‘We can’t tackle knife crime on our own’, police chief admits as criminals sell weapons on social media

Police say they cannot solve knife crime alone (PA)
Police say they cannot solve knife crime alone (PA)

A police chief has admitted officers cannot solve knife crime alone as criminals turn to social media to peddle weapons despite a clampdown on sales.

The national lead for policing knife crime Commander Stephen Clayman said officers are tackling the “symptoms” but they do not have the “cure” for an epidemic of offences.

His comments came as the Home Office announced a £4m funding boost, including investment in new knife detection technology, ahead of a week of police action.

In a candid admission, Commander Clayman said: “Like all emergency services, we are dealing with the symptoms but, while the cure is something we are involved in, we are clearly not going to be the ones that ultimately solve this. Because it’s going to be a joint effort through us, policing partners, government.”

Have you been affected by knife crime? Email amy-clare.martin@independent.co.uk

Commander Clayman said tackling knife crime will be a long-term project requiring “generational change” which needs to be evidence-led, addressing complex societal issues including deprivation and lack of opportunity.

Official figures show that knife crime rose by 7 per cent in the year to December 2023 with 49,489 offences recorded, but it has not yet reached pre-pandemic levels. In London, the number of offences soared by 22 per cent with more than 14,000 recorded in the year to September 2023.

Separate figures show eight in 10 teenage homicide victims were killed with a knife in the year to March 2023, compared to seven in 10 in the previous year.

Elianne Andam was stabbed to death on her way to school last year ((Metropolitan Police/PA))
Elianne Andam was stabbed to death on her way to school last year ((Metropolitan Police/PA))

Shocking recent incidents include a sword attack in Hainault, east London, in which Daniel Anjorin, 14, was killed and four others were injured.

Last September, Elianne Andam, 15, died in a knife attack on her way to school in Croydon, south London. A 17-year-old boy has denied her murder.

Although Commander Clayman insisted knife crime was not out of control, he said it is of “great concern” that they are seeing more young people injured by knives.

The commander said while police will always act to take knives off streets and bring offenders to justice, “intervention is key”, adding: “Ultimately, of course, the knife is handled by an individual and it is the individual’s motivation that we need to tackle.”

He said more could be done to support youth services with intervention work, but warned: “We have also got to manage our expectations in terms of how long this will take to change. You are not going to switch off knife crime in an instant – it’s never going to happen.”

Daniel Anjorin was killed in a sword attack in Hainault, east London, last month (PA Wire)
Daniel Anjorin was killed in a sword attack in Hainault, east London, last month (PA Wire)

He said one of the best areas police can “add value” is in tackling supply and taking menacing weapons like machetes, zombie knives and swords off the streets.

However, officers have discovered that illegal knife dealers are turning to social media channels including Snapchat and TikTok to sell weapons as the authorities clamp down on knife sales in shops and online retailers.

Laws around zombie knives, machetes and swords are to be tightened from September, giving police greater powers to seize weapons found in private properties.

It will be illegal to possess, sell, manufacture or transport zombie-style knives and machetes, and the maximum penalty for the possession of these and other banned weapons will also increase from six months to two years.

Police leaders have met with social media companies about people selling weapons via their sites.

In some cases “dealers” aged over 18 will buy large quantities of knives from a retailer and resell them to young people from social media chatrooms.

Some of the ‘zombie knives’ and weapons police have taken off the streets (PA)
Some of the ‘zombie knives’ and weapons police have taken off the streets (PA)

“They are selling all sorts of weapons,” Commander Clayman told The Independent. “And they are packaging them up, they are glorifying them. They are doing all sorts of things that a normal seller can’t do.

“They are talking about how good the weapons are and they are doing it in a way that is easily accessible to people via these channels.

“These are people who just want to make a quick buck and they aren’t bothered about where they sell those knives or who they sell those knives to.”

His comments come as police forces across the country ramp up action for a week this month as part of Operation Sceptre.

New government funding will also see £3.5m of investment in developing new technology to catch people carrying knives from a distance using hand-held or body-worn systems which can be operated by individual officers. A further £547,863 will be handed to the Metropolitan Police for more live facial recognition mobile units to help officers catch wanted people on the street.

Commander Clayman said: “We welcome today’s announcement of additional investment in knife detection technology which is one of the many tools we use to keep our communities safe.”

Tory MP Marco Longhi, a member of the home affairs select committee, said: “Commander Clayman’s admission is alarming. While acknowledging the symptoms is a crucial step, the public expects law enforcement to do more than merely manage the fallout.

“To passively accept that they lack the ultimate solution is to betray the trust and safety of communities plagued by knife crime. It’s time for a proactive, comprehensive approach that addresses root causes and implements effective prevention strategies. Anything less is an abdication of responsibility.”

Labour home affairs select committee chair Diana Johnson added: “This may be something we will raise with the home secretary next time he appears before us.”

Home secretary James Cleverly said: “Knife crime ruins lives and recent tragedies show there’s a lot more to be done to take these dangerous weapons off our streets.

“That’s why we’re taking a joint approach and announcing further measures to tackle these heinous crimes.

“No technology can replace the presence of officers on our streets, but as criminals develop new strategies towards crime, so must we.

“New technologies are already revolutionising how we fight crime and we are going even further to give police the solutions they need to keep us safe.”

The promotion and trade of weapons is against TikTok guidelines and any content found to violate rules will be removed, according to a spokesperson for the platform.

A Snapchat spokesperson said: “Using Snapchat to buy or sell knives and other weapons is strictly against our rules. If we find this content or if it is reported to us through our confidential in-app tools, we quickly remove it and take appropriate action, including working with police to support investigations.”