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More than 22,000 knife and weapon offences were recorded nationally in the past year
Teenagers are being offered up to £1,000 by gang leaders in Liverpool to stab other youngsters, the BBC has learned.

Bounties are being paid by "elders" who want to avoid carrying out the attacks themselves, young people have told the BBC Beyond Today podcast.

The claims have been linked to at least one recent stabbing.

Merseyside Police said it was aware organised crime groups used violence to settle disputes.

In a statement the force did not directly address the teenagers' claims.

But it said gangs were known to exploit "young and vulnerable people to sell... drugs and even to use violence".

The teenagers, who wish to remain anonymous because they fear reprisals, said: "Young kids are getting money put on their heads."

One boy told the BBC that his best friend was the target of a £1,000 bounty.

He said a group attacked the victim, who then needed treatment in hospital. Two teenagers then split the bounty.

He said people would go to watch "straighteners" - a fight arranged to resolve a dispute - where people were "getting stabbed".

He added that senior gang members have said: "Here's five ton [£500] each - go and do it."

"And they'll go and do it because they'll think, if I do this, then I'll get more money and I'll get more respect from the elders."

UK sociologists

James Riley (L) makes a link with gun crime, while Alan Walsh compared the problem to the era of Roman gladiators
Last year, Merseyside Police had one of the biggest increases in recorded knife offences with a 35% rise, according to official statistics.

The force recorded 1,231 offences involving a knife in 2018.

Alan Walsh, a youth worker who runs the city-wide campaign Real Men Don't Carry Knives, said he was "still shocked" at the bounty claims.

Other gang members in Liverpool have recently confirmed to him there have been other similar cases.

"Has it got to that stage where it's like going back to gladiators," he said. "The arena is the streets and we're putting a bounty up?"

Former probation officer James Riley, who has worked in Liverpool for 18 years and teaches children about the risks of getting involved in gangs, said the bounty issue had traditionally only ever been linked to gun crime in the city.

But there had been a recent shift towards rewards for a person who uses and attacks with a knife, he added.

One of the main reasons for the bounties is so senior gang members can avoid punishments, Mr Riley said.

"The 'elders' want to distance themselves - they want to avoid arrest.

"They don't want to get their hands dirty - they know there's this continuous stream of young people out there who they can exploit."

'Still gobsmacked'

Last week, figures showed that 22,041 knife or weapon offences were recorded in England and Wales in the past year - the highest number since 2010.

One in five of those convicted or cautioned were aged between 10 and 17, according to the Ministry of Justice.

Mr Walsh, who works in Anfield, said: "I'm still gobsmacked that they have this thing where, at that tender age, they'll put a bounty on other kids' heads.

"I hope to God it's not a trend that takes off."