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19 May 2009

Primary Pupils Caught with Knives

Seven primary school children were among 31 youths under the age of 16 charged by police after being caught carrying knives in Edinburgh last year.

New statistics show knife possession amongst under-16s has rocketed to a five-year high in 2008 and compares to just 12 recorded incidents in 2004.

Among those charged last year were two eight-year-old children, three nine-year-olds and two 11-year-olds.

The age of criminal responsibility in Scotland is eight.

Children younger than eight years old caught with knives are not charged.

Politicians and parents' groups on Friday said it was "unacceptable" that the knife message had still not got through to young people.

Police chiefs say the rise in the number of youths being caught may be a reflection of the force's crackdown on the problem, including searches on city buses.

Officers also say that an increasing awareness of the dangers of knives may be encouraging youngsters to report classmates for carrying them.

The figures, released under freedom of information laws, also revealed a drop in the number of under-16s caught with other offensive weapons.

A total of 28 were caught last year compared with 54 in 2007 and 85 in 2006, when two six-year-olds were among those caught.

Liz Smith MSP, the Scottish Conservatives' schools spokeswoman, believes schools need to be given more power to deal with the problem.

She said: "Headteachers should have powers to search for weapons if they suspect a child has come into school carrying a weapon and they should be able to take action to isolate that child."

Tina Woolnough, chairwoman of Parents in Partnership, said there needed to be a shake-up in the way children were educated about knife crime.

She said: "At school, children learn about keeping themselves safe and healthy and I think information about knives should be included in the standard package.

"By high school I would have a zero-tolerance policy on carrying knives."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "We're working with the experts in our national Violence Reduction Unit and police forces on tough enforcement to take weapons off the streets."

In March, it was revealed that 261 people were caught carrying blades between April 2007 and March last year in Edinburgh, compared with 171 in 2004-5.

Another 462 other offensive weapons were recovered from individuals last year, bringing the weapons total to 723.

A Lothian and Borders Police spokesman said: "We are committed to engaging with young people as early as possible to illustrate the dangers connected with drugs and violent crime.

"The rise in the number of youths being caught highlights our dedication to tackling crimes of this nature."

With thanks to BBC News for this news item: