Tories launch third zombie knife crackdown since 2016 to ‘close loopholes’ in UK ban

The Conservative government has announced its third attempted crackdown on zombie knives since 2016 in a bid to close “loopholes” in its previous efforts to ban the weapon.

James Cleverly, the home secretary, defended the government’s record on tackling knife crime as he announced fresh legislation set to be introduced to parliament on Thursday.

Zombie-style knives were first banned in 2016 when the government defined them as having a cutting edge, a serrated edge and “images or words” that suggest violence.

Labour said the changes had already been promised by six Tory home secretaries and didn’t go far enough – proposing its own “comprehensive ban”.

Chris Philp, the policing minister, admitted on Thursday that a previous crackdown had an obvious loophole.

He told LBC: “There was essentially a loophole where the knives that were banned in 2019 had to have threatening words or pictures on them,

“What happened then is the manufacturers responded by taking the words and pictures off … that, amongst other loopholes, is being closed.”

James Cleverly accompanies police in Gravesend (PA)
James Cleverly accompanies police in Gravesend (PA)

Ministers hope new tighter measures, which won’t come into place until September, will stop some retailers being able to sell dangerous knives and machetes without breaking the law.

Ahead of the announcement, Mr Cleverly met police chiefs in Kent to discuss youth violence prevention projects and joined officers on a foot patrol of Gravesend town centre.

The legislation announcement came as Labour announced a £100m youth programme to tackle knife crime.

The new plan, a direct echo of New Labour’s Sure Start childcare scheme, would see a nationwide targeted programme aimed at identifying and supporting young people at risk of being drawn into violent crime.

Labour has promised a £100m youth programme to tackle knife crime (PA Archive)
Labour has promised a £100m youth programme to tackle knife crime (PA Archive)

Actor Idris Elba has also put pressure on the government by launching the “Don’t Stop Your Future” campaign, which calls for the immediate banning of machetes and zombie knives.

Asked why the legislation has taken so long, Mr Cleverly said: “We have already taken action to make the carrying of zombie knives illegal.

“When I became home secretary, I made the immediate decision to go further to put forward this secondary legislation to support what we’ve already done to make the possession of zombie knives illegal and to close that loophole.

“So I’m very pleased we’re taking action now and we’ll be determined to get these knives off the streets.”

Announcing the measures, he added: “We cannot let them be sold to children, and we must give young people a way out of violence.”

In 2019, the government added to the definition to include “cyclone knives”, with two spiralled blades, in a further crackdown. The new ban will make it illegal to possess, sell, manufacture or transport any of these zombie-style knives and machetes.

A surrender scheme is also being put in place for people to give up their weapons without any consequences before the law comes into force.

Mr Cleverly said the steps being taken this week are “further strengthening” the government’s ability to tackle knife crime.

He added: “We’ll add to what has been a success story since 2019. We’ve seen a very significant reduction in knife crime over that time. We have a plan which is working and driving down knife crime.”

The government is also seeking to toughen the penalties for people possessing banned weapons by increasing the maximum sentence from six months to two years.

Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said: “Six Tory home secretaries have promised these changes, and still they don’t go anywhere near far enough and don’t match Labour’s plans for a comprehensive ban.

“Dangerous weapons like ninja swords, which have been used to kill teenagers, will still be available on Britain’s streets.”

She added: “Still, law-breaking online platforms who profit from these illegal sales are being let off with a slap on the wrist instead of facing criminal sanctions. Labour would close these glaring loopholes in the government’s plans”.