7:00am Thursday 21st February 2008
By Andy Tate
FOUR out of every five people convicted of carrying a knife in Hampshire are getting off without a jail sentence, new figures have revealed.
According to the Ministry of Justice, 160 people were found guilty of possessing a blade in a public place in 2006 - but only 29 of them were thrown behind bars by magistrates.
This week, the Daily Echo revealed the number of people convicted of carrying a knife in Hampshire had soared by 65 per cent over the past decade.
The new figures show for the first time that most of them are walking away with a fine or community punishment.
Magistrates have the power to impose a six-month sentence for an offence. If the defendant is under 18 and the proceedings are in a youth court a two-year custodial sentence can be handed down. The Crown Prosecution Service said: "Whether or not a custodial sentence is awarded is a matter for the courts. We present the evidence and if someone pleads guilty or is found guilty they are given a sentence felt suitable."
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has ordered police in the worst areas to prosecute anyone carrying a blade as part of the latest crackdown on knife crime - but Hampshire was not considered bad enough to be included in the drive.
A Home Office spokesman said the Government took knife crime extremely seriously. Last year the maximum sentence for carrying a knife was increased from two to four years.
He added: "While sentencing is a matter for the courts we expect anyone who might consider carrying a knife to be sent a clear message about the consequences. Sentencing guidelines also state that when a weapon is used to frighten or injure a victim prison sentences should be increased even further. We are actively working with the police to deliver a tough approach to dealing with knife crime.
"This summer there will also be a brand new £1m campaign aimed at warning youngsters of the dangers of carrying a knife. In addition there will be new police resources for hundreds of knife arches and search wands in local communities."
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