“We took about 11,000 knives off the streets of London with stop and search”

That was the claim from Boris Johnson as he answered questions live on Facebook, apparently from members of the public.

The Prime Minister is referring to the Met’s Operation Blunt 2, a crackdown on knife crime that began in May 2008 following a series of stabbings in the capital. At the time, Mr Johnson had just begun his first term as Mayor.

The Met told FactCheck that in total, 10,827 knives were seized under the scheme. But crucially, this includes blades recovered through means other than stop and search.

The force say they cannot break down the figure further. But FactCheck tentatively estimates, based on internal Met stats from the time, that around 4,500 knives were recovered through stop and search in the Operation.

The history

This is not the first time Mr Johnson has extolled the virtues of Operation Blunt.

In 2011, his office issued a press release crediting Blunt 2 with taking “over 11,000 knives off our streets.” A near-identical claim appeared in his annual report as Mayor the same year, and again in a 2012 interview.

More recently, he’s been keen to discuss the Operation in the context of stop and search.

In April 2018 he told ITV: “You have got to stop them, you have got to search them and you have got to take the knives out of their possession. And we did that with Operation Blunt 2. We took tens of thousands of knives off the streets. It was controversial, people said it was unfair, but, by God, it worked.”

And during a debate on the policy in February this year, Mr Johnson told Parliament: “11 years ago, the Met instituted Operation Blunt 2, which, in the course of about 18 months, took 11,000 knives off the streets of London.”

But until now, he’s never explicitly said that stop and search is responsible for the Operation’s entire knife haul.

How many knives were taken off the streets in Blunt 2?

Operation Blunt 2 ran from May 2008 to April 2010, after which it was scaled back, and eventually devolved out to local areas by April 2011.

The Operation was characterised by a significant increase in the use of stop and search powers, as well as the use of metal detectors in and near schools, ground searches for concealed weapons, after-school patrols and “discrete anti-gang activities”.

The Met told FactCheck that they recovered 9,382 blades as part of Blunt 2 between May 2008 and April 2010. In the latter phase (April 2010 to July 2010), they retrieved a further 1,445 knives.

Taken together, that gives us 10,827 blades — which is what we assume Mr Johnson is referring to.

How many were recovered through stop and search?

But Mr Johnson wasn’t simply talking about the overall weapons haul from Blunt 2 — his claim was that 11,000 knives were seized through stop and search. And that doesn’t square with what the Met told FactCheck.

A spokesperson said that the force “did not break down this figure further, i.e. retrieved by stop and search etc.” In other words, that 11,000 stat (or more specifically, the 10,827 total) includes blades recovered through means other than stop and search.

We do have a few other sources that might help us reach a figure.

An internal Met police memo from June 2009 reported that some 1,483 knives were recovered through stop and search over the first nine months of Operation Blunt 2 (“Sec 60” and “Sec 1 PACE” refers to the types of powers police can use to make searches).

Of course, these figures only cover the first half of the scheme, but we know from a 2016 Home Office report that those were the months when stops and searches were at their peak (see page 30).

If we were to assume (generously) that knives were recovered at the same rate for the remaining 18 months of the Operation, we could tentatively estimate that some 4,449 knives were recovered through stop and search as part of Blunt 2.

This is almost certainly higher than the true tally, as we know that the Operation’s activities tapered off over time — but is still significantly lower than the 11,000 figure Mr Johnson claims.

FactCheck verdict

Boris Johnson claims “We took about 11,000 knives off the streets of London with stop and search”. He was referring to the Met’s Operation Blunt 2, which launched in May 2008 during his time as Mayor.

It would be fair to say, as he has in the past, that the Operation recovered about 11,000 knives (10,827 to be exact).

But it is incorrect to say, as Mr Johnson does now, that this is the number seized using stop and search. In fact, the total figure includes blades retrieved through non-stop and search means, such as metal detectors and weapon sweeps.

Using limited evidence from an internal Met police memo, we tentatively (and generously) estimate that around 4,500 knives were recovered using stop and search as part of the Operation — less than half the amount Mr Johnson claims.

Downing Street didn’t offer evidence for the claim Boris Johnson’s made as Prime Minister and instead said that this was “one for City Hall” [the Mayor of London and London Assembly] to respond to. City Hall referred FactCheck to the Met Police.