By politics.co.uk staff
The Conservatives have drawn attention to knife crime as the year draws to an end, claiming the number of fatal stabbings reached a record high in 2008.
The Tories say police figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show 227 stabbing deaths occurred between April 2007 and April 2008, the highest since records began in 1977.
If the number is confirmed it would represent a 38 per cent rise since 1999.
The Conservatives reportedly obtained the figures from all police forced in England and Wales, except Bedfordshire.
In London, the number of fatal stabbings rose by a quarter, up from 68 in 2007/08 to 86 last year. And in Lancashire the figure more than trebled compared to the year before.
Shadow home affairs minister James Brokenshire commented on the figures: "Knife crime is a scourge which claims too many lives and ruins countless others. Yet under Labour it has soared.
"As well as deploying our police onto the streets as the norm we would introduce an automatic presumption of jail for knife possession - this may be harsh but it is absolutely necessary."
In response, the government claimed the data used by the Tories may overstate the problem of knife crime in Britain, as the figures including incidents involving different types of sharp instrument.
Justice minister David Hanson is expected to announce later that from January 5th courts will be granted the power to hand out tougher community sentences for the possession of a knife.
He is expected to declare the government's desire for tougher and more effective community-based sentences for those not sent to jail, with offenders having to carry out at least 18 hours of community work a week as well as abiding to a series of curfews.