Europe's crime capital

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The Independent Online
Crime in England and Wales has risen at a faster rate than in any other European country during the past decade, according to a report published today.

England and Wales are far ahead of their nearest fellow member states in the crime boom sweeping the Continent. The sheer scale of that crime wave will be revealed today with a report from Brussels showing that international fraud is costing Europe up to pounds 50bn a year.

An additional investigation carried out on behalf of the European Commission found that new forms of high-tech crime ranging from mobile phone cloning to "cyber swindles" perpetrated against insurance companies, banks, investment firms and public agencies have evolved into a thriving business rivalling the narcotics trade.

The findings follow a year-long investigation by accountants Deloitte and Touche which concludes that differences in the laws of the European Union member states and the complete absence of any effective judicial co- operation allow international fraud to prosper on such a vast scale.

Details of the two reports emerged as the Tories sought to take their law-and-order proposals to the centre of the election campaign yesterday.

John Major set himself a fresh targets on crime - so new that it did not appear in the Conservative manifesto. The Prime Minister told the party's daily election press conference that, if re-elected, he would deliver "a further reduction of 10 per cent in recorded crime over the next Parliament"; repeating the 10 per cent fall in crime that had taken place over the last four years.

But today's analysis of official crime figures is an embarrassing reminder to the Tories of their failure to control lawlessness in the period from 1987 to 1995. England and Wales come top out of 10 countries, far ahead of nations such as France, the Netherlands, Greece, and Switzerland. Scotland had the lowest recorded increase.

In the nine-year period ending in 1995 the number of crimes recorded in England and Wales rose by 31 per cent to 5.1 million. This was the highest total of the 10 countries examined in the Criminal Justice Matters magazine, although comparisons can be misleading because countries having different recording methods.

But the rate of increase far exceeded other countries which are often considered less law abiding, such as Greece and France. The Government will take comfort from the fact that recorded crime in England and Wales has dropped by 10 per cent in the past four years, although offences involves violence continue to rise rapidly .

Dr Roger Matthews, Reader in Criminology at Middlesex University, who analysed each country's official figures, said: "Particularly bad news for England and Wales is that not only have we experienced the highest increase in recorded crime over [that period] but that this increase has been associated with an increase in violent and serious crime."

He argued that part of the reason for the high total in England and Wales was the large number of domestic burglaries and car crimes which have been running at twice the rates of other European countries.