Offensive Weapons Bill

Written evidence submitted by Ian Backhouse (OWB101)

I write to you in the capacity of someone that makes high quality tools for bushcraft applications through personal, written or verbal request - NOT: tactical, military or ‘designer’ bladed objects such as the well-publicized ‘Zombie’ type knives etc. For me, this is mostly a hobby - albeit a serious one. I do not have a website, all of my tool ‘orders’ are through word of mouth or recommendation. I am also an avid collector of period or antique bladed tools. (Axes, billhooks, froes and such like). I have studied blacksmithing and bladesmithing extensively, for many years and hold several tertiary qualifications in both. Investments in tooling and educational courses have therefore been a considerable expenditure in time and money to me within this field as I am sure you can appreciate.

As you can imagine, I greeted the news of the new laws with some trepidation for what they may mean for me, my few regular ‘customers’ and my hobby in the future.

I would like to say at this stage, that I can completely understand the government’s stance in this matter especially in the face of the growing number of crimes involving knives, firearms and/or corrosive substances. This type of crime has an extremely serious - and almost always - life changing impact on the person they are inflicted upon. Both in a physical sense, and also mentally. These types of crimes have visibly increased in recent years. This cannot be taken lightly. Something must be done. That is understood and I agree wholeheartedly.

However, finely balanced against this, must come the preservation of some public and commercial freedoms within the scope of law or proposed amendments to the bill. This is a very difficult thing to achieve, but not impossible with the correct measured and focused responses, in my opinion.

So what are my opinions on the issues at hand?

Firstly I believe we should look closely at the root cause of the increase in violent crimes using weapons. If we look within the parameters of these crimes, what are the defining characteristics? The common denominators that bond them together? In my opinion, the main reasons for this type of crime are:

· They are committed (mostly) in deprived areas with high un-employment rates.

· They are committed (mostly) by young men, most –although not all - of Afro-Caribbean descent.

· They are almost always carried out by adolescent youths or people under the age of 25.

· They are committed in the most cases, (85-90% according to home office statistics) with articles that are easy to obtain, both in the home and commercially: Kitchen knives, (the heading photo of your consultation webpage itself, features a kitchen knife), ‘Stanley’ type knives, box cutters, screwdrivers, scissors, drain cleaner, acid etc. The remainder of the figures being taken up with cheap machetes, or ornamental samurai type swords and gimmick ‘Zombie’ type blades. (Impractical for normal purposes such as camping/woodworking etc.)

· This type of crime is almost always committed for financial gain, (robbery, moped gangs) or an increase in social standing or status within a gang related, criminal group or ‘rough’ neighbourhood.

· In the case of acid attack, there are also other criminal and cultural aspects to consider, such as ‘honour’ related assaults stemming from family matters, or disfigurations related to acts of revenge within gang related matters, where ‘disrespect’ is perceived or gang territory/drug/crime profits encroached. It is also important to remember that a chemical weapon leaves no real forensic footprint like a bullet or knife wound and is therefore seen by many criminals as ‘untraceable’.

Therefore, I would urge the committee to focus on and to try to address the root cause of the problem – the criminal element, not the secondary symptoms of societal/law or policing failures.

Let’s take a look at each of the proposed changes bullet points and give comment in turn:

• A new offence of possessing a corrosive substance in a public place;

Yes. This is fully supported by me and everyone that I know. I do have one question though. My wife is a Silversmith. She uses chemicals like ferric acid for etching silver. (As do I for Damascus steel). She buys this from a wholesaler in Hatton garden and must transport it home in its sealed container in the car, or by foot as it cannot be sent by post due to its hazardous nature. Is provision being made within the law for people with trades or hobbies like my wife or I, to allow the innocent transportation of corrosive yet legal substances? Or, could she, I, or people in similar positions, be criminalised because of potentially unscrupulous or over-zealous policing? I would like to see a clarification within the bill on this point.


• A new offence of selling certain harmful corrosive products to under 18s;

Fully agree. The same restrictions should apply as with Alcohol, cigarettes, fireworks, knives, etc. Where I would like to see a possible adjustment within this section of the bill, is where the person purchasing the item is made responsible for its use/storage. For example, what is the good of having age restrictions if someone buys the corrosive substance for somebody else? A type of: ‘You buy it, you are responsible for it’ type protocol. (Proof of the purchasing agent could be the till or credit card transaction receipt/records). This is by no-means fool proof, but it would add another layer of protection to the purchaser, business owner and the general public. This would also increase the burden of responsibility onto the person purchasing and securely storing the corrosive substance and the seller. Responsibility would likewise be increased on the business owner when allowing the purchasing of these items due to the need to file these records.

• New restrictions on online sales of bladed articles and corrosive products, including restrictions on deliveries to residential premises;

This is the part of the bill that nearly everybody I know and I myself disagree with. Why should the majority of the law abiding public have their civil liberties curtailed even further because of the irresponsible actions of a very small part of criminal society? I and many others feel that this part of the bill will stifle small business, purchasing freedom and encroaches too far into everyday life in popular opinion. We could in fact apply the same logic to this point as the previous. What is to stop someone from purchasing a knife for somebody else? Or picking it up from a ‘pick-up point’ just to pass it on to a criminal element? We already have substantial online purchasing records available through credit card transactions, ‘PayPal’, and many other payment platforms for law abiding legal purchases of legal bladed objects. These are actually more secure than the propose collection of blades, as the purchase is directly archived by the credit card or payment method provider. Many companies already have stringent age checks on online purchases too. This section of the legislation seems to disregard this fact, and will adversely affect everybody. Even hobbyists will be affected. For example: People who like to crochet or paper model - sharp implements. Hairdressers - sharp scissors that have to be returned to the manufacturer by post for specialist sharpening. People that need scalpels, box cutters, or ‘Stanley’ type knives for everyday use. Gardeners that want to buy a brush cutter, axe or machete for pruning, land clearing etc. Hobbyist or amateur chef’s knives or even Pizza cutters. These are just a few examples ‘off the top of my head’ for ‘bladed implements and their uses’ so to speak. There are thousands upon thousands of applications in everyday life for bladed implements. None of them criminal or sinister, but all of them will be impacted by this sweeping part of the legislation. In addition to this, has the committee pondered the fact that business in general is turning further and further to web based services? This is now an unstoppable modern phenomenon, especially when coupled with the demise of the high street and for many businesses this is their only ‘window’ to advertise in or way to achieve widespread publicity. Many small and medium sized businesses will therefore suffer considerably due to that fact that they can no longer efficiently or cost effectively sell perfectly legal bladed articles to the general public at their home addresses through the internet. This may also impact on people who cannot for whatever reason pick up items at a designated ‘pick up point’. The elderly. The disabled. This part of the bill takes no account for what is effectively discrimination of people with reduced mobility or people whom must travel vast distances in rural areas to go to a ‘pick-up point’ also incidentally adding to initial purchase costs. In addition - as stated previously - with the demise of the high street, the closure of shops like the traditional hardware shop - where many of these items could previously be purchased - where are people supposed to purchase these tools or implements? My own mother who is now very elderly, and cannot drive with any great confidence or get on the bus safely still loves her garden. Imagine if she wanted to purchase some pruning shears or a paring knife? "Ah, a neighbour or relative could collect them for her" you say. - Thereby completely mitigating the purpose of the new legislation in one go. So, how can we get around this? What about proof of ID and signature upon delivery from a licenced courier or carrier? That would give the government their desired need for ID with a personalised, accessible service, whilst maintaining cost effectiveness. It’s fair to everybody, includes the required security protocol and administrational costs could be covered with courier licensing fees. This would also go some way to improve courier security checks and services when applied through the appropriate licensing, education and training.


• A new offence of possessing certain offensive weapons (the weapons concerned are already subject to restrictions on their sale, manufacture and importation)

With due respect and understanding of the reason behind this proposal, this part of the bill I feel is practically useless and almost totally impossible to enforce. What is to stop anyone from making a weapon in their home? A set of knuckle dusters for example? For that, you do not even need any machine or hand tools. A tightly rolled sheaf of newspaper held securely in the fist will easily deliver as much damage as a brass or plastic knuckleduster and can be purchased anytime or any place. See ‘Millwall brick’ for a similar example. This section of the bill in my opinion, is a waste of time and tax payer money. In addition, from the point of view that if police enter a suspect’s home and find weapons that are already subject to restrictions on their sale, manufacture and importation, then surely they may seize those weapons in suspicion of wrongdoing/legality under existing laws? I fail to see how the new proposal can be in any way enforced to any practicable level.

This also leads, -or may lead to further unworkable legislation in the future. Again, almost anyone can make a knife, knuckleduster, a throwing star or other prohibited edged or stabbing weapon with common tools found in almost any shed. Shall we then start to ban Lathes? Mills? Drills? Bench grinders? Jig saws? Files? Sandpaper? Where do we stop? Indeed many everyday tools themselves such as screwdrivers are perfect such weapons. A murder could just as easily be committed with a piece of wood sanded to a sharp point or even a sturdy twig or small branch. A perfect and almost undetectable weapon for stabbing someone with, which doesn’t show up on any metal detector or scan and is very, very easy to obtain and conceal. What about a Rounders or Baseball bat? Perfect bludgeons. Shall we ban them too? Shall we legislate against owning pieces of wood or even trees so nobody can make them in the future? Evidence of this is aptly illustrated by the complete ban on weapons or dangerous implements in prisons. Inmates still manage to obtain or manufacture lethal weapons under the strictest of security measures available. How can this be effectively enforced amongst the general population?

Please also do not be blinded or misled by the appearance or even name of an implement. ‘Zombie knives’ - now ‘banned’ - are a perfect example. They are/were a gimmick. Nothing more, nothing less. No self-respecting or law abiding woodsman, camper or even knife collector would ever want to own such a frankly stupid and impractical ‘knife’. They are a joke. Yes they look shocking - they’re meant to. Yes, in the wrong hands they can indeed be lethal - as we have already sadly witnessed – but as can any piece of sharpened steel. The real shock and sadness for me, and I feel the real issue with this type of ‘weapon’, is that they are marketed toward adolescents and kids, and used by idiots. This is not the fault of responsible knife/tool makers, users or collectors. This is the fault of misguided marketing and sales campaigns and a lack of practical education on the part of the people that buy them. Many average tools or implements are FAR more lethal than a ‘Zombie knife’ – like a small or medium sized axe. But, because they are not fluorescent green and do not have the word ‘Zombie’ in exciting graphics appended to them, they do not appeal in the same way to a juvenile or naïve target audience and are therefore still perfectly legal.

However, these are secondary issues and should be viewed as such. They are not the root cause of the epidemic crime levels we are all now experiencing. Freedom and practicality must be maintained within the law for law abiding people. The full weight of the law must be applied to those that break it in a balanced and non-biased manner. Irrespective of age, race, gender or religion.


• Reclassifying certain firearms as "prohibited weapons" under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968.

Once, I was told by firearms officer - during a conversation during the renewing of my shotgun license, (which I have held for 18 trouble free years): "It’s the people with licences we don’t have to worry about." Why then, does current legislation need to be changed? Current legislation already bans: Automatic firearms, self-loading firearms, Firearms with a magazine capacity of a certain number of rounds and all types of handguns, to name just some of the restrictions. For example, I have never even seen a ‘bumpstock for sale in the UK and by any case, fitting one would make a firearm illegal instantly within the existing criteria for gun ownership already enshrined in law. I feel the new laws are short sighted, overbearing and do not take into account some of the practicalities of shooting needs. For example, some high powered firearms would be illegal under the new bill. (Firearms with a muzzle energy of 13.600 Joules or over). But there are practical applications for such a piece of equipment. The taking of large game humanely over long distances, such as male red deer culling on highland estates. I agree that you would not need such a firearm in the middle of the Kent or Essex countryside, but there is a place for them and rather than an outright ban, a middle ground of need, balanced against application would seem a far more balanced approach: Do you need a high powered large calibre rifle as part of your game keeping occupation and have met all security and safety criteria? "Yes I do." - Licence issued. Do you need a high powered large calibre rifle and have met all security and safety criteria as part of your gun collection and small game hunting? "Yes I do." - I’m sorry but on review, that is not a good enough reason or application to own such a firearm. License denied.

It would be my sincere hope for the future that the government acknowledge the vast gulf between crime committed by licensed gun owners and crime committed by the criminal/terrorist fraternity and legislate accordingly. Not in a ‘knee jerk’ or sweeping manner.

For example, we may look at the terrible Paris mass terrorist murders of 2015. Did any of the perpetrators of that crime use firearms either legally obtained or even stolen from law abiding gun owners? No they did not. The guns used were variants of the A.K. assault rifle family and were smuggled into France illegally by determined terrorist and criminal elements.

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What then is the way forward? I strongly believe that we already have completely adequate laws and legislation concerning both knives and firearms already in place. I also believe it is the actual failure of adequate application of these existing laws - which are not being enforced correctly or sufficiently - through fear of persecution of the police or government by certain sections of our society and political/law enforcement weakness in the face of political correctness. This is the major factor within the rise of knife crime, gun crime and attacks with corrosive substances. I believe this is also the reason behind the ‘recent’ marked upturn in violent crime. The attendant ‘gang’ culture and violence in my opinion is the single biggest factor facing the policing of ‘weaponised’ attacks within society. The second being terrorist activity from radical religious or political extremism.

For an excellent and enlightening illustration of the problems faced in inner city London I would advise the committee watch a ‘Vice’ documentary found on You tube. It is titled: "The Rise of Acid Attacks in the UK: VICE Reports" It is a report from 2017. It is a video that showcases and illustrates the issues that we face in dealing with weaponised crime superbly. Much of it is filmed in Newham. The place where I was born, grew up and lived until I was 28 years old. At 8mins 58 seconds into the interview you can see on the left of the shot the high rise block of flats my grandparents lived in from 1961 to 1987. Following this directly, is a statement from a professor in criminology. I hesitate to call the professor misguided in his assertions, but he displays a frankly absurd view of the origins of acid attacks in the UK. His views, are to put it mildly, fanciful and I believe guarded against the real truth for fear of causing tension. For a better understanding of the challenge we are facing as a society and how difficult the issue at hand will be to deal with please watch the interview later in the video, with the gang member from: 13mins 45 secs. This is the ‘real’ face of the street. Please note how at: 14 mins 0 secs the person states that he has ‘really tried’ to get a job but his conviction: ‘conspiracy to supply firearms’ prevents him from doing so! Conspiracy to supply firearms! We are talking serious crime at adolescent age. As many, many gang members are prone to carry out all across the country, in sink estates in our inner cities and towns preventing them from gaining lawful employment. Incidentally, do the committee think that this young man was also a licensed gun owner? More telling is at: 16 mins 5 secs where the person in my opinion shows his true thoughts exclaiming about: "People who "go to college, go to 9 to 5, live that boring life, not going to parties or anything like that". I truly believe that this shows a valid insight into the mind-set of the average gang member in 21st century Britain. Chilling also is his casual recollection and casual justification of an acid attack perpetrated by him and a ‘colleague’ of his on an ‘enemy’ his female partner and their baby. Truly chilling and very telling in itself.

Please, educate yourself about this type of person and why he does what he does. Go to these places. Take public transport. Tube train, or bus. Spend an evening there, walk the streets on your own in Stratford, East Ham, or Canning Town. (If you dare). See what has become of these areas, how people have to live these days. How innocent law abiding people suffer, every day of their lives because of the criminal element. Ask yourself, what can be done? Ask yourself the HARD questions. Should we treat people truly equally under the eyes of the law? Or shall we carry on making excuses for why people commit these crimes, because of their ethnicity or religious beliefs. View for yourself the unseen underworld many, many people inhabit. Educate yourself about the culture of ‘drill’ music, of ‘Gangsta’ culture. Educate yourself in the ways of violent religious or cultural beliefs such as FGM, or honour killings - other areas of the existing laws which are rarely if ever enforced. See it for yourself, and then ask what you, the government can do about it. Something with substance. Something with impact. Something that will make a real positive difference to law abiding people’s lives.

Please remember, I say these things as a person that was born and grew up in Newham. The most ethnic and culturally diverse region in the UK. During the 1970s and 1980s we grew up with even less social mobility or opportunities than the young people of today. We faced higher unemployment, less schooling of an acceptable standard, teacher strikes every week, greater economic hardship, an everyday environment detrimental to our health due to the amount of heavy industry prevalent in the area, far less creature comforts in our homes, no internet, I-phones or computers, no central heating, no double glazing, no benefits, no money. Even decent clothing was at a premium. The ‘school of hard knocks’ if you will. Our fathers and sometime mothers were also in many cases absent including my own father for long periods of my life. However, something was very different. Crime was nowhere near the level it is now. People had a sense of community, civic duty and personal pride, people relied on each other. Please do not misunderstand me. These are not the ‘good old days’ viewed through sepia or ‘rose’ tinted spectacles. They were hard times. But society on the whole functioned and violent crime was mostly the preserve of the criminal underworld, a world that was almost unseen for most ‘normal’ working people during every-day life. -Unlike the majority of these new modern crimes against the general populace going about their everyday business. If we can find the root cause of this change, this downturn in societal values, then truly, I believe we can go some distance toward turning back this rising tide of violent crime.

Lastly, I would just like to add if I may, an analogy of some of my experiences growing up and living in East London, in the neighborhoods we lived in. It was then (though less so than today) and of course still is, a violent and crime ridden area. But two occasions stand out for me, both directly following changes in firearms legislation at national level.

Following the shocking events of Dunblane on 13th March 1996 the government enforced a ban under ‘The firearms (amendment) act 1997’ on certain types of handgun. Following the two years after this ban, I was directly physically threatened twice during the period 1996 to 1999, with firearms I knew to be real and not ‘replica’ or ‘de-activated’ weapons, by local ‘hard-men’ or criminals known to me in the area where I lived. Both were unprovoked instances and both incidents were neither part of a robbery, or an assault. They were statements of hierarchical social dominance in front of peers, both mine and the perpetrators. My point is, that despite well-meaning and understandable legislation passed by law just two to three years previously, under huge public pressure, handguns were still (and still are), freely available to those people who wanted to brandish in a threatening manner, or use them in a criminal fashion. A third instance happened in 2008. I was working in Shepherds Bush, and unbeknown to me (I was withdrawing cash at a cashpoint at the time on Shepherds Bush Green, and was not giving the full attention that I should have been to the surrounding environment), My working colleague who was sitting in our parked work vehicle, witnessed another person (a young male with his face covered), point a firearm directly at the back of my head at the cashpoint then calmly pocket the weapon and walking away from me for reasons unknown. This episode I felt by far to be the most chilling that I have personally encountered, as I was completely engrossed in my task at hand and was completely at the mercy of this ‘persons’ actions.

These are, in my humble opinion, fully demonstrable examples of a failure in governmental policy and corresponding law change to tackle the ‘real’ root cause of the issue. Indeed, the necessity of added changes to firearm legislation within this bill in this latest draught would seem to support this assertion. The added changes and tightening of legislation - and therefore the law - will do nothing or very little in my experience, to deter or prevent determined criminal factions obtaining high powered firearms, bladed weapons or weapons of a chemical nature. Criminality itself - in my opinion, is where the government should be focusing and investing heavily in preventative measures to ensure public safety rather than further marginalise civil rights and liberties.

As a member of the public, I urge you to listen to the people who know. Listen to the people that live in, or have lived in these areas, who live with these problems on a day to day basis, and what they have to say about unemployment, lack of opportunity in life, a sense of hopelessness, law enforcement -or the lack of, in certain areas, crime, gangs and the fallout from gang culture. The difficulties in accepting alien/new cultures that have been introduced quickly, massively - and without any form of consent or control - in to traditional white working class areas, and the resulting struggle to live peacefully together.

Finally I would like to offer my sincerest and heartfelt thanks for inviting me to present to you my points of view on these matters.

Yours faithfully

Ian Backhouse.

July 2018

 

Prepared 13th August 2018