Fewer than one in five people convicted of carrying a knife in Sussex are sent to jail, new figures have revealed.

According to the Ministry of Justice, 138 people were found guilty of possessing a blade in a public place in the county in 2006 - but only 25 of them were thrown behind bars by magistrates.

Last month, The Argus revealed the number of people convicted of carrying a knife in Sussex had more than doubled over the past decade. The new figures show for the first time that most of them are walking away with a fine or community punishment.

Magistrates have the power to impose a six month sentence for an offence. If the defendant is under 18 and the proceedings are in a youth court a two-year custodial sentence can be handed down.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has ordered police in the worst areas to prosecute anyone carrying a blade as part of the latest crackdown on knife crime - but Sussex was not considered bad enough to be included in the drive.

A Home Office spokesman said the Government took knife crime extremely seriously. Last year the maximum sentence for carrying a knife was increased from two to four years.

He added: "Whilst sentencing is a matter for the courts we expect anyone who might consider carrying a knife to be sent a clear message about the consequences.

"Sentencing guidelines also state that when a weapon is used to frighten or injure a victim prison sentences should be increased even further.

"We are actively working with the police to deliver a tough approach to dealing with knife crime. This summer there will also be a brand new £1 million campaign aimed at warning youngsters of the dangers of carrying a knife. In addition there will be new police resources for hundreds of knife arches and search wands in local communities."

Nationally, the number of people found guilty of possessing a knife in 2006 was 6,320, of which 995 (15 per cent) were sent to prison.

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "This staggeringly complacent attitude to knife crime shows that Labour are part of the problem, not the solution."

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