THE number of crimes involving knives on the streets of England and Wales has risen dramatically in the past year, with huge increases in their use during robberies, mugging and violent attacks on strangers.
Attacks in which a knife was used during a mugging rose by 73 per cent while there was a 55 per cent increase in random attacks with knives on strangers.
A report accompanying the figures from the British Crime Survey accuses John Reid, the Home Secretary, of presiding over an incoherent strategy to tackle the problem and of resorting to knee-jerk legislative responses.
?Government and the police lack a coherent, evidence-based, reasoned strategy for dealing with knife carrying and knife-related offences,? the report from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King?s College London said.
?There is insufficient evidence that a knife amnesty or increasing sentence length for carrying knives will decrease the level of knife use and carrying.?
The surge in knife crime on the streets comes after a decade of decline. Ministers will hope that the increases disclosed in the report are a blip rather than a reversal of what had been a downward trend since 1995.
The report also cites evidence that one third of schoolchildren claimed to have carried a knife in the past year, with the figure increasing to 57 per cent of children who have been excluded from school.
?What evidence exists indicates that a significant minority of schoolchildren and young people carry knives and this problem may be growing,? the report says. ?As long as there is unsliced bread, opportunities for knife crime will exist.?
The number of robberies carried out using a knife rose by 15,000 to 40,400 in 2005-06; muggings involving a knife increased by 17,730 to 42,000 and violent attacks using a knife on a stranger rose 18,300 to 51,700.
Chris Eades, author of the report, was critical of the strategy adopted by the Government and police. ?Relying on an implausible view that increased sentence length will have a deterrent effect, it seems unlikely that the Government?s chosen policy will have an impact on knife carrying in public.?
Instead, the researchers urged the Government to tackle the root causes of the problem: ?Since it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to limit the availability of knives, and knives are merely a tool used in violent crime, success in fighting knife usage will only come with success in dealing with the underlying causes of violence, fear and insecurity.?
The report questioned whether the recent amnesty in which 89,864 knives were handed in would result in a reduction in knife carrying and knife-related offences.
Ministers are planning to increase the maximum penalty for carrying a knife without good reason to four years, but the report also questioned whether this would reduce knife carrying. The proposal smacked of a knee-jerk legislative response that did not appear to be based on available evidence or research, it said.
David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, said that the figures from the British Crime Survey, which interviews 40,000 over-16s about their experiences of crime, was a shocking indictment of the Government?s failure to tackle violent crime on the streets. ?The public are having to pay a desperately high price,? he said. ?Soaring violent crime is a scourge on society. It com-pletely undermines Labour?s claims to be tough on crime.?
Lin Costello, co-founder of Mothers Against Murder and Aggression and a member of the Home Office knife and gun crime panel, said: ?Young people are more and more willing to pick up a weapon. A knife is the easiest to get as they are in the drawer at home. We need to address not just the fact that there is more knife crime but more violent crime.?