HUNDREDS of first-time knife crime offenders were convicted or cautioned in Essex last year, new figures have revealed.

Ministry of Justice statistics show 356 criminals were sentenced or cautioned for a first knife or offensive weapon crime in the 12 months to June.

First time offences represented 69 per cent of all knife-related cautions and convictions, a three per cent increase on the number during the same period five years earlier.

The statistics include possession of, or threatening with, a knife or offensive weapon, and one sentence or caution can include multiple offences.

Colchester Council’s communities, wellbeing and public safety boss Mike Lilley said Essex Police were working to directly target knife crime.

“The figures are interesting because we know the police are doing more stop and search,” he said.

“It is hard to judge whether there is more people carrying knives than there were or whether more people are being caught with them.

“People involved in drugs often carry knives in case they are used against them.

“What sort of society are we turning into when that happens?

“It is a sorry state of affairs we are faced with and it is all linked to different kinds of crime.”

The rise in Essex was smaller than the average across England and Wales where 14,200 first-time knife offenders received a conviction - a 25 per cent rise since the 12 months to June 2014.

Mr Lilley said the statistics show knife crime was not just an issue for Colchester or Essex.

He said: “Everybody is having the same problems and there is definitely a link to police officer numbers being cut.

“The issues are linked to cuts to youth services as well.

“Cuts have consequences and we are seeing the result of those cuts.

“We always compare the figures to see whether Colchester is any worse than other places in Essex.

“We have a larger population than many other places but compared to places of similar size we do not have more incidents.

“We would rather having nothing but that is living in a dream world I am afraid.”

Across the county, 36 per cent of convictions for knife-related offences led to an immediate prison sentence, higher than the national average of 34 per cent.