Crime figures fall for second year

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The rise in crime appears to have been halted with the announcement yesterday that the number of recorded offences has for the second year dropped by 5 per cent.

Sexual offences have decreased by 9 per cent to 30,000, while violent crime dropped by 2 per cent - the first fall in 49 years. The vast majority of the 5.1 million crimes recorded in the year up to June were burglaries and car theft.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, described the improved figures as evidence that police were "turning the tide in the fight against crime".

Criminal justice reformers, however, were more sceptical and have pointed to other factors such as a decline in the number of teenagers, who are biggest offending group, and in the falling unemployment rate. In addition many people are reluctant to report crimes for fear of being penalised on their insurance policy.

The police system of recording offences has also been consistently queried. The British Crime Survey - generally regarded as more reliable - suggests that most offences are unreported. For every crime recorded, two are not. Figures from the 1993 survey showed that crime was continuing its upward trend, although the pace had slowed.

Labour yesterday stressed that the 5 million recorded crimes was still about double the total when the Tories took power in 1979. The annual increase in recorded crime over the last 10 years is 4 per cent.

Nevertheless the Government will take comfort from yesterday's figures which will undoubtedly be trumpeted at next month's Conservative Party conference as evidence that crime initiatives are working.

Among the more unexpected statistics was a drop in sexual offences, which included a decrease in rape for the first time since 1981 by 2 per cent to 4,800.

Robbery, particularly street mugging, was the one category which saw a rise in recorded offences, up by 6 per cent to 62,700. Thefts from the person rose by 12 per cent.

The number of offences of violence against the person decreased by 3 per cent to 208,700, although the number of homicides, which comprises murder, manslaughter and infanticide, rose by 61 to 729.

More than 9 out of 10 of all crimes were against property, with burglaries dropping by 5 per cent to 1.2 million. Thefts decreased by 162,000 to 2.5 million - within this category vehicle crimes fell by 130,000 to 1.3 million.

The decline represent the longest uninterrupted fall in recorded crime since quarterly figures were first collected and published. The downward trend was virtually nationwide, with 35 out of the 43 police forces in England and Wales recording falls. Gwent recorded the biggest drop, down 18 per cent. Above-average results were also achieved in Norfolk and Dyfed-Powys, Surrey, Devon and Cornwall, Bedfordshire and Warwickshire.

The biggest increase was in the City of London where crime rose by 12 per cent. Other forces with a rise were Cambridgeshire, Cleveland, Dorset, Hertfordshire, Merseyside, North Yorkshire, and Sussex.

The Home Office has credited a number of initiatives for the improved figures, including the greater use of closed circuit televisions, particularly in city centres, the new national DNA database, a series of police campaigns targeting specific crimes, such as burglary, and individuals, and more police surveillance and intelligence.

Mr Howard said: "These figures show that rising crime is not inevitable. They are a clear testament to the effectiveness of police forces throughout the country and to the vigilance of local communities."

Jack Straw, the Shadow Home Secretary, welcomed the figures, but said crime had doubled during 16 years of Conservative government.