HUNDREDS of criminals were convicted or cautioned for knife and weapons crimes in Hampshire last year, as the number of offences dealt with hit a nine-year high.

Ministry of Justice statistics show criminals were cautioned or sentenced for knife and offensive weapons offences in Hampshire on 587 occasions in the year to September 2019 – the most since 2010.

The recent trend was mirrored across England and Wales, where the figure for such offences hit 22,300 – the highest since records began in 2009.

The number includes possession of, or threatening with, a knife or other offensive weapon.

Hamsphire MP Royston Smith described the figure as “very worrying indeed”.

He said: “Knife crime is frequently related to the County Lines drug trafficking business.

“Whilst it is right to be concerned about knife crime it is also time to tackle the reasons for it.

Basingstoke Gazette:

“Drug users need drug traffickers, indirectly some of the responsibility must lie with them.

“I will be pushing the government to get tougher with the trafficker’s customers as well as the dealers.”

In Hampshire, under-18s accounted for 24 per cent of sentences or cautions for knife and offensive weapon crime in the year to September 2019.

Across England and Wales, they made up 21 per cent of cases.

Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said the Government urgently needs to find long-term solutions to turn vulnerable children away from crime before they reach for a knife.

“Increasing the number and length of sentences can only be part of the solution, as this may not deter young people who are suffering a poverty of hope,” he added.

“Often they have no qualifications, no job prospects, and no role models, making them vulnerable to criminal gangs who force them to deliver drugs and carry knives to protect themselves.”

Across England and Wales, 38 per cent of knife and offensive weapon offences ended with someone going straight to jail in the year to September 2019 – a record high.

The average time spend behind bars also increased over the period, from six to eight months.

Justice minister Chris Philp said the Government is recruiting 20,000 more police officers, extending stop and search and making sure the most violent offenders spend longer behind bars.

He added: “These figures should serve as a stark warning to those carrying knives – you are more likely to be jailed, and for longer, than at any point in the last decade.”

Hampshire Constabulary did not respond to this newspaper's request for comment.