THE number of youths arrested in Dorset on suspicion of possessing knives, blades and other weapons has soared by 190 per cent over the past five years.

Data obtained from Dorset Police by a Daily Echo Freedom of Information (FOI) request showed that 64 under 18s were arrested for this offence in 2020.

In 2016 this figure was just 22 and it has been increasing year-on-year ever since.

The majority of arrested youths were boys – 62 of the 64 – last year, while since 2016 the youngest person arrested on suspicion of possession of a blade or an offensive weapon was an 11-year-old girl.

Chief Inspector Lindsay Dudfield said Dorset Police is committed to reducing crime involving young people and protecting communities.

“While it is recognised that some types of crime, such as knife crime, are a concern among young people, Dorset does not experience the same type of gang-related knife crime involving young people that is widely reported in other areas of the country,” said Chief Inspector Dudfield.

“We have one of the lowest number of knife crime rates per 1,000 population compared to similar Force areas and our county remains a safe place to live, work and visit.

“Part of the rise in reported knife-related incidents is due to proactive neighbourhood policing.

“Dorset Police has a knife crime strategy that sees us work together with partner agencies and our communities to reduce knife crime in all forms and amongst all age groups, including young people.

“Prevention is key and officers and staff from our Safer Schools and Communities Teams work with schools to educate young people about the dangers of carrying a blade or offensive weapon and the tragic consequences that using them can lead to.

“Dorset Police also works in conjunction with the drugs outreach services in Dorset for any drug-related offences involving children.

“In addition to this, we have started a Youth Diversion Scheme, which will be used for low-level offences involving children and will work to divert them away from the criminal justice system. Using a family approach, the youth diversion officer will work with the child for a minimum of six weeks to carry out an assessment of their needs and provide diversions and interventions to help them.”

Chief Inspector Dudfield said that the force works closely with schools through the Safer Schools and Communities Team to divert young people away from crime.

Officers also work with the Youth Justice Service and other partner agencies to ensure young people who do commit crime are provided with education, intervention and support to prevent reoffending, she added.

Youth arrests in relation to serious assaults – causing grievous bodily harm with or without intent – have doubled since 2016, increasing from 11 to 22. The 2020 figure was down from the five-year high recorded in 2019, when there were 37 arrests.

In terms of Class A drug offences, the picture was similar to serious assaults, with last year (75 youth arrests) showing a 44 per cent increase compared to 2016 (52 arrests), but down on 2019 (92 arrests).

The youngest person arrested on suspicion of inflicting grievous bodily harm was a 13-year-old boy, while the youngest youth arrested on suspicion of drug dealing was also a 13-year-old boy, in relation to reported class A drugs.

Christchurch MP Sir Christopher Chope said: “I think it is very alarming because we read about knife crime in London but I had not been aware that carrying knives had become so common place in Dorset as these figures suggest and that is just the arrests.”

The Conservative MP said he believes the increase was linked to a rise in drug dealing coming into Dorset.

Asked what can be done to tackle the situation with youths carrying blades and weapons, Sir Christopher said: “Detection is the best deterrent and then making sure there is a very deterrent punishment as well.”