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Cutlery in The Offensive Weapons Act

Affecting retailers and suppliers of knives, the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 (OWA) guidelines are likely to be enforced from next month, but the parameters of the legislation are “still very confusing,” highlights Will Jones, chief operating officer of BHETA (British Home Enhancement Association) in an exclusive interview for

Above: BHETA’s Will Jones.
Above: BHETA’s Will Jones.

The guidelines bring the reminder that cutlery knives will remain, in law, age-restricted items. However, with guidelines that appear open to interpretation, BHETA welcomes indications from the Metropolitan Police and two Trading Standards officers that they will not use blunt cutlery knives in legal test cases.

Will emphasises that age verification for sales of table knives has been an expectation (albeit not widely acknowledged) for 24 years. He explains: “Cutlery knives have been age-restricted products under section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. Since then, it has been an offence to sell them to under 18s. The Offensive Weapons Act 2019 has not changed this, but it has done brought it to the attention of suppliers and retailers.”

However, Will highlights that there have been no convictions against anyone selling cutlery knives. Moreover, the Statutory Guidance for the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 states: ‘most cutlery knives are unlikely to be considered bladed products.’ A bladed product is described as: ‘an item with a blade that is capable of causing a serious injury to a person which involves cutting that person’s skin’.

Above: The Home Office takes an all-encompassing view of knives.
Above: The Home Office takes an all-encompassing view of knives.

Confusingly, when questioning the inclusion of cutlery knives in the OWA’s definition of bladed items, BHETA has been told by The Home Office: ‘The legislation in relation to sale of bladed articles to under 18s is silent in relation to whether the blade is blunt or not. Therefore, a knife with a blunt blade or rounded end is still a knife and subject to age verification.’

Hence Will believes: “We will have a situation where interpretation and enforcement will vary by regional Trading Standards. The key issue is that national retailers, who have stores in different locations around the UK, will probably adopt a risk-free approach to avoid prosecution from overzealous Trading Standards officers.”

Meanwhile, Will reports that representatives from the Metropolitan Police and London Trading Standards have told BHETA that: “In practice, they did not believe that any Trading Standards officer would ever use cutlery knives as part of a test purchase for bladed articles, precisely because they are defined in the Guidance as ‘not being able to cause serious injury’.”

For example, Trish Burls, Trading Standards manager for the London Borough of Croydon has reassured BHETA that: “in relation to test purchasing of knives, a test purchaser in Croydon would not be directed to attempt a purchase of a piece of cutlery (ie a ‘table knife’ which tend to form part of a knife, fork and spoon set). These are not, in my opinion, appropriate items to test and I would struggle to understand … why anyone would think otherwise.” However, Trish adds that “this is not legal advice but a pragmatic opinion,” as Trading Standards teams in different local authorities may take a different approach.

At Hammersmith & Fulham Council, Doug Love, senior Trading Standards officer has told BHETA: “I have always believed the intention of the legislation is to prevent the supply of knives and bladed items of the nature of those used in ‘knife crime’ to minors. Knives that do not have pointed ends or sharp blades, saws, garden shears etc do not fall into this category and are therefore unsuitable for test purchases.”

Doug adds: “If any BHETA members are the subject of an investigation about a test purchased item that would not be used as a weapon, please take up the offer made [February 2022] to alert me for Trading Standards purchases or Stephen Simpson, from the Metropolitan Police’s Business Crime Reduction Unit, for Police purchases”.

Above: The Met has indicated that it will not use cutlery knives in test cases.
Above: The Met has indicated that it will not use cutlery knives in test cases.

In the run-up to April’s legislation, BHETA is continuing to lobby for the clear exemption of cutlery knivesin the OWA. Will reports: “We have written to the Home Office outlining our concerns and suggesting it excludes cutlery knives (in the same way they have excluded penknives with blades under three inches). Alternatively, the Home Office could write into the OWA Guidance that items which are not dangerous bladed products are exempt from age restriction.”5 - bheta logo

In addition, BHETA will continue its work with the Police and Trading Standards to ensure that cutlery knives receive no enforcement activity.

The association set up its Responsible Knife Retailing Group two years ago. Its most recent meeting brought together leading suppliers and retailers of knives, including representatives from Burton McCall, Fackelmann Brands, Fiskars, Gastromony, Grunwerg, Haus Marketing & Distribution, Kuhn Rikon UK, The Rayware Group, Robert Welch Designs, Taylors Eye Witness, Asda, British Independent Retailers Association, Harts of Stur, John Lewis and Lakeland.


Top: Cutlery knives are an age restricted product under The Offensive Weapons Act 2019. However, the Statutory Guidance for the OWA states: ‘most cutlery knives are unlikely to be considered bladed products.’ Photo of a table setting by Naim Benjelloun.

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