Hundreds of criminals were convicted or cautioned for knife and offensive weapons crimes in Essex last year, as the number of offences dealt with hit a nine-year high.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott says there is little chance of tackling rising knife crime until the Government deals with a crisis created by cuts to policing, schools and health services.

Ministry of Justice statistics show that criminals were cautioned or sentenced for knife and offensive weapons offences in Essex on 621 occasions in the year to September 2019 – the most since 2010.

The recent trend was mirrored across England and Wales, where the figure for such offences hit 22,300 – the highest since records began in 2009.

The number includes possession of, or threatening with, a knife or other offensive weapon.

Diane Abbott said the rising level of knife crime “undermines all the Tory claims on law and order”.

She added: “Unfortunately, until they tackle the crises they created through cuts to policing, schools, to mental health and drug services, there can be little confidence of any major improvement.”

In Essex, under-18s accounted for 21% of sentences or cautions for knife and offensive weapon crime in the year to September 2019.

Across England and Wales, they made up the same share of of cases.

Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said the Government urgently needs to find long-term solutions to turn vulnerable children away from crime before they reach for a knife.

“Increasing the number and length of sentences can only be part of the solution, as this may not deter young people who are suffering a poverty of hope,” he added.

“Often they have no qualifications, no job prospects, and no role models, making them vulnerable to criminal gangs who force them to deliver drugs and carry knives to protect themselves.”

Across England and Wales, 38% of knife and offensive weapon offences ended with someone going straight to jail in the year to September 2019 – a record high.

The average time spend behind bars also increased over the period, from six to eight months.

Justice minister Chris Philp said the Government is recruiting 20,000 more police officers, extending stop and search and making sure the most violent offenders spend longer behind bars.

He added: “These figures should serve as a stark warning to those carrying knives – you are more likely to be jailed, and for longer, than at any point in the last decade.”