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“I usually sell these for £89, but for you… £50”: A horrific discovery in a children’s toy shop in Greater Manchester

In Europe
May 20, 2024

Weapons are being sold openly in shops on high streets around Greater Manchester.

A Manchester Evening News investigation has revealed just how easy it is for people to get hold of knives and crossbows with lethal potential.

Our reporters were able to purchase a pistol crossbow, capable of firing aluminium pointed bolts at high velocity, at a children’s toy shop in Bury and a machete from a gift shop in Stockport.

While it is not illegal for shops to sell such items to people over the age of 18, it raises concerns about how easily available they are.

The alarming discovery comes amid concerns about violent crime across the UK, particularly involving young people.

Several high-profile attacks have raised concerns about whether existing laws on dangerous weapons, such as knives and crossbows, may not be fit for purpose.

‘Bet you don’t sell many of these’

In a children’s toy shop in Bury town centre, a group of children are admiring a display of kiddies’ games.

Yards away, behind a locked glass-fronted cabinet, lies a more troubling display. The collection of air soft guns, knives, bats, balaclavas and smoke bombs tucked away at the back of Prince Toys stands in stark contrast to the fluffy toys on the next aisle.

I’ve come to the shop, at the heart of the busy Mill Gate Shopping Centre, after receiving a tip from a concerned reader about the items on sale here. As I browse the items on display, a member of staff watches me carefully from across the shop.

There’s a lot to take in but I eventually set my sights on a pistol crossbow. From the box alone, it looks terrifying and capable of doing some serious damage in the wrong hands.

Weapons are being sold openly in shops on high streets around Greater Manchester -Credit:Sean Hansford | Manchester Evening News

Weapons are being sold openly in shops on high streets around Greater Manchester -Credit:Sean Hansford | Manchester Evening News

I approach the man who has been keeping a close eye on me and ask if I can take a closer look at the weapon. He nods and grabs a set of keys from the counter. We head to the back of the shop and he uses the keys to open the two glass doors to the display cabinet.

The crossbow will set me back £45, he explains, but there’s no need to buy any bolts as it comes with three of its own.

“I bet you don’t sell many of these,” I say to break the silence as he puts the item through the till.

“Yeah, loads actually,” comes his concerning reply.

There is no ID or background check, nor am I asked why I might possibly require the use of a pistol crossbow. During the brief exchange, the only question I’m asked is whether I want a carrier bag.

A pistol crossbow purchased from Prince Toys in Bury

A pistol crossbow purchased from Prince Toys in Bury -Credit:Sean Hansford | Manchester Evening News

I take my receipt and leave the shop, making the short walk through the shopping centre and back to my car. Once there, I stash the bag containing my new purchase in the boot and drive away.

Back at the office, I remove the packaging to find a forbidding-looking crossbow, complete with three aluminium bolts. The weapon takes quite a bit of assembling but, once complete, it’s clear that this is not something to be playing around with.

With just a pull of a trigger, it’s capable of firing metal bolts at a speed of 165 feet per second – equivalent to around 112 miles per hour.

‘I usually sell these for £89, but for you, £50’

Having started an afternoon shift on the other side of Greater Manchester, I called the phone number listed online for Kitraco in Stockport and there was no answer. But less than five minutes later, I had a return call from a mobile number. I asked if the shop was open, and the man who called me said it was until 5pm.

I drove to Stockport and arrived at about 4.15pm. I tried to enter the shop, but a note on the door said ‘back in five minutes’. I went for a walk to fill the time, came back and the store was open.

As I opened the door and was met by the smell of incense, a ‘bing bong’ sound made sure the man was aware I’d arrived. He asked if he could help me and I told him I was just looking around.

I started browsing the items hung on the wall opposite the till. They included fancy dress wigs and attire, which had been visible through the window from the street outside.

Kitraco on Little Underbanks in Stockport

Kitraco on Little Underbanks in Stockport -Credit:Manchester Evening News

I turned around and clocked the items on the glass counter at the front. They included a few bongs, rolling papers and the occasional bottle of poppers.

But surrounding those were several knives sitting on the glass shelves, side by side. I asked the man if they were for sale, to which he replied: “Everything is for sale.”

I asked to take a look at one of the knives. I’ll be honest – my knowledge of knives is virtually zero, other than the ones in my kitchen drawer.

But I inspected the knife and it looked like it could do some serious damage. It was small enough that you could conceal it on your person, but looked vicious enough to cause real harm.

The man then pulled another knife from behind the counter which I hadn’t seen. He placed it alongside the one I was inspecting, and suggested I take a look.

It was much larger than the first knife, with a serrated edge on one side and a single, sharp blade on the other. To my untrained eye, it’s terrifying. We’ve since measured the blade to be 13 inches long.

Deadly weapons such as this machete are being sold in shops around Greater Manchester

Deadly weapons such as this machete are being sold in shops around Greater Manchester -Credit:Sean Hansford | Manchester Evening News

As I inspected it – nodding approvingly and pretending that I knew what I was talking about – the man suggested it was useful for ‘outdoors’ activity, and ‘chopping’. I told him I agreed it would be.

I asked how much it would cost. He replied: “I usually sell these for £89, but for you, £50.”

While paying, the man asked: “Are you over 18?” It wasn’t a particularly convincing age check – although admittedly, my days of being ID’d by door staff or at the supermarket till are long gone.

The M.E.N. understands Stockport Council has previously used an underage volunteer to attempt to buy an item at the store, but the shop refused.

I paid and as I asked for a receipt, the man suggested I take a picture of the one that had come from the card reader. As I did, I also took a sneaky photo of the counter below.

I asked if I could get a carrier bag for the item, which came inside a fabric cover, and he told me he would package it ‘properly’. He took a box, placed the weapon inside and handed it to me in a blue carrier bag – the type you would see in abundance on Bury New Road before GMP’s recent crackdown.

The man in the shop – who was thoroughly kind to me throughout my visit – told me: “Anything you need, any help you need, I’m here for you.” As I headed for the door, he added: “We sell air gun, BB gun, anything you need.”

I thanked him, left the shop and hurried back to my car, clutching my suspicious looking bag. As I made my way through Stockport’s streets, a police van pulled out slowly, and panic set in.

I was convinced I would be stopped and searched. It felt like I must have been doing something illegal – even if I wasn’t.

The van drove off without any officers approaching me. I walked back to the car, as inconspicuously as possible, and drove back to the M.E.N. office.

What does the law say?

Despite their lethal reputation, it is not illegal to own a crossbow in the UK if you are over 18. However, anyone wielding one in public without a reasonable excuse can face up to four years behind bars.

While deaths from crossbows are rare, there have been a number of concerning incidents involving the weapon in Greater Manchester.

Last year, police launched an investigation after a crossbow bolt was fired into the grounds of Littlemoor Primary School in Oldham. Officers described the incident an ‘incredibly dangerous, stupid and irresponsible act’.

The crossbow came complete with three aluminium bolts

The crossbow came complete with three aluminium bolts -Credit:Sean Hansford | Manchester Evening News

In 2022, a man armed with a crossbow was arrested by armed police after he carried the weapon onto a busy bus in Wythenshawe.

In 2017, police tasered a man who was seen roaming around Manchester city centre with a crossbow and a knife. The manager of a shop in the Northern Quarter told the M.E.N. that the suspect stole the crossbow from his store and threatened him with it shortly before police swooped.

Campaigners have called for tougher restrictions on crossbows. Shane Gilmer, 30, was murdered by a crossbow-wielding neighbour in East Yorkshire back in January 2018.

Following an inquest into his death, a coroner condemned the “completely unregulated” market for the “deadly and vicious weapon” and called for a review of the laws around the ownership and sale of crossbows, warning “further deaths will occur” without a rule change.

Responding to a petition which called for tighter regulation of crossbows, the government claimed that existing regulation was suitable. They said incidents such as the one which resulted in the death of Mr Gilmer were “fortunately very rare”.

With just a pull of a trigger, the crossbow is capable of firing bolts at a speed of 165 feet per second

With just a pull of a trigger, the crossbow is capable of firing bolts at a speed of 165 feet per second -Credit:Sean Hansford | Manchester Evening News

Shane’s partner, Laura Sugden, has since lobbied ministers to crack down on crossbows, which – despite having been linked to a number of murders and violent attacks over the years – remain available to buy for as little as £45.

Earlier this year, ministers launched a ‘call for evidence’ on the use of crossbows, seeking input from any interested parties on whether to bring in new licensing and registration laws on the weapons.

The Home Office said it wanted to “step up action to prevent violence on our streets”. If this happens, people who want to buy a crossbow would have to be checked by the police, just like when someone buys a gun.

Former home secretary Priti Patel ordered the review of crossbow rules after would-be assassin Jaswant Singh Chail was encouraged by an AI chatbot to break into Windsor Castle on Christmas Day 2021 with a loaded crossbow.

The 21-year-old was jailed for nine years in October last year and handed a further five years on extended licence after admitting treason, making a threat to kill the late Queen, and having a loaded crossbow.

In January of this year, convicted stalker Bryce Hodgson was shot dead by police after he broke into a south London home armed with weapons including a crossbow.

While it is not illegal to sell knives to those over the age of 18, it is against the law to carry any blade over three inches in public without ‘good reason’. Anyone doing so could end up with a prison sentence of up to four years.

Under existing UK law, it is not illegal to sell knives to those over the age of 18

Under existing UK law, it is not illegal to sell knives to those over the age of 18 -Credit:Sean Hansford | Manchester Evening News

From September, laws around zombie knives, machetes and swords are to be tightened up, giving police increased powers to seize weapons found in private properties.

The change in legislation will make it illegal to possess, sell, manufacture or transport zombie-style knives and machetes. The maximum penalty for the possession of these and other banned weapons will also increase from six months to two years.

Prince Toys has been approached for comment. However, M.E.N. understands that the shop’s position is that it is legally allowed to sell the weapons for ‘survival and outdoor purposes’ and that it ensures staff ask for ID from customers who look under the age of 25.

When contacted by the M.E.N., the owner of Kitraco said he ‘follows the law’ and only sells the items to people over the age of 18.

“It’s legal in the UK,” he added. “A lot of people buy knives, camping people and army people.

“I have to see the ID. If I have a doubt, I don’t sell it. I reject some people when I’m not satisfied.”

He said he had run the shop for almost three decades and sold knives ‘one or two times a week’. Asked whether he had any concerns about whether the weapons could be used to inflict harm, he said: “Some people collect this stuff.

“Most of my customers are older people. I follow the law. I only sell to over 18s.

“If the government don’t allow it, nobody sells it. Everything is dangerous, bricks are dangerous as well. Most criminals use a kitchen knife.”

The M.E.N. understands that Bury Council has no concerns about Prince Toys and has not received any complaints about the shop. Council officers have previously provided guidance to the shop in relation to the age-restricted products that it sells.

It’s understood Stockport Council has no recorded recent incidents regarding the shop and has been in discussions with GMP about it, but the force has no ongoing concerns. The knives seen in the store were not banned items.

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