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Trading Standards calls for online knife sale ban

Conscience pricked by underage web blade spree

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Trading Standards is making a call for Government to block any sites attempting to sell underage products in the UK, after sending a bunch of kids out to pick up some sharps with not unpredictable results.

The Trading Standards Institute (TSI) has been doing some research tempting retailers with underage shoppers. They sent under-18-year-olds round to a number of real shops to buy knives, and also got them to attempt to buy knives online via what they understand to be UK-based online shops.

The result was that one in four real shops will sell to underage purchasers – and four out of five online retailers (58 out of 72 sites tested) would sell to individuals under 18.

As a result, the TSI is now calling for a ban on all knife sales over the internet. We asked them to explain the reasoning behind this demand, as well as how it would work. A spokesman claimed initially: "With real bricks and mortar shops, we can intervene and educate the retailer into better practice.

"With the internet, that is not possible, as we cannot always locate the supplier."

However, we then spoke to the individual who had headed up the research. He said that they were able to find 100 per cent of online retailers making underage sales: many were surprised, and most took immediate action to amend their selling procedures.

He had no estimate of the number of online retailers making such sales that they could not track – although he did make reference to overseas retailers, who are in fact outside the scope of UK Law, who sometimes masqueraded as UK-based companies.

Since this was not part of the TSI remit, he volunteered that the time may have arrived for government to make use of blocking software to prevent people accessing products sold into the UK from overseas for which age restrictions apply.

In the end, we remained unclear as to why TSI were calling for a ban: knife sales to underage individuals are illegal, and the TSI expert believes there is no problem in locating those companies breaking the law.

They are not asking for a ban on shops selling knives: merely for online companies doing so. When pressed, their expert did acknowledge that if they had merely said that, they might not have achieved quite such a splash in the press.

A ban on selling of such products goes a long way further than either the retail industry or government has suggested. The Interactive Media in Retailing Group (IMRG) has set up an Age Verification Online working party to collectively address the issue.

Last year, a ten-minute Bill by Luton South MP, Margaret Moran to introduce compulsory age verification for selling of products online failed when it ran out of parliamentary time. However, the present consensus seems to be much more closely wedded to the view that some form of age verification is, in the long run, the way to go. ®

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