The number of criminals being caught with knives or dangerous weapons is at the highest level since the start of the decade, new figures show.

In the year to September, 13,477 offences of possessing an article with a blade or point resulted in a conviction or caution in England and Wales.

In addition, there were 6,946 cases where an individual was found with an offensive weapon and 958 where a knife or weapon was used to make threats against others.

Knife & offensive weapon offences resulting in caution/conviction(PA Graphics)

The combined total of 21,381 is the highest number dealt with by the criminal justice system since the year ending September 2010.

In one in five cases, offenders were aged under 18.

The Ministry of Justice statistical bulletin is released at time of intense concern over knife-related violence following a spate of fatal stabbings this year.

London has been particularly badly hit by bloodshed while national figures show forces in England and Wales have registered a jump in recorded offences involving a knife or sharp instrument.

The report said offenders are now more likely to receive a custodial sentence for knife and offensive weapon offences.

In the year to September, more than a third of cases (36%) resulted in an immediate jail term while 11% were dealt with by a caution.

The paper said: “Custodial sentences are now at the highest level they have been. However, the proportion of offences resulting in a caution is at the lowest level it has ever been.”

Under a “two strikes” system introduced in 2015, minimum sentences were introduced for those aged 16 and over who are convicted of a second or subsequent offence of possession of a knife or offensive weapon.

Courts must impose the minimum sentence unless it would not be “in the interests of justice” to do so.

More than four-fifths (82%) of repeat offenders received some form of custodial sentence in the year to September, with 63% receiving immediate prison terms.

The proportion sent straight to prison has risen from around half prior to the introduction of the legislation.

Justice minister Rory Stewart said: “Knife crime has devastating consequences on families, children and communities. Offenders simply cannot go unpunished.

“These figures show we are catching and prosecuting more of those carrying knives and other weapons, and sending them to prison for longer.

“But we must do more, and through the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy we are working to prevent young people from ever picking up a knife in the first place.”