Scotland’s most senior police officer with responsibility for knife crime has condemned Amazon for its advertising following the conclusion of the trial of an Aberdeen schoolboy who killed a fellow pupil using a blade purchased via the online retailer.

Karen McCluskey, director of Police Scotland’s violence reduction unit, said: “The advertising on Amazon is cavalier. No knife is automatically ‘UK legal’,” referring to the way the online retailer describes knives with blades under the legal limit of three inches or 7.6cm.

“It depends who is carrying it and it depends on the context – if you’re taking a scalpel to a football match then that’s a problem,” McCluskey added.

In the trial of a 16-year-old Aberdeen boy who stabbed and killed Bailey Gwynne, the court heard he had chosen the knife because “it said on Amazon ‘legal in the UK’ because the blade was under three inches”.

In fact the knife had a 3.25in (8.25cm) blade, making it illegal to carry in public, as well as illegal to sell to someone under the age of 18. It is unclear whether the website or the killer made the mistake as regards the knife being labelled “legal in the UK”.

Bailey’s killer – who was on Monday cleared of murder but found guilty of a lesser charge of culpable homicide – was heard telling police in a videotaped interview that he ordered the folding knife on Amazon for £40.

In the interview, which was played in court, the boy said: “I ordered it over the internet because they don’t check your age.”

However, McCluskey said she believed that the buying behaviour of Bailey Gwynne’s killer was not the norm.

“The truth is that we don’t really know the [scale of young people circumventing rules by buying online] but I do think that [Bailey Gwynne’s killer] was the exception rather than the rule. Most of the young guys I work with don’t have access to a credit card.”

Related: Metropolitan police say knife crime up 18% in London

She also cautioned against focusing solely on online purchases. “There are so many places out there where you can buy a knife, there are so many in our own kitchens. You have to ban the ignorance that causes someone to pick up a knife in the first place.”

McCluskey has has overseen a dramatic reduction in knife crime since the unit was set up in 2005 to tackle Glasgow’s deeply rooted blade and gang culture.

She said that the focus had to be on giving bystanders the confidence to alert the authorities to knife-carrying, especially when an offender like this would not immediately have been obvious to them.

“We wouldn’t be stop-searching him. But his young friend did challenge him, so how do you give young people the skills to take that further? How do you get kids to stand up and recognise it’s not about being a grass or telling but about keeping each other safe?”

During the trial, another 16-year-old and friend of the killer described how he had warned him about carrying a knife in school.

“I said: ‘You shouldn’t have that kind of stuff in school, you’re too young for that, you might get into trouble.’ But he thought it was cool so he didn’t listen,” he said.

Amazon did not return calls seeking comment.

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