Exclusive:Knife crime: Yvette Cooper fires warning shot to tech companies over blade epidemic

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The Shadow Home Secretary told NationalWorld that platforms “definitely need to take responsibility” for the violent epidemic which is often glamorised on social media.

Labour would look at strengthening legislation against tech companies to try and crack down on knife crime, Yvette Cooper has said.

The Shadow Home Secretary told NationalWorld that platforms “definitely need to take responsibility” for the violent epidemic which is often glamorised on social media. Cooper attended a round table with charities, community leaders and schoolchildren in Wellingborough ahead of the by-election, alongside Labour candidate Gen Kitchen. 

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They told her of children too afraid to go to the park after being chased home by balaclava-clad thugs armed with knives. The school pupils said that knife crime was being glamorised by gangsters on social media, which sucks youngsters into that lifestyle.

Cooper told NationalWorld: “Tech companies definitely need to take responsibility for this. There will be new requirements on them for what happens for young people with the new legislation [Online Safety Act], but that legislation has taken years to come forward … and it’s still not properly in place. 

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at a knife bank in Milton Keynes. Credit: PA/Stefan RousseauShadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at a knife bank in Milton Keynes. Credit: PA/Stefan Rousseau
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at a knife bank in Milton Keynes. Credit: PA/Stefan Rousseau | Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

“We’ve also argued for the legislation to go further, we are looking at what more can be done, but we do think the tech companies should take responsibility. They should be recognising the impact of the things that go up on their platforms and on young people’s lives and safety.”

The Online Safety Act (OSA), which was finally passed in 2023 after years in the making, will strengthen Ofcom’s hand against social media sites which show videos glamourising knife crime to children. The media regulator is currently consulting on the roll out of the OSA.

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“I think it’s really important that does focus around young people’s safety,” Cooper said. “We’re looking at all of that now - about fast roll out of the legislation and about what more can be done.”

Patrick Green, chief executive of the Ben Kinsella Trust, commented: “We desperately need tech companies to take greater responsibility. They have miserably failed to self-regulate and continue to sell dangerous weapons on their platforms, whilst also promoting and profiting from violent content. They must recognise their role in knife crime prevention.”

Yvette Cooper at a knife amnesty bin in Wellingborough.Yvette Cooper at a knife amnesty bin in Wellingborough.
Yvette Cooper at a knife amnesty bin in Wellingborough. | NW

Labour has made halving knife crime in 10 years part of its five missions, with Keir Starmer touring the country over the last week to unveil a series of policies on this. Starmer said that any young person caught with a knife will get a bespoke action plan to prevent reoffending, which could include sanctions such as curfews, tagging, or behavioural contracts.

The Labour leader also pledged tough criminal sanctions on tech executives who allow knife sales on their online marketplaces, such as Amazon Marketplace, eBay and Instagram. Cooper said that the starting point for a Labour government would be an £100 million fund for these programmes, after 

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“There have to be consequences for carrying a knife,” she said. “We come across cases where they’re just given a warning - it just becomes an empty warning, there’s no follow up. So we want all young people who are caught carrying knives to be immediately referred to youth offending teams. There has to be clear plans and interventions in every case.”

She added: “Knife crime is affecting the whole country, it’s a really serious epidemic, it’s affecting our towns and suburbs as well as our cities and it is devastating for communities. 

“It’s incredibly worrying for parents who fear for their children’s safety walking home from school, and that’s why we have to have action - we cannot just keep standing by while this epidemic keeps getting worse.”

Fresh legislation is to be laid in Parliament by the government to tackle zombie-style weapons, with the ban due to come into force in September making it illegal to possess, sell, manufacture or transport the blades.

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While the move has been welcomed, including by actor and campaigner Idris Elba, there have been concerns that other weapons such as swords are still not included in the legislation.

Ralph Blackburn is NationalWorld’s politics editor based in Westminster, where he gets special access to Parliament, MPs and government briefings. If you liked this article you can follow Ralph on X (Twitter) here and sign up to his free weekly newsletter Politics Uncovered, which brings you the latest analysis and gossip from Westminster every Sunday morning.