Discount retail chain B&M has been ordered to pay almost half-a-million pounds for repeatedly selling knives to underage children.
B&M staff was caught selling the weapons to teenagers as young 14 in an undercover operation by police and trading standards officers in areas of east London where knife crime is rampant.
The company was ordered to pay £480,000 in fines and £12,428 in costs – the fine is thought to be the largest ever of its kind.
Although it is illegal to sell knives over three inches long to anyone under 18, two teenagers, aged 14 and 15, managed to buy blades at Chadwell Heath B&M last September.
Two days later B&M’s Barking store sold a 16-year-old a three-piece knife set and on January 18 a 14-year-old came out of a store in Dagenham with another three-piece set.
B&M admitted selling the knives on June 22.
The company was fined for each separate incident, the fines rising each time because of its failure to put measures in place to stop selling the knives to youths.
Handing out the fine at a sentencing hearing at Barkingside Magistrates’ Court, District Judge Gary Lucie referenced soaring crime levels involving knives in the capital.
He said: “The stark fact is that knife crime is at record levels across the country, particularly in London.
“In the year ending March 2017 there were 35,700 offences involving a knife or a sharp instrument in England and Wales, the highest in seven years.
“There were 215 homicides recorded using a sharp instrument, including knives and broken bottles, accounting for 30 per cent of all homicides.
“In the year ending March 2018, Redbridge was shown as having the highest knife crime in London.
“Barking and Dagenham was the 17th highest.
“Young people themselves are particularly vulnerable and should not have access to knives from shops, not just for the protection and safety of society, but for their own.
“For these reasons, I take the view that the selling of a knife to a juvenile will inevitably involve a high risk of harm.
He said the offences were not “deliberate” but “concerning ” and added: “Clearly these offences were not deliberate nor were there serious or systematic failures within the organisation regarding the underage sales of knives.
“However, it appears to me that whilst systems were in place they were deficient and sufficiently adhered to or implemented at these stores.
“The volunteers were as young as 14 which is a long way short of 18 and substantially less that B&M’s own Challenge 25 policy.
“In each case there were inadequacies in the training and refresher training of staff and other faults with labelling and signage.
“One of the most concerning failures is that B&M did not consider and implement further measures for these stores in what it accepts are high risk areas.”
He added: “If it can be done for expensive items such as perfume it can equally be done for knives.
“Furthermore, these failings could not be properly considered as minor or isolated, there were three offences in a five month period at two different stores.”
Retailers can face unlimited fines for selling knives to youngsters – the largest fine was £20,000 which Decathlon was ordered to pay after selling a blade to a teenager in Wandsworth.
B&M turnover was just over £2.6 billion in March of this year.
Judge Lucie said: “In my view the appropriate starting point for each offence, considering the very large size of the organisation, top end of medium culpability, high risk of harm and so as to ensure that it fulfils the objectives of sentencing is £300,000.
“That is just a starting figure and must be adjusted to take account of the aggravating and mitigating features.”
He said there was a previous conviction in relation to selling a knife if 2008, a formal caution for selling one in April 2016, and the fact that they were not isolated incidents.
He fined B&M £200,000 for the incident at Goodmayes on September 19.
He said: “For the incident on September 21 at Vicarage Fields, £220,000 to reflect that this was committed only two days after the offence at Goodmayes and B&M should have been acutely alert to the issue but also reflecting that B&M had little chance to change systematic procedures during that time.
“For the incident on January 18 at Vicarage Fields, £300,000. This offence is substantially aggravated by the commission of the previous two offences and has been increased accordingly to reflect B&M has time to reflect and consider other options.
“The guilty pleas were entered at the very first opportunity and B&M is entitled to full credit of a third and is the total fine will be reduced from £720,000 to £480,000.”
B&M was given 28 days to pay the fine.
Judge Lucie said: “I hope that this fine will bring home to the management and shareholder of B&M and other retailers of knives of the need to ensure that none of their premises sell knives to youths.”