There is nothing new about knife crime: sharp objects, blades and knives have been used as weapons for thousands of years.

But after falling for several years, knife crime is rising again. So what is happening?

There were 37,443 offences in the 12 months ending in September 2017, a 21% increase on the previous year and the highest number since 2011, the earliest point for which comparable data is available.

Out of the 44 police forces, 38 recorded a rise in knife crime, with the Metropolitan Police showing the biggest increase.

Police figures are prone to changes in counting rules and methods, but data for NHS hospitals in England over a similar period showed a 7% increase in admissions for assault by a sharp object, leading the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to conclude there had been a “real change” to the downward trend in knife crime.

Most of the statistics here relate to England and Wales. Policing, criminal justice and sentencing are devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland, which also collect crime data in slightly different ways.

In the latest figures, which include only selected knife offences, about half, 18,571, were assaults that caused an injury or where there was an intent to cause serious harm; a further 14,816 involved robberies.

The biggest annual percentage rises in knives being used to commit crimes were in rapes and sexual assaults. These were up from 483 to 640. This amounted to an increase of 33%, though some of this may well be due to victims being more willing to come forward.

These figures focus on homicides, or killings, a category comprising cases of murder, manslaughter and infanticide. In about two out of every five killings, the victim is fatally assaulted with a sharp object or stabbed to death.

The proportion of homicides that are knife-related has remained broadly the same over the past decade though the overall number is lower. Most of the victims are men. The “Other” category includes poisoning, burning, shaking, being struck by a vehicle, negligence, neglect, explosions and cases where the cause isn’t known.

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