Concern raised as number caught carrying knives tops 5,000 in quarter

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The number of people caught with knives has climbed to the highest quarterly level for almost six years, new figures reveal. 

Provisional statistics show 5,184 knife possession offences resulted in a caution or sentence in England and Wales from January to March, equivalent to more than 50 a day. 

It is the highest tally for a three-month period since July-September 2011, and also the first time the number has exceeded 5,000 since then. 

In 1,150 cases the offenders were aged between 10 and 17 - the highest quarterly figure for juveniles since 2009. 

The findings come amid mounting concern about a surge in knife violence. Earlier this week, a murder investigation was launched after a 16-year-old boy was stabbed to death in Tottenham, north London. 

For the year to the end of March, there were 19,725 knife possession offences dealt with by the criminal justice system, the highest total since 2011/12.

The number in the first three months of this year increased by 11% compared to the equivalent period of 2016.

Increases were seen across the majority of police force areas, while a quarter of all knife possession offences resulting in a caution or conviction in the 12 months ending in March were prosecuted by the Metropolitan Police.

Police have warned of a shift which has seen the proportion of youngsters carrying knives who are linked to gangs fall. 

Officers say youths are keeping blades on them for reasons including "status" and self-protection, as well as crime.

Rachel Almeida, head of policy at the charity Victim Support, said: "The horrific and senseless terror attack at London Bridge over the weekend shows in stark reality just how devastating knives can be.

"The latest figures from the Ministry of Justice show an increase of 11% in knife possession offences across the country, which is a cause for concern as we at Victim Support know only too well that knife crime shatters the lives of so many, particularly young people."

The Ministry of Justice figures reveal that rising numbers of the crimes are resulting in prison, while caution rates have fallen. 

Nearly two fifths (39%) of adult offenders and 13% of youths were given an immediate custodial sentence. 

Those jailed for having knives are going to prison for longer.

For those sentenced to immediate custody, the average custodial sentence length for knife possession offences has risen by 2.8 months (58%) since 2008.

The figures also showed that 86% of adult repeat offenders received a custodial sentence.