Crime figures fall but trend shows new rise

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The Independent Online

Crime Correspondent

The number of recorded crimes fell by 2.4 per cent last year in England and Wales, but the trend in the last six months of 1995 shows a rise in offences, it was revealed yesterday.

There was also a disturbing upsurge in the number of violent crimes, including street muggings, which rose overall by 5,400 cases in 1995. The largest increases were in Merseyside (up 12 per cent) and in Cambridgeshire (up 10 per cent).

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, described yesterday's figures - down by 126,000 on 1994 to 5.1 million in 1995 - as a "milestone". However, if reported crimes continue to increase as they have done in the last half of 1995 it could produce disastrous crime figures just before a general election.

Home Office figures show a fall in most types of crime and represent the third consecutive fall in the annual figures - which has only happened twice before this century. Domestic burglaries were down by 5 per cent to 647,000, though other types of break-ins rose by 19,200.

Vehicle crime fell by 52,900 offences - a fall of 4 per cent - to more than 1.3 million.

But violent crimes, which make up 6 per cent of all offences, continued to go up. The Home Office, however, argued that the rise was the smallest in 12 years. A total of 316,300 violent crimes were recorded in 1995 - a 2 per cent increase on the year before.

The rise was largely due to muggings and robberies, which went up by 8,600 to 68,400. There was also a big rise in thefts against the person, which can include bag-snatching and pick-pocketing, up 18 per cent to 60,000. The other disturbing rise was in drug trafficking offences, which increased by 15 per cent to 52,200.

Sexual offences fell by 5 per cent to 30,400, although there was no change in the number of rapes against a woman, which was about 5,000. For the first time male rape has been included and totalled 152 last year. Homicides - murder, man-slaughter and infanticide - stayed about the same at 746.

About 35 of the 43 police forces recorded falls in crime. The largest were in Gwent (down 14 per cent), Durham (down 11 per cent) and Dyfed Powys (down 10 per cent). Crimes in London fell by 1 per cent to about 840,000.

About one in four of all offences was cleared up or solved by the police. For violent crimes the police success rate rose to about two-thirds. But about 20 per cent of "clear-ups" were from convicted criminals admitting to further offences from jail.

In spite of the falls in the past three years, there has been an annual average increase of 3.6 per cent in recorded crime over the past 10 years. The current drop in crime also shows signs of bottoming out. In 1995 the number of crimes reported compared with the same period in 1994 showed 8 per cent and 4 per cent falls in the first two quarters of the year, but a 1 per cent rise in the last half.

Michael Howard refused to be drawn on the possibility of crime going back up. He said: "This fall marks another milestone in the fight against crime and is a credit to the hard work and dedication of the police."

He added: "It shows that targeting known criminals and specific crimes can and does make a real difference to crime levels in local communities."

Jack Straw, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "Only last month, the Prime Minister was claiming credit for small reductions in crime. But these figures show that in the last six months of last year recorded crime began to rise again."

Fred Broughton, chairman of the Police Federation, representing rank and file officers, said: "The good news is that overall crime has fallen for the third year in succession. The bad news is that violent crime continues to rise."