Amazon delivering knives without age checks, Guardian investigation finds – The Guardian

Amazon is selling age-restricted folding knives, similar to one used by the 16-year-old killer of schoolboy Bailey Gwynne, without checking they are safely delivered to adults, a Guardian investigation has found.

Last week, a teenager who killed Gwynne in a school in Aberdeen was cleared of murder but convicted of culpable homicide. He had paid £40 on Amazon for a folding knife with an 8.5cm blade.

It is illegal to sell a folding knife to a buyer aged under 18 if the blade is more than three inches (7.62cm) long. But the 16-year-old had been able to get around Amazon’s age-verification checks by pinning a note to his front door rather than accepting delivery in person.

The Guardian posted a similar note on the door of a family home over the weekend and was also able to receive delivery of an age-restricted knife from Amazon without any checks.

On Monday, the home secretary, Theresa May, met online and high street retailers, including Amazon, to discuss how better to enforce age restrictions on the sale of certain knives.

Meanwhile, backbench Conservative MP David Burrowes called for an amendment to the policing and crime bill, proposing a “triple lock” that would force retailers to make tougher age checks.

Burrowes told the Sun newspaper: “The law against selling knives to children is barely enforced and largely ignored. However online sales to children are taking place with fatal and tragic consequences. It is time to bring the knife sales law up to date so we can catch reckless online retailers.

“Amazon and other retailers should not be able to hide behind an old law which is not fit for purpose.”

The Guardian ordered two folding knives on Amazon, each with a blade of 9.5cm. The website made clear: “This bladed product is not for sale to people under the age of 18. A signature may be required on delivery.”

Order-tracking details on the website said the knives would be delivered by Amazon Logistics – one to a family home, the other to Guardian offices – in a package marked “Age 18”. In fact, Amazon Logistics has no drivers and contracts out deliveries to many small- and medium-sized couriers across the country.

Knife bought by the Guardian and delivered without age-verification checks


Knife bought by the Guardian and delivered without age-verification checks. Illustration: Screengrab from Amazon.co.uk

A note attached to the front door of the family home asked the delivery driver to drop off the parcel without knocking. Post room staff at the Guardian, meanwhile, declined to sign for the knife. In both instances, the knife was nevertheless delivered.

A note on the door of the residential house was similar to one that had been left for an Amazon courier by the 16-year-old who killed Gwynne in order to get around the online retailer’s age checks.

The boy who carried out the stabbing explained to police how he had bought the knife online “because they don’t check if you’re 18 or not”. He said: “You just leave a note on the door saying there’s no one in and asking for the package to be left in the shed.”

The teenager, who was said to be preoccupied with weapons, was also convicted last week of carrying knives and knuckledusters in school. His internet search history showed he had looked up “knife merchant”, “illegal knives UK” and “knuckleduster UK”.

Gwynne died in hospital after being stabbed at his school in Aberdeen last October. He had been attacked during a row over a biscuit. His killer was also convicted last week of carrying knives and knuckledusters in a school.

Amazon has refused to comment on the sale of the knife used to kill Gwynne. It is now looking into the circumstances around the Guardian’s knife purchases, but again declined to comment. It believes sufficient age restriction checks were made on the knife delivered to the Guardian’s post room.

In December, the Guardian was also able to buy on Amazon a 1m volt stun gun almost identical to a weapon that weeks earlier had featured in another murder trial.

Stun gun/torch which featured in murder trial


Stun gun/torch which featured in murder trial. Photograph: Avon and Somerset Police

Nathan Matthews, who was eventually convicted of the murder of his step sister Becky Watts, last year told a jury in Bristol how he had bought two stun guns, disguised as torches, on the internet for £18 using his mobile phone.

Stun gun/torch bought by the Guardian


Stun gun/torch bought by the Guardian. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

He told the court he had not known they were illegal, but Matthews explained he had intended to use them on Watts until she passed out as part of a kidnap attempt — an attempt that was botched, ending in her death.

The stun gun bought by the Guardian also doubled as a torch. The Amazon seller — a company in Missouri, America — said in an email: “We are technically not supposed to sell these in the UK”. The weapon was sent anyway. It was promptly handed over to police.

Pepper spray illegally offered for sale on Amazon
Pepper spray illegally offered for sale on Amazon. Photograph: Amazon.co.uk
Pepper spray illegally offered for sale on Amazon
Pepper spray is marketed as a self-defence product outside the UK. Photograph: Amazon.co.uk
Pepper spray illegally offered for sale on Amazon
Pepper spray is illegal in the UK under the firearms act. Photograph: Amazon.co.uk

The Guardian has raised concerns that large numbers of illegal weapons are regularly being sold on Amazon and four months ago seven banned items were removed from the UK site. They including a pair of knuckledusters hidden inside gloves, a keychain that doubles as a martial arts weapon, a high-strength pepper spray pistol, and a blade concealed in the peak of a baseball cap.

Pepper spray is marketed in some countries as a self-defence product but is illegal in the UK under the firearms act, and has been used in several violent attacks. In 2014, a 21-year-old bus passenger was sprayed and beaten by a man on a journey in Birmingham after asking that the attacker stop his children throwing sweets at him.

Over the weekend, the Guardian alerted Amazon to nine further pepper spray products illegally sold on its UK website. In a statement, Amazon said it had removed these listings, adding: “All Marketplace sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who don’t will be subject to action including potential removal of their account.”

In December, the Guardian found that Amazon itself had been selling a pepper spray product on its UK site. The company has refused to comment on this or to apologise for such sales.

In 2008, BBC2’s Watchdog investigated illegal pepper spray products sold by traders on Amazon.co.uk. The website’s then UK boss Brian McBride told the programme the sale of illegal weapons would not be tolerated, and that any offending items identified would be “removed within the hour”. Since then, pepper spray and other dangerous and illegal weapons have reappeared on Amazon.

Most nationwide retailers, including eBay to Tesco, stay in regular contact with trading standards officials through a “primary authority”. This relationship is designed to make it easier to comply with trading standards laws and improve intelligence about regulatory issues.

Amazon ended its relationship with a primary trading standards authority five years ago.

Amazon’s cache of guns and weapons –

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