Rise in violence overshadows fall in crime

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The Independent Online
A small drop in the number of recorded crimes committed last year was overshadowed yesterday by the disclosure that violent offences rose by 11 per cent in the same period.

The increase of 33,400 violent crimes to 344,300 was the highest rise for seven years. The Home Office's annual statistics also revealed that the offences that involved wounding or other acts that endangered life increased by 16.5 per cent, and sex crimes, including rape, continued to rise in frequency.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, seized on the reduction in the total number offences by 1.3 per cent to about five million, with notable drops in property and car crime, as evidence that his policies were working. It was the fourth consecutive annual drop - the first time this has happened since 1900.

But Labour claimed that the rise in violent crime and the near-doubling in the offences total since the Tories came to power in 1979 proved that the Conservative party's law and order initiatives have failed.

The 1996 Notifiable Offences for England and Wales, published yesterday, revealed a mix bag of achievement for the country's police forces.

Most worrying was the growing number of violent acts. Although this category only makes up seven per cent of the total number of crimes - nine out of 10 offences are against property - they have a huge impact on the victims.

Offences against the person, such as mugging, increased by 26,500 to about 240,000, and more serious offences went up 17 per cent to 22,400. The number of sexual offences increased by three per cent. This included a 15 per cent increase in the number of female rapes, which has continued to go up by an average of 10 per cent for the past decade, to 5,700. Male rapes rose by 50 per cent to 227. Fraud and robbery also saw small increases.

On the positive side, the police have continued their success in driving down the number of vehicle crimes - a two per cent drop - and burglary, which saw a six per cent decline.

There were big regional differences in crime fighting. Northumbria recorded a 13 per cent annual fall - its fifth in a row - while Durham, Cheshire, North Yorkshire, and Dorset all had about a 10 per cent decline.

The Metropolitan Police was the only urban force to record more crime in 1996 than in 1995, up three per cent to 840,000. Sussex and Norfolk both saw seven per cent increased in all reported crime, while Bedfordshire and Gwent recorded a 78 per cent rise in violent crime.

All the figures are an under-estimation because many crimes are not reported or recorded. Michael Howard argued that some of the increase in violent crime was due to more people reporting offences.

He added: "We believe that these figures indicate a real success story. They bear testimony to the steadfast efforts of the police, to the work of those involved in community initiatives to fight crime, and to the success of our policies to tackle crime and protect the public."

But Jack Straw, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "The modest reduction in overall crime has to be seen against a mountainous increase in crime and disorder since the Conservatives took office."

The police welcome the drop in total crimes but Fred Broughton, chairman of the Police Federation, said: "I am very concerned by the increase in reported robberies and violence against the person. These are the crimes that worry the public most of all."