Keep knives at home, out of public places

RAF MILDENHALL, England -- It's essential to be aware of local laws and customs while living in the United Kingdom. Not only are there strict rules concerning firearms, but also strict rules concerning knives. Some knives are considered offensive weapons. 

The Criminal Justice Act of 1988 prohibits possession in a public place of any article that has a blade or is sharply pointed, except a folding pocketknife with a blade less than 3 inches long. 

A folding pocketknife is defined as a knife that folds into itself and does not become locked into place when unfolded. Any knife that's unfolded and locked into place - requiring the user to push a button or manipulate something before it can be folded - is not considered a pocketknife, and could be considered an offensive weapon, according to British law. 

A public place is anywhere the public has, or is permitted to have, access - that could be a highway, a parked car in front of a person's house or the shoppette. 

It's not against the law to own these items - however, it's against the law to carry them in public places. 

"Any knife with a blade over 3 inches long is illegal; even a Leatherman tool - if it has a blade that locks in-place - is technically illegal," said Police Constable Paul Glover, Ministry of Defence police and community liaison officer. 

"Anyone in possession of an illegal knife is likely to be arrested. It's up to the individual to provide a valid reason why he or she had it on their person," he said. 

According to Section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, "Any person who, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, the proof of which shall lie on him, has with him any public place an offensive weapon shall be guilty of an offence." The penalty can range from six months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £5,000, to four years imprisonment and/or a fine, depending on whether the person is found guilty at Magistrates or Crown Court. 

Possession of an offensive weapon in a public place is also illegal (meaning they are also not allowed to be carried in a private vehicle) - anyone found carrying one will be arrested on-the-spot and charged, said PC Glover. 

The community liaison officer added that household items, such as a piece of wood or a baseball bat, become an offensive weapon if used to hit someone - and the user will be arrested immediately. 

"It's also illegal to have any offensive weapon in your house; butterfly knives, flick knives, brass knuckles or knuckledusters, truncheons, daggers and bayonets. People should be aware that if they're stopped for any reason and found carrying an illegal knife or other offensive weapon, the police have the authority to search their house for other items." 

Sharply-pointed instruments - which it is also illegal to possess, under the Criminal Justice Act of 1988 - include items such as Stanley knives. Some may consider Stanley knives a work tool, but they're considered offensive weapons when carried in a public place and obviously not for work use, i.e. carried in the back pocket when out for the evening. 

The only valid exceptions for carrying a knife are if it's being used for work purposes, for religious reasons or as part of a national costume. 

However, PC Glover said he doesn't know of anyone on base those rules would apply to, and anyone found carrying a weapon will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the knife is for that purpose and that purpose only. 

Anyone using a knife (with a 3-inch blade or longer) at work is advised to keep it locked away or kept safely where it can't be seen or taken by anyone else. 

When kept at home, knives should be stored sensibly, and not accessible to children or young people. 

"If ever confronted by someone carrying a knife, such as out in a club or pub, speak to the security staff (if there are any) or call the police immediately," said PC Glover. "Under no circumstances should you try to intervene. If you're threatened by someone with a knife who wants your wallet or phone - give it up straight away. Don't try and fight, and don't try to be a hero." 

PC Glover also stressed that anyone seeing someone carrying a knife should call the police (try to establish first whether the blade is more than 3 inches or not). 

"There's absolutely no reason for anyone to have a knife in their possession off base," he said. "They mustn't be carried either on your person or in a vehicle on public roads, and should be kept at home. 

"As long as people don't take knives off base, and never carry a knife with them, there should be no reason for them to be stopped or arrested," he said. 

Anyone new to England who may unwittingly have brought an illegal weapon with them into the country is advised to turn it into the police, where it will be destroyed. 

It can be done voluntarily, or for those caught with a knife on them, it will be done forcibly.
However, those wishing to turn in their weapons to the British police still can't carry them on public roads or in a public place, but are advised to call either the law enforcement desk, at 238-2667, or PC Glover at 238-6032 or 07771-614281. 

The police can then make arrangements to retrieve the item from your house so it can be turned in legally. 

(Information courtesy of the 16th Air Force Legal Office)