Statistics on sales of knives to under-18s spark crackdown call from stab victim's sister
The sister of murdered Belfast boxer Eamonn Magee Jr has called for a "crackdown" on knife sales after new research suggested that many shops in Northern Ireland are selling them to teenagers without age checks.
Mr Magee Jr (22), a rising star in the sports world and the son of boxing champion Eamonn Magee, was stabbed to death in Twinbrook, west Belfast, in May 2015.
The engineering student was murdered by Turkish national Orhan Koca (34), the estranged husband of Mr Magee Jr's girlfriend, who inflicted six stab wounds as the victim checked on a pizza delivery.
Last May, Koca was sentenced to serve a minimum of 14 years in prison for his crime.
According to retail age checking company Serve Legal, 41% of 59 test sales of knives to teenage mystery shoppers in Northern Ireland failed in 2017.
It means that, despite it being illegal for shops to sell blades to under-18s here, local retailers did not request age identification in more than four out of 10 cases.
By contrast, retailers in London, which has recently suffered a number of high-profile murders involving knives, failed in just 18% of tests.
Northern Ireland tied with Scotland to have the lowest pass rate of any UK region (59%) in the tests.
This was well below the overall UK pass rate of 74% out of 2,357 test sales.
Across the UK, homeware and DIY stores were the worst high-street offenders, followed by supermarkets.
Mum-of-two Aine Magee described the availability of knives to under-18s here as "scary" and said her grieving family was forced to deal with the "heartbreak" of her brother's loss every day.
"Eamonn would have been 25 now, and we think about him every day," she said.
"May 30 will be the third anniversary of his death, and we are planning to go to the grave that day.
"The family had such hopes and dreams for Eamonn's boxing, and he was studying engineering at Ulster University. Every day since Eamonn died has been really hard for my family. It doesn't get any easier.
"It's heartbreaking to watch my mum. Her heart has broken every day since. My daddy has gone downhill and my brother had to move to Australia.
"Knife crime devastates families and communities.
"I think retailers need to crack down on the sale of knives to the under-18s. It's a shock that they are still being sold without the proper checks."
In 2016/17, the PSNI recorded 707 selected violent and sexual offences involving knives or sharp instruments, including homicides, attempted murder, robbery, grievous bodily harm and rape.
Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that in England and Wales, 39,598 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument were recorded in 2017 - a 22% increase compared with the previous year, and the highest number registered since comparable records started in 2010.
Aine, who has two young children aged one and five, said she feared for their safety if access to knives was not restricted further.
"I have two young kids to raise, and I'm scared for their safety," she continued.
"We don't know what the future will hold on the streets.
"We don't want the situation here to get to what it's like in London.
"My youngest child is named after my brother, but I shouldn't have to keep his memory alive by naming a child - he should be here to see his nephews grow up. It's too easy to go and lift a knife. There needs to be stricter controls on their sale."
Director of Serve Legal Ed Heaver said that "complacency on the high street could well be contributing to a deadly societal problem, with knives being sold to young people in plain sight".
Last year, the Home Office announced plans to make it an offence to deliver a knife sold online to a private residential address.
A number of major retailers have also entered into a voluntary agreement to ensure under-18s cannot buy knives.