about the number of incidents.

The announcement on 25 January was accompanied with a press release from the Home Office stating that “anyone in possession of one of these knives will face time behind bars”.

The result was immediate press coverage claiming that anyone found owning such a knife would go to jail. The London Evening Standard, for example, stated in its strap line the next day that “anyone found in possession of one of these knives will be subject to jail time”.

But when Policing Minister Chris Philp was interviewed about the new restrictions he said that he had “resisted pressure” for mandatory jail sentences for first-time knife offenders and that it was “right to allow judges to use their discretion about whether to lock up first-time offenders, with mandatory sentencing reserved for second offences”.

The law states that “a person guilty of possession of a knife in public for a second or subsequent offence faces a custodial sentence of at least six months in prison (adults) or at least four months detention and training order (16 and 17 yrs old)”.

The misleading information was not corrected for 12 days. This only occurred after the Home Office was contacted by the House of Lords.

Lord Rupert Charles de Mauley, a member of the Lords’ Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, said: “We understand that the Government is keen to progress this legislation quickly, but that should not come at the expense of providing full and accurate information to Parliament and the public. Putting out a press release with a significant factual error is simply not acceptable.”


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Peers are also critical of a proposed amnesty for zombie knives, which appears as if it will cost taxpayers £301,000 but is estimated to only result in £14,000 paid out in compensation with 472 knives being handed in across England and Wales.

The peers point out a flaw in the compensation scheme which sets a minimum payment of £30 at the rate of £10 a knife. This means that anyone with one or two knives will receive no money for handing them in, with the likely result that fewer knives will be given up during the amnesty, which expected to begin this summer.

Peers also question whether this policy will result in many more people going to prison after receiving an impact statement from the Home Office which revealed that it expected only nine more people a year will be jailed in England and Wales for breaking the new law.

The Home Office admitted to peers it would only have a negligible effect on the prison population.

The peers state: “The information in the IA (impact assessment) is striking in suggesting that the impact of the policy will be small and that the administrative costs of the surrender scheme are more than 20 times the amount of compensation expected to be paid out.”

The new law does not apply in Scotland or Northern Ireland as the sale of knives is a devolved matter. As a result, peers warn, “it could simply lead to illegitimate supply lines from Scotland or Northern Ireland”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our knife crime laws are amongst the toughest in the world. First time offenders can face jail as a possible punishment and this is mandatory for a second offence – our proposals have not changed.”

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