Offensive Weapons Bill

Written evidence submitted by Nick Griffiths, Chairman, Whitby & Co (OWB92)

Thankyou for the opportunity to present my views on the Offensive Weapons Bill.

I think it’s important for you to be aware that the views that I am expressing come from my position as the Chairman of one of the UK’s largest multi-tool and pocket knife distributors, Whitby & Co. Established in 1961 as a very traditional importer of pockets knives for the field sports industry, we have grown and changed hugely over the intervening years. For this reason I will only focus on Section 15 of the Bill. I am unqualified to comment on the aspects covering Guns and Acids/Chemicals so have not done so. The other aspects of the Bill such as further defining a Flick Knife and prohibiting the private ownership of banned items such as ‘Zombie Knives’ cause me no concern, indeed I support them.

Whitby & Co now employs 30 people in a B2B and B2C multi channel business. We take the sale and use of knives very seriously and as such we have acted during the 2017 Govt Consultation preceding the Bill to advise the Home Office of the best practice we carry out here with regards to B2C website sales and the necessary age verification which takes place as an integral part of the online sales process. It has therefore been deeply disappointing to see the evidence we have provided and the proposals we have made to move towards an online dealer licensing scheme as an effective and proportionate response to the concerns about blade crime in our cities in particular, apparently completely ignored.

I do believe that the fundamental premise for the Consultation was unsound and this error appears to have been magnified as time has gone on.

Below I have bullet pointed my primary concerns and proposals for an effective and proportionate solution to a problem which I do agree exists, but which is being approached as if knives, blades and tools are not a part of everyone’s daily lives, which they most certainly are.

· We support proposal on ‘Zombie Knives’, tightening of definition of flick knives, attempt to prevent uncontrolled supply of often illegal knives via courier from outside the UK

· We are deeply concerned that the consultation and the resultant draft Bill are not evidence based in that;

o There are still no actual knife crime stats, only offences with a sharply pointed instrument (could be a chisel, screwdriver, bottle, shank etc.) yet everything is labelled as ‘knife crime’

o Close questioning of the HO has revealed that ‘Failed’ online test purchases quoted as being 85% are actually reduced to 50% (still too high we completely accept) when the question is asked, "How many tests resulted in an actual delivery?" This is because the majority of age verification systems will initially confirm an order before the actual age verification is done. The actual sample was, we understand, just 16 retailers. We have been unable to verify how this sample was selected or how many of these online retailers were overseas operations trading from a ‘ co.uk ’ style domain e.g. knivesandtools.co.uk are based in Apeldoorn, Holland

· We accept that blade crime is a serious issue which needs tackling, but we do not feel that the proposed ban on delivery to private addresses is the right way to bring about a positive impact.

· It is already a crime to sell a knife to an under 18 year old – we understand that prosecutions are rare as Trading Standards prefer to take an educational approach. Perhaps if prosecutions under existing statute were more common this would lower instances of online dealers failing to exercise due diligence in the area of age verification.

· It is also already a crime to carry certain knife types in a public place if unable to give a good reason. We understand that the policy of tough sentencing for knife possession offences is not being delivered on as some habitual knife carriers have been prosecuted multiple times without receiving custodial sentences.

· Blades are literally a part of everyone’s daily life – kitchen knives, scissors, craft knives, steak knives, wood chisels, pen knives, sports knives and multi-tools are cumulatively used safely by the majority of the UK population every single day.

· Anecdotally we understand that the majority of offences with actual knives involve kitchen knives. These are the most commonly held knife type and we would estimate that 90% of UK households have multiple kitchen knives openly accessible to all members of a household. Banning home delivery of an object that already exists in numbers in every home seems nonsensical – unless there is to be a ban on owning kitchen knives!

· In essence we feel that this draft Bill seeks to pretend that Knives are not an everyday object in that ~50 million people over 18 will no longer be able to choose to buy new products in a way that is convenient to them. We live in a digital age where consumers expect and indeed demand that they be able to purchase in a way that fits in with their busy lives. This Bill seems to ignore this reality.

· We note that defences for supplying residential premises indicate that it will be permitted to supply a tradesman operating from home. Although this sounds like a genuine way of ensuring that those working from home can still access knives and other tools, we feel that it is unworkable in reality. Couriers and online dealers will be unsure how to effectively identify tradesman and non tradesman and this makes no allowance for consumers who are disabled and those who live rurally, people who rely on online shopping to be delivered to their home.

What do we propose as a solution? We have spoken and emailed with the Home Office previously about bringing in a mandatory online knife dealers licensing scheme which will rely on a defined age verification standard. This will be funded by the dealer license fee.

It will be an offence;

· To sell knives online in the UK if you are not licensed

· To ship knives on behalf of a dealer who is not licensed

Conditions of the license will set out approved age verification systems and processes requiring a full audit trail and record keeping. Essentially an ISO2001.

Summary

We believe that Section 15 of the draft bill seeks to deny the march of progress in insisting that consumers cannot have everyday objects like a knife delivered to their house after making a purchase online. We think that of equal importance, the bill will statistically have little or no impact on the access of under 18’s to knives for criminal acts.

The necessary proliferation of kitchen knives in every kitchen throughout the UK means that these are the primary knife type of choice to young and old alike who seek to use them legitimately as well as those who seek to do others harm or to protect themselves. It is already an offence to sell a knife to an under 18 year old and it is with frank astonishment that we have seen Trading Standards admit that not one prosecution has been made against an online dealer under this current legislation. With lack of funding and personnel as a major factor in this situation, we see no reason why this position will change just because we have further legislation.

As a pragmatic and effective solution to the issue of online sales to under 18’s we advocate an online knife dealer licensing scheme to be self financed by the license fee. Conditions of the license will be that the dealer subscribes to an online knife dealer standard, to include approved age verification software. Sales without such license to be an offence. This way the 50 million legitimate knife purchasers and consumers will be able to make their purchases at their convenience whilst still being rigorously checked.

We would very much like the opportunity to meet with the Home Secretary and separately the committee to expand on our concerns and proposals, something we have so far been denied due to the worryingly short period of time being allowed for the whole scrutiny process. I would urge you respectfully to allow more time for discussion and also to demonstrate that the witnesses you have so far interviewed do not represent the whole picture of the situation.

Kind Regards

Nick Griffiths

Chairman

Whitby and Co.

July 2018

 

Prepared 24th July 2018