January 20, 2008 / 4:39 PM / 10 years ago

Metal detectors to fight knife crime in schools

LONDON (Reuters) - The government may introduce metal detectors in schools to cut knife crime, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said on Sunday.

The airport-style security could be introduced at some of England’s toughest schools following a spate of knife attacks against young people, including a 13-year-old girl stabbed outside a south London school last week.

“We can build on some of the initiatives we’ve already seen -- the British Transport Police using search arches, for example, on transport in London,” Smith said on BBC1’s “Andrew Marr Show”.

“It’s a good idea if we look at the ways in which in some schools it might be appropriate to use search arches, because I want young people to know that it doesn’t make them safer to carry a knife: it actually makes them more likely to be a victim.”

Smith was speaking after the Observer newspaper reported on Sunday that the measure would be included in a government plan to be announced next month to deal with violent behaviour.

Ministers are particularly keen to encourage the use of metal detectors in the worst affected cities -- London, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham -- it said.

According to the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, the number of under-18s convicted or cautioned for crimes rose 37 percent from 2003 to 2006, adding to public anger and rising calls for action on knife and other crime among young people.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, told the newspaper: “There are schools serving areas where knife crime is high in the community and it’s right that these schools take measures to protect pupils.”

The maximum penalty for carrying a knife is a fine of 5,000 pounds and/or six months in prison, rising to two years if the case goes to court.

Liberal Democrat shadow home secretary Chris Huhne said introducing the security measures was “sad” but “necessary”.

“The number of high-profile stabbings at or outside schools in hot-spot areas for gangs means that this is a sensible precaution,” he said in a statement.

“More than three quarters of knife crime is committed by 12 to 20 year olds, and the most practical way to stop such assaults is by stopping the carrying of knives.”

He said police should also give higher priority to stop and search for offensive weapons in the worst-affected areas.

Reporting by Jennifer Hill; Editing by Michael Winfrey

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