New mobile detectors that can spot if someone is carrying a knife

Police officers’ mobile phones could be turned into portable scanners to spot knives hidden on suspects through technology being developed by academics with £100,000 Government funding.

Loughborough University academics believe the scanner, part of a standard mobile phone with an app, could be used by both uniformed and plain-clothes officers to see knives through clothing including trousers and heavy coats and under belts.

Tests suggest it can see through clothing at up to 6 metres (20 feet). The academics argue it is more effective than the current arches that police use, which suspects can spot and then walk away from.

The technology uses electromagnetic waves to detect a concealed knife. A computer algorithm then determines if it is a knife, sharp-edged object, or another weapon, irrespective of whether it is metal or not. Police could then stop and search suspects.

It is one of six projects sharing £460,000 from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) to develop technology to detect people carrying knives in crowded places.

Principal researcher Ashraf El-Hamalawi said: "The current technology will not show any private body parts, which most current technologies do, and have to be covered. However it will still detect knives hidden in these parts, without showing the actual body part."

The other technology touted includes sensors, infrared technology to detect blades through clothing, and more sophisticated metal detectors than those currently used by the police.

Five companies and  Loughborough  University are being funded to fast-track technology that can be rolled out in streets, railway stations and major events.

The six, which include defence company Ant Scientific, and aerospace and defence outfit Thales UK have until this summer to produce technology prototypes for the Department of Transport and the Home Office.

The focus of the investment is on discreet technology that is safe and easy to operate outdoors and in crowded places.

If the projects are successful, the Home Office plans to work with the police to assess how these products could be used on the front line.

These new projects are similar to radar technology that is being developed for use in corridors and doorways to detect whether someone is carrying a three-inch knife from a distance of two metres. 

The devices, which are currently used to detect guns, feature two antennae the size of a dinner plate and a small box to generate a signal which has a range of up to two metres.

On Monday the Prime Minister hosted a knife crime summit as part of efforts to tackle surging violence after a spate of fatal stabbings prompted warnings of a "national emergency". 

The Home Office recently handed police further stop and search powers in a bid to tackle the growing knife crimes.

The move allows police to stop people and vehicles to carry out searches regardless of whether they have reasonable grounds for suspecting they will find offensive weapons.

The Home Office has also issued guidelines forcing schools to report students that could become a risk to others.

Under a statutory “public health duty”, police, hospitals, schools and other public bodies would be required to report those at risk of being drawn into knife crime.