HUNDREDS of first-time knife crime offenders were convicted or cautioned in Hampshire last year, figures reveal.

Labour MP Sarah Jones, chairwoman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on knife crime, says violent crime is now a national crisis following a rise in punishments for first-time knife offenders.

Ministry of Justice figures show that 370 criminals were sentenced or cautioned for a first knife or offensive weapon crime in the year to June.

They accounted for 72% of all knife-related convictions in Hampshire – and represented a 12% increase on the number of first-time offenders during the same period five years ago.

The statistics include possession of, or threatening with, a knife or offensive weapon, and one sentence or caution can include multiple offences.

The rise was smaller than that across England and Wales, where 14,200 first-time knife offenders received a conviction or caution in the year to June – a 25% rise since the 12 months to June 2014.

They made up 71% of punishments, though this was down from the 75% share five years earlier.

The figures also show that children aged 10 to 15 were convicted or cautioned on 59 occasions in Hampshire – accounting for 12% of knife-related crime.

This was higher than the proportion of knife crimes by children aged 10 to 15 was across England and Wales, where the figure stood at 10%.

Sarah Jones said: “These figures provide yet more evidence that knife crime is a national crisis which continues to grow.

“What’s especially concerning is the number of new knife offenders, some as young as 10 years old.”

A recent report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on knife crime warned that children being excluded from school could be a “tipping point” that leads them to pick up the weapons.

The group has called for schools to be more accountable for the pupils they exclude.

Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said a future with “no qualifications, no job prospects and no role models” is making many young people vulnerable to gangs who coerce them into carrying knives.

“To break the cycle of violence, we need to reach them before they reach for a knife,” he added.

“The Government urgently needs to work with charities, education, health, youth workers, the criminal justice system and local communities to find long-term answers and restore children’s hope, so they have a reason to turn away from crime.”

In Hampshire, 29% of convictions for knife-related crime led to an immediate prison sentence, lower than the 34% who went straight into a custodial sentence across England and Wales.

Mr Khan said: “Tough sentences are part of the solution, but we need to tackle the root causes and understand why those involved carry knives.”

Justice minister Chris Philp said the figures show that those caught carrying a knife are more likely to be sent to prison, and for longer, than at any time in the last decade.

He added: “But we are doing more to build public trust in the justice system – recruiting 20,000 police officers, extending stop and search powers and making sure the most violent offenders spend longer behind bars.”