SPECIAL REPORT: Shock haul of weapons seized from schoolchildren

Children as young as four have been caught in school with knives and other weapons, including prison-style 'shanks', on average once a day, it can be revealed, as a Johnston Press investigation exposes the daily crimewave at the heart of the nation's education system.

Monday, 29th January 2018, 1:04 pm
Updated Monday, 29th January 2018, 2:40 pm
Some areas of the UK have seen increases of up to 200 per cent

Teachers across the nation, including Wigan and Leigh, are facing a growing number of knife crimes in their classrooms and playgrounds, according to figures obtained exclusively by the Johnston Press Investigations Team from police forces and local education authorities.

And frighteningly, the investigation shows that, somewhere in the UK on an average school day, a child will be caught carrying a knife into school.

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More than 2,400 pupils have been caught in school with a knife, blade or other weapon since 2012, data obtained under Freedom of Information laws from more than half of UK police forces reveals.

And the crisis is growing. Our investigation shows a 42.2 per cent rise in children caught in possession of a knife or blade or other weapon over the last two academic years.

But some areas of the UK have seen increases of up to 200 per cent. Reports of knife crimes in schools have increased overall by 12 per cent.

Today – on the first of day of a series of exclusive investigative reports – teachers, knife-crime victims and campaigners are calling for tougher action and better recording of knife-crime by local education authorities before more lives are lost.

Special report

Parents have also told a specially-commissioned Google survey that they want urgent and unprecedented action to curb the terrifying crimewave.

Patrick Green, trust manager at the anti-knife crime charity The Ben Kinsella Trust, today said: “These figures are frightening, and what is of greater concern is they don’t show the full extent of the problem.”

The investigation follows a series of high-profile knife attacks in schools, including the deaths of Wigan-born teacher Ann Maguire, who was stabbed by a pupil while teaching at a college in Leeds in 2014 and Bailey Gwynne, 16, who was stabbed by a fellow student at a school in Aberdeen in 2015.

At least 2,405 pupils have been caught with a knife or other weapon in school since 2012, according to data obtained from nearly two-thirds of UK police forces. Officers have received reports of a total of 3,580 knife-related crimes on school grounds, including 664 knife-related assaults.

Among the most shocking reports included at least three allegations of rape and two sexual assaults involving knives and other weapons.

Pupils have faced arrest for offences including grievous bodily harm, malicious wounding, racially aggravated assault, robbery and threats to kill.

Recent cases identified by the investigation include a four-year-old with a knife or blade in Northamptonshire, a pupil aged five or six threatening a teacher with a pair of scissors in London, and a school staff member in Wales suffering post-traumatic stress after being threatened with a knife.

It can also be revealed today that the arsenal of weapons found in schools since 2012 includes prison-style improvised weapons or “shanks”, made by embedding razor blades into felt-tip and highlighter pens.

The shocking haul identified by our investigation includes foot-long carving knives, jagged-edged hunting knives, machetes, axes, scalpels, smoke grenades and an array of firearms, including air rifles.

Pupils have also turned harmless school equipment such as paper clips, geometry sets, scissors, pens, and cutlery forks into weapons.

In this academic year, which began in September, there have been at least 173 cases of children possessing knives, 150 crimes, 10 assaults and 12 other incidents where a weapon was seized.

An analysis of NHS data also shows that dozens of children under 10 have been admitted to hospital after being stabbed in the past five years.

The investigation has also raised concerns about systems for recording knife crimes in schools after more than 90 local schools who responded said they held no information - signalling a worrying lack of co-ordination in tackling the issue.

One police force, Merseyside, said there is no marker on its crime reporting system to record that a crime had taken place on school grounds.

Police Scotland beefed up its system for recording knife crimes last April.

The Metropolitan Police said every London borough now has a bespoke knife crime action plan and 76 schools have taken up an offer of a knife wand.

In Derbyshire, a police firearms unit is visiting schools to talk to pupils about gun and knife crime.

Reformed gangster Darryl Laycock, who lost 30 friends to violence in Manchester’s gang wars, has called for tougher sentences for knife crime. He said:

“People are doing a lot of this to show off and impress people.

“The only impression is going to be life in jail or a mother going into a mortuary to see her dead son.”

Robert Buckland QC, the Solicitor General, said: “These are frightening statistics.

“The message still has to get through to young people that carrying a knife for your own protection is probably the most dangerous thing you can do.”

In October, the Government launched a new community fund to projects to tackle knife crime in October and has since awarded £765,000 to 47 successful bids in England and Wales.

Ministers have also launched a consultation on new legislation on offensive and dangerous weapons, including introducing an offence of having an article with a blade or point, or offensive weapon, in educational institutions other than schools.

The Government will publish a new Serious Violence Strategy early this year.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “This government has taken decisive action to put teachers back in charge of discipline in the classroom by strengthening their powers to take action if they suspect a pupil has brought prohibited items, including knives, into school.

“It is of paramount importance that schools provide a safe environment for their pupils, and any incident that does occur is completely unacceptable.

“Knife crime has devastating consequences and this Government is determined to tackle this and do all it can to break the deadly cycle and protect our children, families and communities.”