Rising crime rate clouds law and order campaign

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The Independent Online
The crime rate is continuing to rise, unpublished Home Office statistics reveal, with the latest figures expected to show an extra 100,000 offences a year, equivalent to a 2 per cent increase.

The escalation in crime will be a serious blow to the Conservatives in the run-up to the general election after the much heralded reduction in the number of reported crimes in the past three years.

The rise of 1 to 2 per cent in England and Wales in the first quarter of this year follows asmall increase in the last quarter of 1995. Police sources predict this trend will continue.

The law and order debate between Labour and the Conservatives is becoming increasingly fierce as both parties have identified it as a key election issue. Labour will seize news of a gradual rise in the number of reported offences as evidence that the Tories are losing the fight against crime.

In March, Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, hailed a 2.4 per cent drop in recorded crime to 5.1 million for all of 1995 as evidence that Government policies were beginning to have an effect.

The fall followed a drop of 5 per cent in 1994 and 1 per cent in 1993, only the third time this century there had been falls in three consecutive years. However, he was unable to explain why there were 42,776 more recorded crimes in the second half of 1995 compared with the first six months.

The disclosure that the rise has continued this year will cause deep embarrassment if it continues until the half-yearly results are published in September.

Harry Fletcher, of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: "Recorded crime is now on the increase, casting more doubt on Mr Howard's assertion that locking increasing numbers of people in jail cuts crime."

The importance of the issue of law and order is illustrated by the Home Office's decision to hold an unofficial "anti-crime week" this week.

Over the next five days, Mr Howard will announce a number of initiatives, including proposals for a substantial extension to the time sex offenders have restrictions placed on their actions.

It is understood that, under the plans, offenders could be given supervision orders that last for years after their release, compared to the current average of six to nine months. The order bans sex offenders from visiting designated places, requires them to register with the police on their release and to undertake courses of psychological or medical treatment.

Tomorrow Mr Howard will unveil proposals to force convicted paedophiles and other sex offenders to register with the police every time they move home and to ban them from working with children for life.

Later in the week, plans will be revealed for the establishment of a criminal records vetting agency to help employers. It would involve checks on people seeking jobs such as doctors, lawyers, lottery ticket sellers and working with children. All employers would be entitled to ask an applicant to present a criminal conviction certificate, obtainable for a fee from the new agency.

The scheme is bound to be criticised for the effect it will have on former prisoners looking for employment. It also comes a week after a report by the Department of Employment, probation officers and the Prison Service concluded that one of the best ways for offenders to resettle into the community was for them to find work or training.

An announcement will be made about extra schemes to help victims cope with court appearances and there will be a report on bullying in schools.