Leeds council insists it 'has acted' after knife shop raid in the city centre

By Richard Beecham

Leeds City Council is “now in the murder-prevention business”, a meeting of the authority’s decision-makers heard this week.

The authority’s Conservatives group called for the council to impose stricter rules on commercial lettings to ensure dangerous knives cannot be sold in the city’s shops.

It follows a recent report on a raid at a knife shop in Leeds city centre, in a building for which the freehold is owned by the authority.

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However, Leeds City Council’s ruling Labour group said the leasehold for the site was sold decades ago, and the only way it could intervene was through antisocial behaviour legislation, which it had done.

During a full Leeds City Council meeting, Coun Matt Robinson (Con) said: “We don’t have a knife problem in sections of our city, it is across our entire city. It is indiscriminate and does not care about ward boundaries. It does not care about the life chances of predominantly young people.

“We are now in the murder prevention business as a council. We need to look at the sale of knives and the intent to harm that comes alongside them. These are not novelty items, or replicas for fans of TV shows. These are weapons that are intended to hurt.

“Everyone has a part to play. The council has to stiffen its resolve, and use our role as a landlord and as a partner agency so we can tackle knife crime. We can prevent knives getting in the hands of people who intend to hurt.

“We need to do more as a council.”

The motion presented by Coun Robinson called on the authority to work more closely with commercial lets to ensure it has more power over which shops occupy its buildings. It called on the authority to review its terms on how it deals with tenants of its premises.

It follows a recent police raid on a knife shop in Leeds city centre.

The authority has said the leasehold was sold in 1990, it had no direct involvement as to who rented the space, and that work had been done to secure a partial closure order with the police.

Presenting an amended form of the white paper, council deputy leader Debra Coupar (Lab) said: “We would agree with your concerns on the issue, not only in the city but also nationally, with knife crime. The white paper is slightly disingenuous in the way you try to present a relationship between the council and the property in question.

“It is legislation that is needed so we can have more powers in local authorities and local police forces to deal with this.

“The suggested landlord and tenant route that you have stated – it would take us years of work, meanwhile our communities will be ripped apart by knife crime. We want to ask for new legislation that deals with these weapons.

“They are not what we would describe as a knife – has anyone seen these zombie knives? They are combat weapons and they are advertised as such. We need the power to deal with it in an appropriate way.”

The council’s ruling Labour group presented an amended version of the motion, calling for a national review of laws into shops selling knives.

Fellow deputy council leader Jonathan Pryor (Lab) added: “We are seeing the lowest numbers of frontline police officers for a decade. The announced extra officers are not extra, they will not all be frontline, and will not take us back up to pre-2010 levels.

“A lot of these issues are happening because of relentless police cuts and cuts to councils which provide youth services. These cuts have consequences, and we are seeing the impact of that.”

Supporting Coun Robinson’s original motion, Coun Neil Buckley (Con) said: “This is a problem for all of us and it should not be political.

“This morning I took the opportunity for a walk through the city centre, I familiarised myself with some of the products on offer. I could have bought two-feet long knives, daggers, a three-feet long sword and worst of all, something described as an ‘Assassin’s Creed spear’.

“This is not something we are saying should have been fixed now, because we understand the technicalities with the lease arrangement, but it is a question of for the future so it can’t happen again.”

Council voted for the Labour amendment to the motion, which read: “This council welcomes the Partial Closure Order secured against the Fantasia Store on Ludgate Hill by the council’s Anti-Social Behaviour Team in partnership with West Yorkshire Police.

“Council will not hesitate to take further robust action against any shop in Leeds, regardless of who owns the premises, selling products that fail to meet legal requirements including knives specifically marketed as combat weapons and not utensils for appropriate use.

“Council calls for a national review of legislation relating to the sale of knives and for the Government to grant police and councils further powers to tackle shops that sell knives marketed as combat weapons.”

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