Manchester's violent crime rate soars

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The Independent Online
A HUGE surge in violent crime in Manchester - up by 50 per cent in the past year according to figures released yesterday - could be caused by rival gangs battling for control of the city's thriving pub and club scene.

New statistics also reveal rapes have increased by a third, as well as big increases in street muggings, serious woundings, sex attacks and assaults, in the country's second largest police force area.

The crime spree is seen as bad news for a city struggling to cast off its reputation for violence, gang warfare, and drug-related shootings.

The number of murders in Greater Manchester went up from 35 to 43 and recorded violent offences rose by 5,600 to about 17,000 in the year ending May 1998.

David Wilmot, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, was attacked by Manchester City Council leader Richard Leese earlier this year over what Mr Leese called police inaction against"rampant lawlessness" overtaking the city's clubland.

The council leader said there was a crisis undermining the confidence of potential investors in the city.

He said police officers seemed "either unable or willing" to tackle problems caused by thugs and gangsters in pubs and clubs.

The Home Office's chief criminologist has also blamed alcohol on the continued rise in the number of assaults nationally as more people can now afford to drink to excess and get into fights.

Mr Wilmot is expected to argue later in the week that some of the increases in recorded crime in his force are due to different counting methods adopted by the force at Christmas.

Although the number of violent crimes recorded in England and Wales has increased every year for the past decade - it rose by 1.7 per cent in 1997 - the scale of the increase in Greater Manchester is shocking.

Serious woundings increased by 17 per cent to 1,800, while less grave injuries and assaults soared by 56 per cent to 15,000. Street robberies increased by nearly 12 per cent to 4,300 but less than one in seven of them resulted in a successful prosecution.

Rapes in the region rose by a third to 468. The more general category of sex offences went up by a quarter to 1,800.

The North-west region has struggled to shed its violent image following a series of drug-related shootings and attacks during the 1990s.

In January 1996, a man was saved by his body armour after he was shot at 27 times in an attack in Manchester's Moss Side area during "tit-for-tat'' gang violence.

A survey earlier this year by The Independent also found that Greater Manchester had the highest homicide level of all police forces in England and Wales in 1996.

Mr Wilmot will present the new figures to the force's police authority in what is expected to be a stormy annual meeting on Friday.

Overall, the number of recorded crimes rose by 1.9 per cent to nearly 300,000.

The total number of crimes in England and Wales dropped by nearly 9 per cent last year - the fifth consecutive decrease.

The only successes for Manchester were a 12 per cent drop in house burglaries and an 8 per cent decrease in car crime. The two categories make up about half of all offences. Firearms offences were also down, by almost 10 per cent.

Greater Manchester Police yesterday refused to comment until the figures are officially released on Friday.