HUNDREDS of criminals were sentenced or cautioned for knife and weapon offences in Dorset in the year to March – a record high.

Knife crime charity the Ben Kinsella Trust said it was a relief to see the numbers drop slightly across England and Wales, but warned that “heinous” knife crime has not gone away.

Ministry of Justice figures show 241 knife and offensive weapon crimes resulted in a caution or sentence in Dorset in the year to March – the highest number since current records began in 2010.

The figure includes possession of, or threatening with, a knife or other offensive weapon, but do not include all offences, such as murder or assault.

Across England and Wales, an estimated 21,325 knife and offensive weapon crimes resulted in a caution or sentence in the 12 months to March.

This was four per cent fewer than the year before, but was still the third-highest annual figure since current records began in 2010.

Patrick Green, chief executive of the Ben Kinsella Trust, said it is a welcome relief to see a small decrease in numbers in the last year.

He added: “But we need to remember that these figures show that knife crime is still 53 per cent higher than it was in 2014.

“So sadly, knife crime has not gone away and we need to maintain the focus in tackling and preventing this heinous crime.”

Temporary Chief Superintendent Caroline Naughton, of Dorset Police, said: “In Dorset we do not have the extent of knife crime reported in some major metropolitan areas and our most recent figures show that over the last year we saw an increase of 3.9 per cent (10 crimes) compared to a national average rise of seven per cent.

“We were also shown to have the lowest rate of offences when compared with similar Forces.

“However, we are not complacent and remain committed to doing all we can to tackle knife crime in our county."

She added: “While incidents involving threats made with knives have risen and that is a concern, thankfully there has been a decrease in incidents that have resulted in injuries.

“Dorset Police has a knife crime strategy together with partner agencies and our communities to reduce knife crime in all its forms. We will target known repeat offenders and work to recognise trends such as the continuing link between knife crime and drug related activity.

“By working closely with partners ranging from schools to retailers and transport workers, Dorset Police is committed to preventing people from engaging in knife crime. We also work with victims and vulnerable people, such as those who may be exploited by county lines gangs, to reduce the impact of knife crime on our communities.

“We urge anyone who thinks someone they know is carrying a knife to let us know. People who carry knives are at greater risk of harm themselves as situations involving knives escalate quickly.”

The figures cover just to the start of the coronavirus lockdown, but the MoJ said any impact on the data from the pandemic was likely to be small.

The figures show around 38 per cent of offenders in England and Wales received an immediate custodial sentence – the average of which rose to 7.9 months in the year to March, compared to 7.7 before.

In Dorset, 22 per cent of offenders went straight to prison.

Adults and juveniles cautioned or sentenced are increasingly likely to be repeat offenders, with the proportion of first-time offenders dropping from 80 per cent in the year ending March 2010 to 71 per cent in the latest figures.

The MoJ said sentencing remains a matter for independent judges, but that threatening and repeat possession offenders should expect to go to prison.

Justice minister Chris Philp said: “Knife crime is a devastating blight on too many communities and this government is determined to do everything it can to make our streets safer.

“We are recruiting 20,000 more police officers, making it easier to use stop and search and ensuring the most violent offenders spend longer behind bars.”