The banning of machetes and so-called “zombie knives” should be passed into law sooner as it would “no doubt” save young lives, a leading anti-knife crime charity has said.
Patrick Green, chief executive of The Ben Kinsella Trust, said there had been a lack of urgency and “political will” from the Government to introduce the tougher measures.
A zombie-style knife is defined by the Government as any bladed weapon over eight inches with a cutting edge and sharp pointed end that also has “either a serrated cutting edge, more than one hole in the blade, or multiple sharp points like spikes”.
Last month, Home Secretary James Cleverly announced it would be illegal to possess, sell, manufacture or transport zombie-style knives and machetes from September, after the Home Office had initially announced plans for stronger measures in August 2023.
The maximum penalty for the possession of these and other banned weapons will also increase from six months to two years.
Police will be given new powers to seize and destroy knives found on private premises, while a surrender and compensation scheme will launch in the summer.
A ban on zombie knives was first introduced in 2016, but retailers were able to continue selling the weapons by removing the threatening wording on the blade or handle “that incites violence”.
The Home Office previously said the new measures would be passed into law “when Parliament allows”.
Speaking to the PA news agency, Mr Green said: “I’ll challenge that you can’t get legislation through in the click of a finger – you can.
“Where there is a political will, and particularly across all the leading parties, it is possible to get emergency legislation through and certainly legislation that is in the national interest.
“I would argue that banning machetes and zombie knives is in the national interest.”
He continued: “We’ve almost seen an arms race in terms of knife carrying in the last 10 years, and it all boils down to this idea that if I think you’re carrying a knife, I will carry a knife to protect myself. Then, if I think you’re carrying a knife, I’ll carry a bigger knife.”
Mr Green said other pieces of key legislation, such as that created for Brexit and the ban on American XL bully dogs, were passed with greater urgency.
Plans to ban the dog breed were announced by the Government on October 31 last year and came into force just two months later, while owning an XL bully without an exemption certificate became a criminal offence on February 1.
Several high-profile knife attacks have occurred in London since tougher measures were first announced last August, including the killing of schoolgirl Elianne Andam.
The 15-year-old was stabbed to death on her way to school in Croydon, south London, in September with what was believed to be a large zombie knife. A 17-year-old boy has been charged with her murder.
Mr Green said: “I can see no reason why this piece of legislation cannot be lifted from the Criminal Justice Bill and put into statute straight away. I think all it requires is the political will to do that.
“I strongly argue that we could lift out machetes and zombie knives from that bill and get it in statute, and when we do so we will save lives, I have no doubt about that.”
Under the Government’s new measures, anyone caught selling knives to under-18s, including online, will also face two years behind bars.
An investigation by The Mirror in April 2023 claimed zombie knives were being sold to children on social media apps – including Tik Tok and Snapchat – and delivered directly to homes.
In December, The Guardian claimed Google was profiting from advertisements that offered the weapons for sale online in the UK.
Mr Green said big technology companies “don’t step up to the plate” on preventing such sales, despite having the money and expertise to do so.
He added: “With a couple of clicks and a debit card you can have a zombie knife or a large machete delivered to your door, probably tomorrow morning, without any age verification.
“It’s easier to buy them online than it is in the shop. High street retailers generally are very good at doing age verifications, online sales are not.”
A TikTok spokesperson told PA the platform does not allow the depiction, promotion, or trade of weapons and uses “a combination of technologies and moderation teams” to identify, review and remove content.
A spokesperson for Snapchat said any such content found or reported through its confidential in-app tools was quickly removed with appropriate action taken, including working with police to support investigations.
The Ben Kinsella Trust was set up after 16-year-old Ben was stabbed to death by three strangers on his way home from a night out in north London in June 2008.
It works with schools and provides educational programmes to young people across London about the dangers of knife crime.
Mr Green said the charity had seen a mentality shift in young people in recent years regarding the types of knives they were choosing to carry.
He added: “It’s interesting that 10 years ago, when we were doing part of our programmes and talking to parents, we would talk about checking the knife drawers and counting the number of knives.
“The knives of choice for the people carrying them around to protect themselves tended to be very short, a small knife that you can put in your belt. More recently we’ve seen that go the other way – it’s now these large machetes and zombie knives.”
The Government’s latest announcement came after an increasing number of both political and celebrity voices publicly challenged the time taken to pass the ban through parliament.
Last month, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan wrote a letter to Mr Cleverly in which he branded the continued prominence of zombie knives and machetes in London as “simply unacceptable”.
The mayor said: “We’ve repeatedly been promised action, but instead it’s harder for a teenager to buy a lottery ticket than a zombie knife while we’ve seen a merry-go-round of home secretaries failing to deliver.
“These unacceptable delays must end and I urge the Home Secretary to urgently bring forward and toughen up this legislation to finally end the scourge of these weapons on our streets.”
Actor Idris Elba also launched his Don’t Stop Your Future knife crime campaign in January, which called for the immediate banning of machetes and zombie knives.
An installation was set up in Parliament Square, London, as part of the launch, with bundles of neatly folded outfits each representing someone who had died through knife crime on UK streets.
The Home Office said Mr Cleverly met with Elba and members of the campaign to discuss action being taken.