FEWER knife crime offenders in Dorset were sentenced to prison last year, figures reveal.

Anti-knife crime charity the Ben Kinsella Trust said it is "extremely worrying" to see fewer criminals being sent to prison, despite a rise in knife crime.

Ministry of Justice figures show that 194 knife and offensive weapon offenders were cautioned or convicted in Dorset in the year to March – with just 37 (19 per cent) resulting in immediate custody.

This was down from 23 per cent in 2020-21, and from 25 per cent in 2019-20, before the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year, 20 per cent of offences resulted in a caution, 34 per cent in a community sentence, 16 per cent in a suspended sentence and 11 per cent in another form of disposal.

However, in Dorset, the rate of knife offences was 31 per 100,000 people last year – up from 28 in 2020-21.

Patrick Green, chief executive of the Ben Kinsella Trust, said: "It is extremely worrying to see that knife crime offences are rising while fewer criminals are being sent to prison for their crimes.

"While Covid restrictions will have accounted for some of the variation, it is concerning to see that this trend has continued since restrictions were lifted.

"We need greater investment in the court process to reduce the length of time it takes for a case to get to court."

He added that victims deserve swift justice, but the figures show this is not happening – and this needs to be addressed immediately.

Chief Superintendent Mark Callaghan, strategic lead for violent crime at Dorset Police, said: “The harm caused to families and communities through the tragic loss of life relating to knife crime is devastating and that is why knife crime remains a top priority for Dorset Police. We are committed to reducing knife crime offences in the county.

“Knife crime is not something we can solve alone, and we continue to work closely with schools, charities and community groups to ensure that messages about the dangers and consequences of carrying a knife reaches young people in schools and colleges. I would also appeal for parents or guardians to have similar conversations with children in their families to make sure young people are not carrying knives.

“Changes to legislation brought about by the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 mean that from Wednesday 6 April 2022 it has become harder for young people to buy weapons, both at the point of sale and delivery. These new measures will go some way to taking weapons off the streets and make it more difficult for people to get hold of knives and other dangerous items in the first place.

“We also regularly take part in the national Op Sceptre knife amnesty campaign and carry out other proactive work to raise awareness of the issues around knife crime.

“We would encourage anyone with concerns about a knife carrier to contact Dorset Police so we can take action and if appropriate put safeguarding measures in place to protect anyone who may be vulnerable.”

If you believe someone is in immediate possession of a knife or offensive weapon please dial 999. If you would like to report your concerns about a knife carrier or need some advice, please email 101@dorset.pnn.police.uk or visit dorset.police.uk and report it online.