Lethal weapons sold for a pittance

As increasing knife crime becomes a major problem for police forces across the EU, the unrestricted sale of knives is enjoying a boom in Cyprus, with virtually all seaside gift shops and kiosks selling some kind of deadly weaponry.

PILED UP next to souvenir ashtrays, postcards and holiday trinkets, you’ll find a staggering array of flick knives, daggers, swords, knuckledusters, baseball clubs and machete blades, all at prices even the tiniest budget can afford.

Customers wanting to buy any type of knife are free to do so, without the fear of being quizzed about what they intend using it for – and for as little as €15, you can be the proud owner of a seven inch razor-sharp, jagged edged blade – no questions asked.

With a budget of just € 50 the Sunday Mail compiled a shopping list likely to send a chill down the spine of even the most hardened criminal: flick knives, razor sharp daggers and Ninja-style throwing knives.

Within an hour, we managed to purchase a small arsenal of lethal weaponry which would be the envy of any military outfit.

One beaming Protaras shop keeper, with his well-rehearsed sales pitch, told us, “Don’t worry about getting the knives or swords back to the UK, you can hide them in the bottom of your travel case or suitcase. Cover them with clothes and stuff, and they are never detected.”

The shocking situation is made worse by the fact that there is absolutely nothing that local police can do, as there is nothing illegal about the sale.

It is perfectly legitimate for shops to sell the deadly weapons, but the law states it is only illegal to actually carry them in public.

During the past eight months alone, over a dozen serious stabbing cases have been reported across the island, leading to growing concern that the free sale of knives needs stricter regulation.

It’s a dilemma which is frustrating the vast majority of law enforcement officers, who see the easy sale of weapons as being a major stumbling block in their quest to tackle violent crime.

“The shops can sell the knives, even the sharpest most dangerous kind, but what they are doing is not illegal, they are not breaking any laws of the Republic of Cyprus. The law does say that carrying sharp blades is a crime, so that is the problem,” a spokesman from Police Headquarters told the Sunday Mail.

“How are we expected to get weapons off the streets, when every kiosk on the street sells them?”

There are currently no plans to tighten the laws on the lax sale of knives, but it is understood that ministers in Nicosia are becoming increasing aware that action needs taking.

Knife crime campaigner Ann Oakes-Odger, whose son Westley, 27, was stabbed to death in the UK, told the Sunday Mail that easy-to-obtain weapons make the problem of knife crime much worse.

“It does not surprise me that at all that you can buy knives in supermarkets; half of the problem comes from the point of purchase. I’ve campaigned here in Britain to get the penalties for shops selling knives irresponsibly increased. We now have a law that shops cannot sell a knife to anyone under the age of 18,” she said.

“My son was murdered in an unprovoked fatal knife attack at 3 pm on 12 September 2005. Young people don’t buy these knives to whittle bits of wood or fillet fish, most store owners know that.”

British shop keepers caught breaking the law now face a fine of up to £5,000 and up to six months’ imprisonment and 71 people have been successfully prosecuted for selling knives to the children in the past five years.

Some police officers are said to be pushing for a scheme urging shop owners in Cyprus to keep a register of customers buying blades to help them win the battle on knife crime.

“Actually some of the knife crime we have here is imported from Britain, we can learn a lot from the laws and schemes which have been introduced over there,” an Ayia Napa police offer said.

Despite the problem being island wide, the mass media focus is usually on Ayia Napa, which is constantly patrolled by undercover British journalists seeking an exclusive scoop for the Sunday red-tops.

This year the suntanned Fleet Street hacks have been left disappointed, despite several tip-offs that the resort would become a battleground for knife-wielding gangs from London, Birmingham and Manchester.

There have been some incidents though. One doctor at an Ayia Napa clinic said he had treated several stab victims this summer, but claims the problem is nothing like it once was.

The doctor also said the fact that the stabbings are seldom reported to police keeps the official stabbings statistics low.

“Last month I saw half a dozen cases of stabbings here at the clinic, it is a bit like it was seven years ago. It’s always ‘black dudes’ being admitted into the wards. We call the police or security, they shout at us and run away.”

Just two weeks ago a 24-year-old who had been stabbed refused to give testimony into the circumstances of the injury, meaning that no police action was taken.

That incident sparked renewed fears that violence associated with London’s club scene was again spreading to the resort.

In a recent interview with the music magazine Murder Dog, pop star Dizzie Rascal admitted he also refused to tell police who was responsible for stabbing him in central Ayia Napa in 2001.

“It took four people to get me. In the papers it said I was laying there and it wasn’t even like that. I was walking and my shirt was just dripping blood. That’s that, and the next thing the police. Obviously they’re interrogating you, they want to know who did it. And I’m not telling them and I’m not telling the press,” he said.

Ann Oakes-Odger thinks that tighter legislation on knife sales should be a simple matter of common sense for any government.

“I hope your government in Cyprus doesn’t leave it too late, just one knife death is enough. I know that much, “she said.

The problem of stabbings in the UK has reached epic proportions, and revellers travelling to Notting Hill carnival last week faced mobile metal detection arches in Tube stations in a bid to discourage knife crime.

Stations near the carnival route were fitted with mobile metal detection arches, while at least 600 British Transport Police officers patrolled trains and stations using drug detection dogs and handheld metal detectors.