A total of 32 visits were made to shops in the city as part of a Home Office-backed programme targeting areas where knife crime was deemed to be a problem.
On five of those occasions, the shop worker completed the sale when they should not have done, because the individual posing as the would-be knife buyer was under 18 – the minimum legal age to make such a purchase.
Lancashire County Council’s trading standards manager Chris Wilkinson accepted that any failures to abide by the regulations were a concern, but said that the “plus side [was] that an 84 percent compliance was identified” during the course of the project in 2019/20.
However, he told a meeting of Preston City Council’s crime and disorder committee that the initiative had exposed a “lack of information about the types of places that sell knives”.
Members also heard that only one of the errant retailers had been prosecuted – but a tougher line could be taken with them all if they fail for a second time when their premises are revisited. Those follow-up visits have been delayed because of the pandemic.
“The initial approach was to engage, explain and encourage compliance. With the five failures, the intention was to work with those businesses to try and raise awareness of knife crime and the ages at which people can purchase,“ Mr. Wilkinson explained.
A separate survey of 11,000 secondary school pupils right across Lancashire found that 10 percent of those who responded had witnessed knife crime, three percent had bought a knife themselves and four percent had gone outside carrying a blade.
Martin Grayston, manager of the Preston Vocational Centre (PVC) – which specialises in providing opportunities for young people not in education, employment or training – said that he had witnessed “a real increase in knife crime” during the eleven years that he had been in the role.
“Unfortunately, we have young people involved in knife crime who haven’t returned to PVC because of their injuries,” Mr. Grayston said.
Committee member Cllr Yakub Patel raised concern that a retail-focussed test purchasing programme might have missed the main route for the supply of knives in the city.
“The culture in this day and age is that people are more prone to buy stuff like this online,” he said.
The meeting heard that online test purchasing had taken place at a national level as part of the Home Office scheme – and several “high-profile retailers” had been fined after failing to comply with the rules.
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