Economic boom 'fuelling new crime wave'

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BRITAIN'S booming economy is expect to push up the crime rate in the next few years following government research which overturns the previous belief that offences fall in times of plenty.

The prediction came as police figures published yesterday revealed that reported crime in England and Wales fell by 8.8 per cent last year to 4.6 million. The figures for rape, however, rose by 11.5 per cent to 6,700, and there was also a sharp increase in the number of assaults - up by 6 per cent.

There were large falls in the number of burglaries and car crimes.

In a reappraisal of previous thinking, Home Office statisticians said yesterday that they now believe that a successful economy has a bad long- term effect on crime. During a boom an initial "feelgood" period, which sees the number of offences drop as people earn more money, is replaced with a crime spate as the number of valuable goods, such as cars and computers, builds up and thieves can make easy cash.

Researchers calculate that for every 1 per cent increase in the availability of consumer goods, burglary and theft rises by 2 per cent.

Experts also believe that a successful economy is partly to blame for the continued rise in violent crime, as young men have more to spend on drink and get involved in fights and assaults. The police yesterday cited the development of a violent street "sub-culture". The number of young men aged 16 to 24 - the most lawless section of society - is also due to rise in the next three years which is expect to push up crime rates.

Analysis of previous crime records shows that since 1919 the number of offences has risen by 5.5 per cent every year.

Chris Nuttall, head of statistics at the Home Office, said the new research suggested "upward pressure" on crime in future, but insisted the trend could be bucked.

As illustrations of successful anti-crime measures he pointed to better car security, targeting problem areas in cities and prolific offenders.

The warnings about a possible upturn in offences coincided with the fifth consecutive fall in the annual recorded crime figures - the first time this has happened since records began. The fall is largely due to drop in the number of property offences, with 149,000 fewer burglaries and 175,000 less crimes involving vehicles - a 14 per cent improvement on the previous year.

While violent crimes only account for 8 per cent of all offences - 350,000 - the number of offences rose yet again. It went up by 2 per cent. This included a big rise in rapes to 6,700, including 340 cases involving a male victim, although better recording methods account for some of the increase. In the past decade, the reported incidence of rape has risen by 170 per cent.

Serious violent offences, such as life-threatening assaults, increased by 7 per cent to 24,000, and homicides rose by 30 offences to 711. Less serious assaults went up by 6 per cent to about 250,000.