Knife crime put one child in prison in North Wales last year, new figures show.

With fewer children across England and Wales in custody, anti-knife crime charity the Ben Kinsella Trust said the fall is encouraging, but warned against the high percentage of repeat offenders avoiding custody.

Ministry of Justice figures show 19 knife offences were committed by children aged between 10 and 17 in the North Wales Police area last year – up from 18 in 2020.

All of them were for possessing a knife in a public place.

The offences led to just one under-18 being placed in immediate custody.

There were none the year before, but four in 2019, before the pandemic.

Across England and Wales, 179 children aged between 10 and 17 years old were sent to immediate custody last year, meaning 5.8% of offences committed led to a young person being removed from the streets.

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This was down on the 288 (8%) remanded in custody in 2020 and dramatically below pre-pandemic levels – 533 (11.5%) were sent to prison in 2019.

The fall in the percentage of young offenders going to prison is alongside a national fall in the total number of total offences.

In 2021, 3,519 knife offences were committed by under-18s, down from 3,602 the year prior and well below pre-pandemic levels – in 2019, there were 4,618 offences.

The Leader: Knife. Image: PixabayKnife. Image: Pixabay

Patrick Green, chief executive of the Ben Kinsella Trust, said that it is good to see knife offences falling, but expressed caution, given the decrease in all crime during the pandemic due to successive lockdowns.

Mr Green also raised the problem of repeat offenders, highlighting the low proportion sent to prison.

In North Wales, one of the 19 knife offences in North Wales was committed by a child who has had at least one previous offence – they avoided immediate custody.

The other 18 were committed by first-time offenders.

Across England and Wales, just 103 of 549 (18.8%) offences committed by children who had a previous conviction led to a child in custody.

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"Many victims will be horrified to see that habitual knife carriers are more likely to be returned to the streets than to end up in prison," Mr Green added.

"We cannot expect to make any meaningful headway in tackling knife crime until the justice system takes stronger action to put serial offenders behind bars."

A Government spokesperson said: "Those caught carrying a knife are more likely to be sent to jail, and for longer, than they were a decade ago.

"The 20,000 extra police officers we are recruiting will help to bring more criminals before the courts and our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act will ensure the most serious and violent offenders spend longer behind bars."