Press releases

Traders who sell knives to young people are reaching the end of the line, warns the Trading Standards Institute

An alarming 25 per cent of shops are still selling knives illegally to youngsters aged under 18 - and it is even worse on the internet, with as many as 80 per cent breaking the law, the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) revealed today.

TSI is calling for a blanket ban on the sale of knives online as traders have ignored repeated calls to make sure they do not sell to those under age.

The call was backed by two campaign groups set up by mothers of men who were stabbed to death - 'Mothers Against Knives' and ''.

A major survey carried out for TSI by a total of 42 local authority trading standards services in England and Wales recently found that 214 out of 835 stores tested sold knives to children aged under 18, with no questions asked.

The purchases included a variety of knives, including combat, kitchen and pen knives.

In some areas - notably Warwickshire, the London Borough of Bexley and Northamptonshire - traders tested refused to sell to the young volunteers who came into their stores. And, in Staffordshire, only two out of 37 shops tested sold to the children taking part in the survey.

But, in others, the pattern was worrying, showing that a significant number of shopkeepers are not drilling into their staff the message that, as with sales of alcohol or cigarettes, they must check that customers are old enough to buy knives.

Southwark, Lambeth, Staffordshire, Salford, Cardiff and Greenwich trading standards services carried out a survey of websites selling knives - and found a total of 58 out of 72 tested (80per cent) were prepared to sell to children under 18.

Ron Gainsford, chief executive of TSI, said: 'Home Office statistics show that, in 2007-08, knives were involved in 22,151 offences of violence and that figure did not include murder.

'The toll of death and serious injury mounts every year - only in May 2009 a 17-year-old died after being stabbed in the neck in Hackney, East London, and a 13-year-old has been charged with his murder.

'As knife crime remains a problem in many of our towns and cities it beggars belief that so many traders are still prepared to sell potentially lethal weapons to children.

'Trading standards services throughout the country play a key role in helping local authorities to develop safer communities and, as part of that goal, they carry out regular exercises, recruiting young volunteers to carry out test purchases in local stores, and giving advice to traders to remind them of the law.

'Yet, despite this, in some areas of the country, shopkeepers are repeatedly flouting the law, putting into the hands of very young people items that can maim or kill.  Let them be warned that prosecutions do take place when traders repeatedly flout the law - and these will continue.'

Alex Cook, aged 15, from Staffordshire, who is the son of Brandon Cook, TSI's spokesman on age-restricted selling, spent just one hour on the computer in his father's office and managed to buy four knives, including a machete, using his own debit card.

Brandon Cook said: 'It is frightening to think that a boy of my son's age is able to purchase these items so easily and we are now further investigating the websites concerned with a view to prosecution.

'We raised this issue during National Consumer Week in 2005, when another trading standards officer's son, aged only 13, was able to buy an assortment of knives on the internet. At that time the age at which it was legal to buy knives was just 16 but this has now been raised to 18 following a campaign by TSI.

'Yet, despite all the media attention to this issue and to the repeated tragedies caused by knife crime, internet sites, as well as many shops, are still breaking the law.

'The online gambling industry manages to put in place measures to stop people who are under-age from betting and the technology is now more advanced to be able to screen the ages of people buying on the internet.

'TSI believes the time has now come for the Government to step in and ban the sale of knives online, as the industry itself is not taking the necessary steps to put its own house in order.'

James Roper, chief executive of the Interactive Media in Retailing Group (IMRG)  - the e-retail industry body - said: 'IMRG and its community of members take the important issue of age-restricted sales online very seriously indeed.

'We have formed an 'Age Verification Online' working party to collectively address the issue in order to protect the rights of consumers to legitimately purchase products and services.

'We are working towards creating an industry standard so that both online retailers and customers can be assured that we're doing everything possible to ensure that age-restricted products are sold responsibly.'

Ann Oakes-Odger, founder of, said: 'It is a sad state of affairs that internet sellers cannot be trusted to regulate themselves properly.  If they can't regulate themselves there must be a complete ban on the sale of knives.

'As a mother who knows the pain of losing a child, if one life was saved by a ban on the internet sale of knives, it would be worthwhile.'
Barbara Dunne, founder of Mothers Against Knives, a campaign group set up following the death of her son, Robert, aged 31, who was slashed with a Samurai-style sword, said: 'I thoroughly endorse TSI's call to ban the online sale of knives - and I urge shopkeepers to adhere to the law and stop selling knives to people who are under age. Knife crime is prevalent enough, without the added dangers of such weapons falling into the hands of young people.'

Mr Cook praised a scheme launched in February by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), following discussion with the Home Office, in which 21 major retailers have signed up to a six-point commitment to ensure knives are not sold to young people (see notes to editor for further details).

BRC's Director of Food and Consumer Policy Andrew Opie, said the figures in the TSI survey did not reflect the 'huge' steps BRC members had taken, as responsible retailers, to prevent illegal sales.

'BRC members are totally committed to using their experience of successfully preventing under 18s buying alcohol to stopping them buying knives,' he said.  

TSI's 'Challenge 25' scheme gives advice for the sale of age-restricted goods, which recommends that retailers ask for proof of age if anyone looks 25 or under.  TSI strongly supports retailers who do their best to guard against selling age-restricted goods to anyone who is not old enough - and one way of doing that is through the voluntary Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS).
TSI knife test-purchasing results 2009 (PDF 10KB)

Some of the traders involved in the survey have been cautioned and some are being prosecuted.

For instance, the London Borough of Waltham Forest has started action to prosecute one trader, while investigations continue in five more cases. Blackpool trading standards has cautioned 33 traders and is prosecuting five.

Online survey:

Southwark, Lambeth, Staffordshire, Salford, Cardiff and Greenwich trading standards services carried out a survey of websites selling knives - and found a total of 58 out of 72 tested (80per cent) were prepared to sell to children under 18.

A joint project undertaken by Southwark and Lambeth trading standards services, which was funded by the Home Office Tackling Knives Action Programme, with funds obtained for the London Trading Standards Authorities group (LoTSA) by the Government Office for London, found 41 out of 44 sites sold to the young volunteers they used for the test purchasing.

From Staffordshire's trading standards offices, four out of six were found to readily sell without checking the age of the purchaser.

A similar exercise in Greenwich found all four websites tested sold to young people and Salford trading standards service found three out of 10 websites checked broke the law.

Cardiff trading standards found six out of eight websites checked sold to young people.

Notes to editors:

 Media Briefing And Photo Session:

You are invited to a briefing session about the Trading Standards Institute’s (TSI) survey on the sale of knives to young people at the Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards Annual Conference and Exhibition at the Brighton Centre at 1pm on Tuesday 30 June, when:

  • Examples of knives purchased by young people in shops and online will be available for photographs
  • Alex Cook, aged 15, will be available to be photographed with the knives, including a machete, that he bought online
  • A group of young people from Southwark, London, will perform a rap song about knives*
  • Conference-goers will be able to take part in a ‘Talkaoke’ chat show on the subject*

 *for more information on the rap act and ‘Talkaoke’ see ‘ below.

For further information or to arrange an interview please contact the Trading Standards Institute press office by phone on 08456 089 430 or by e-mail on

The law on selling knives:

It is illegal to sell to a person under the age of 18 a knife, knife blade, razor blade, axe or any other article with a blade.

Businesses and staff can face a fine of up to £5,000 or six months in prison for illegally selling a knife to a person who is under age.

Examples of recent prosecutions include:

* Croydon Council has successfully prosecuted 14 local stores for selling knives to people under 18 following a series of checks by its trading standards service between October and November 2008. A total of 48 test purchases were made and 14 stores sold knives to young people under age.  The prosecutions have led to fines totalling £17,663, with £14,310 court costs, for those stores that broke the law.  For further information, contact the Press and Public Relations Office, Croydon Council, on 020 8760 5644.
* Wandsworth trading standards service has successfully prosecuted two shopkeepers for selling knives to people aged under 18.  South Western Magistrates Court fined one of the traders £350, with costs totalling £501.99, in May 2009.  The same court fined another trader £500, with £400 prosecution costs in February 2009.  Both traders had pleaded guilty and both were also ordered to pay a £15 surcharge, which goes towards the Government's Victims Fund to help improve services for victims of crime. For further information about these cases, contact Les Eames, chief trading standards officer at Wandsworth Council, on 0208871 6177.
* Brent & Harrow Trading Standards Service have recently mounted seven successful prosecutions against local retailers and one against a shop employee who sold a knife to two 12-year-olds.  The shopkeepers were fined a total of £6,150 and ordered to pay £6,075 prosecution costs for selling knives to children ranging from the age of 11 to 16.  The shop employee was fined £450 and prosecution costs of £872. For further information, contact Bill Bilon, Director of Brent & Harrow Trading Standards Service, on 020 8937 5500.
* Wiltshire trading standards has recently prosecuted four traders for selling knives to children under 18.  One outlet was fined £6,000 and ordered to pay £1,000 costs for three separate sales in a week. The other three traders were fined a total of £5,600, with £2,760 costs. For further information, contact Steve Clover on 01225 713548.
* A Hull trader was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £500 costs and a £15 victim surcharge for selling a seven-piece butcher's cutlery set, including storage case, chopping board and knife sharpener to a 14-year-old. For further information, contact Sharon Thompson, Enforcement Officer, Hull City Council Trading Standards Service.
* Derbyshire Trading Standards Service recently prosecuted two traders for selling knives to a girl aged 16.  One of the shops - a branch of a national chain - made two sales on the same day, resulting in the business being fined a total of £3,400 by Chesterfield magistrates and ordered to pay £1,550 costs plus a £15 victim surcharge.  The other shop - a local partnership - made one sale with the result that one partner was fined £220, with £700 costs plus a £15 victim surcharge. The other partner received a caution.  For further information, contact Ian Milward, Team Leader - Safety/Road Traffic, Derbyshire Trading Standards Service, on 01629 580000 ext 6181.

British Retail Consortium six point commitment

Major retailers have signed up to a six-point commitment to:

  • Provide training and support to staff on the sale of knives and keep a register of completion of training
  • Clearly display to the public signs stating that knives are not for sale to under 18s
  • Ensure that display and storage of knives minimises the risk of theft
  • Ensure till prompts are I place to remind staff at the point of sale
  • Enhance safeguards on internet sales to address attempted underage sale of knives
  • Monitor attempted underage sales and share information with local police and other partners

Retailers who have signed up to the commitment include: Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose, Aldi, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Home Retail Group (Argos and Homebase), TK Maxx, House of Fraser, John Lewis, Debenhams, BHS, B&Q, IKEA, Matalan, Poundstretcher, Co-op and Amazon.

Marks & Spencer, Asda and John Lewis have also taken the step of removing all knives, excluding cutlery sets, from their online shopping sites.

*Rapping - and a chat show

A group of young people from 'Kickstart' - a voluntary Trust set up by the Safer Southwark Partnership - will perform a rap song about the issue of knives at the media briefing.

There will also be a 'Talkaoke' - a chat show to be aired on the internet, that conference-goers will be able to take part in, discussing the problems caused by knives in society.

'Talkaoke' invites people to debate the issues of violent crime and the fear of crime and Southwark Council has hosted several such events over the last six months as part of the work of the Safer Southwark Partnership.

The Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards Conference 2009

The national Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards Conference 2009, organised by the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) is a 'must' for consumer journalists!
The TSI-hosted annual Conference and Exhibition is the leading consumer affairs and trading standards event in Europe.

The 2009 Conference is being held at the Brighton Centre from Tuesday 30 June to Thursday 02 July. The conference press office will be open from 9am on Monday 29 June (the day before the event starts) until 5pm on Thursday 02 July.

Journalists and photographers are welcome to attend but should contact the press office on 0845 608 9430 to arrange passes.

The conference is hosted by TSI chairman Peter Denard and the main sponsor is the British Toy and Hobby Association.

Some 3,000 people are attending the conference, including representatives from local and central government and those interested in fair trading, representatives of business and commerce, together with consumer organisations. This makes it an ideal place for consumer affairs journalists to mingle and make contacts!

Trading Standards Institute

The Trading Standards Institute has represented the interests of Trading Standards professionals for 120 years. We have a long and proud history of ensuring that the views of our members are well represented at the highest level of government, both nationally and internationally.

Our aim is to promote excellence and enhance the professionalism of our members in support of empowering and informing consumers, encouraging and working with honest businesses, targeting rogue traders and rogue trading practices and contributing to the health, welfare and wellbeing of citizens and communities.

TSI members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities in response to 2 million consumer and business complaints and enquiries each year. They also support the delivery of new initiatives such as Consumer Direct, providing first point of contact practical consumer advice.

They also work in the business, consumer and central government sectors in promoting and influencing the safety, prosperity and enhancement of individuals and markets with a dependency on effective and professional trading standards contributions and interventions.

Ann Oakes-Odger, of Colchester, founded - www.KnifeCrimes.Org - to campaign for action after her son, Westley, aged 27, died in 2005 when he was stabbed in the neck in an unprovoked attack at a cash machine. 

She has since given evidence to the 'Street Weapons Commission' and to the 1st and 2nd Home Affairs Select Committee debates on the issue of knife crime.

She has worked closely with Essex Police to introduce education on weapons awareness in local schools. Westley's Weapons Awareness Programme has been delivered in schools in January 2007.

As she says: 'The brothers, aged 31 and 36, responsible for the attack on my son had been carrying knives through their teens, 20s and 30s, which shows how important it is to educate people about the dangers at a young age.'

Mothers Against Knives

Barbara Dunne set up Mothers Against Knives - - in 2003 after her son, Robert, aged 31, bled to death when he was slashed with a Samurai-style sword in Middlesborough.

The Home Office asked for her views on a new banned weapons list, which has led to the banning of imitation Samurai swords from April last year.