Police lock up 75 in knife crime crackdown

A CRACKDOWN on knife crime in Edinburgh has resulted in 75 people being locked up by police using tough new powers.

The majority of those put behind bars were arrested in the streets outside pubs and clubs, where officers stopped and searched suspects for knives and other weapons during a five-week campaign.

The get-tough approach follows the introduction of new laws which do not allow automatic bail to anyone charged with possession of an offensive weapon.

Police chiefs launched the enforcement drive following a knife amnesty that saw more than 1000 weapons surrendered in Edinburgh. The hardline approach saw dozens of people allegedly caught carrying knives spending time behind bars before they even reached court.

And where a knife suspect has a similar previous conviction they face prosecution before a judge and jury instead of a sheriff alone, raising the maximum sentence available from two to four years.

A teenage girl, who became the first person in the Lothians to be charged under the powers, spent several days in custody following her arrest. Charlene MacPherson, 18, was charged with possession of a knife after being stopped by police in East Whitburn, West Lothian, last month.

Senior officers today hailed the blitz as a success and pledged to continue targeting knife crime.

A total of 55 weapons and 20 other weapons were seized by police in the force area between June 30, when the new laws came into force, and last Sunday.

Scotland's Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd QC, has given police and prosecutors hardline instructions for dealing with knife-related offences. Prosecutors will routinely oppose bail in the courts if an accused has one or more previous knife-related convictions.

Superintendent Derek Wheldon, Lothian and Borders' lead officer for Safer Scotland, which is leading the anti-violence campaign, said: "Stop and searches were carried out at pubs and entertainment venues in Lothian Road, George Street, as well as the city centre and elsewhere. Those arrested were then kept in police custody until their appearance in court for a bail undertaking.

"For suspects charged on a Friday night that meant they would remain in custody until at least the Monday morning."

A hit-list of thugs known to carry knives was drawn up to help pick out the most dangerous suspects among revellers. Officers were given photographs of their faces during briefings to help identify them on the streets and outside venues identified as "hotspots" for knife crime. Supt Weldon also dismissed recent criticism from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS) that knife amnesties were "ineffective" in combating the problem.

He said: "If one knife is taken off the streets then that can potentially save a life."

The five-week knife amnesty formed part of a larger anti-violence campaign taking place across the country over the next year. In Edinburgh, 1132 weapons were handed in, with a further 387 in East and Midlothian, 124 in West Lothian and 187 in the Borders.

A huge array of weapons were surrendered, including lock knives, machetes, swords, meat cleavers, bayonets and axes. Police across Scotland today revealed more than 1000 knives and other weapons had been seized during the enforcement period.

Kenny MacAskill, SNP justice spokesman, welcomed the tough approach in tackling the country's growing blade culture. He said: "It's regrettable, but sadly necessary. The amnesty is over and people have been warned. There should now be zero tolerance."

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said: "I want to congratulate the police for their efforts in continuing to clamp down hard on those involved in knife carrying."

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