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British crime levels 'now worse than US'

BRITISH PEOPLE are more at risk of being robbed and mugged than those in the United States, according to a report now being studied by the Home Secretary.

The study, by a Cambridge University criminologist, found that while crime levels have fallen in the US since 1981, they have soared in Britain.

Robbery is now 1.4 times more common in the UK than on the other side of the Atlantic, while assaults are 2.3 times more likely.

The report shows that rates for burglary, assault and robbery have risen dramatically in the UK but dropped in the US. The findings are said to have shocked Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, who is analysing them.

The 100-page report challenges the traditional view that Britain is a safe place to live. It was compiled from surveys of thousands of victims and information from police, the prison services and courts on both sides of the Atlantic.

The research shows that the British burglary rate is now nearly double that of the US and theft of motor vehicles in the UK has risen by 100 per cent since 1981.

But America, the gun capital of the world, is still more dangerous than Britain in terms of rapes and murders, although the gap is narrowing. In 1981, the chance of being murdered in the US was nearly nine times higher than in Britain. By 1995, the latest year for which figures were available, the US rate was less than six times greater. The chances of being raped have risen continuously in Britain while in the US they have lessened.

The report, by criminologist Professor David Farrington of Cambridge University and Patrick Langan, a senior statistician at the US Department of Justice, blames the leniency of police towards suspects and the reluctance of the legal system to convict criminals and jail them, for the rise in crime.

It says a major factor in the rising crime rate has been the policy of Home Office personnel who have been "primarily concerned with reducing the prison population".

A spokesman for Mr Straw blamed the rising crime rate, detailed in the report, on Conservative policies on law and order. He said the report's findings over the 15 years from 1981 to 1995 coincided with Tory rule.

"The report is a graphic illustration of the failures of Tory law and order policy. In 18 years of their government you had a doubling of crime while convictions dropped by one third. There was a hugely widening gap," said an aide to the Home Secretary. "The risks of being caught have been declining. It goes to show why it is so important to reform the justice system."

Police figures out this week will show alarming increases in violent and sexual crimes in Britain during the last year.

The murder rate has risen by 26 per cent in London and 85 per cent in Northumbria.