Straw to put more bobbies on the beat

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Thousands of policemen will be moved away from their desks and put back on the beat, Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, promised last night.

Mr Straw was responding to the International Crime Victimisation Survey, which showed yesterday that people in England and Wales are more at risk from burglary and car theft than those in any other industrialised Western nation. They also face the same risk of physical attack as people in the United States.

Mr Straw did not dispute the findings of the survey, which was conducted in 1996. "It is a shocking and startling fact but England and Wales have the worst record on car crime, burglary and gratuitous violence," he said.

Mr Straw blamed what he called 18 years of Tory complacency on rising crime, particularly among juveniles. He ruled out the recruitment of more police officers owing to Labour's commitment to stick to Tory expenditure limits until the end of 1999. Instead, he vowed to exploit existing resources more effectively by sweeping away red tape and timewasting paperwork.

"What I want to see is more police officers released for police work, by attacking bureaucracy", he said. The hands of the police must be untied to tackle the causes of crime, such as neighbourhood disorder and juvenile offences, particularly where children under 15 are concerned. "That is my number-one priority," Mr Straw said.

He stressed the need for an overhaul of the Crown Prosecution Service with the appointment of District Attorneys in England and Wales.

"What this survey confirmed is what I had been saying for the last two years as Shadow Home Secretary ... that between 1987 and 1996, the rise in crime in England and Wales was greater than in any of 16 Western countries," he said.

Mr Straw, attending his first meeting of European Union justice and home affairs ministers in Brussels, emphasised the new Government's willingness for greater co-operation on fighting crime but rejected proposals for a European police force along the lines of the FBI.

The Home Secretary repeated the Government's refusal to surrender control over passport controls at airports and ports, as well as immigration and asylum policy. Thirteen of the 15 member states want the new EU treaty due to be signed in Amsterdam next month to allow intensified co-operation over these areas, including giving Brussels power to initiate legislation for the first time.

The Liberal Democrat spokesman Alan Beith exploited the new crime figures to back his party's demand for more police officers: "In the face of new figures confirming the extent of crime and the fear of crime, the Government still refuses to put resources into appointing extra police officers on the streets.

"Labour is still too locked into its pre-election rhetoric to face up to the reality that the thin blue line needs strengthening."

Michael Howard, the former Home Secretary, said the figures had to be treated with caution.