Violent crime is rising as more people can now afford to drink to excess and are becoming drunk and disorderly, the Home Office's chief statistician revealed yesterday.
It was also disclosed that the total number of offences recorded is a gross underestimate with the real figure being up to 60 million crimes a year rather than the official tally of five million.
The news came as police figures showed that recorded crimes in England and Wales dropped by 5.5 per cent in the past year to 4.8 million, thanks largely to a fall in the number of car thefts and burglaries.
But the good news was over-shadowed by a 5 per cent increase in violent crimes to 300,000, which includes a 15 per cent hike in offences of rape to 6,375. This included 320 male rapes. Experts believe some of the total increase is due to greater willingness of women to go to the police, although only an estimated 10 to 20 per cent of cases are reported.
The number of offences involving violence that was life-threatening increased by more than 10 per cent to 23,300.
Chris Nuttall, director of the Home Office research and statistics directorate, blamed the rise in violence largely on a growing number of people who could afford to drink large quantities of alcohol and then got into fights.
He said: "Changes in violent crime are related to the economy. They seem to relate to the consumption of beer - mostly in pubs and clubs. Drug consumption is more likely to affect property crime."
Mr Nuttall announced that from next year the police would use a different system of recording crime which would for the first time include offences such as common assault, cruelty to children, dangerous driving, and assault on a police constable. He estimated that this would result in a 20 per cent increase in the number of crimes recorded.
He also emphasised that the offences recorded by the police were only a small proportion of the actual number of crimes, because most were either not reported to the police or not recorded. He said a more accurate estimate could be up to about 60 million offences.
Only five of the 43 police forces in England and Wales recorded more crimes. The Metropolitan Police recorded 850,000 - a 5 per cent rise - with offences involving sex and violence up by a third. Violent crimes also rose sharply in Bedfordshire, Norfolk, Gwent, Devon and Cornwall and Sussex. Northumbria had the biggest reduction in crime, dropping by 17 per cent.
The figures were welcomed by Alun Michael, the home office minister, although David Phillips, chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers' crime committee, said the rise in violent offences was "a serious cause for concern".
Notifiable Offences, England and Wales July 1996 - June 1997 is available from the Home Office on 0171 273 2084.Reuse content