Street crime tops list of life's worst nightmares

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The Independent Online

Home Affairs Correspondent

People are more worried about burglary and rape than they are about unemployment, ill-health and road accidents.

Fear of crime still tops the list of "life worries" - despite the fact that most of us are more likely to fall prone to other misfortunes - according to the latest Home Office research.

The study is a serious blow to the Government, coming after 16 years of Conservative policy and as the party fights a rearguard action to maintain its law and order credentials. Further, it supports Labour's claims that crime, and the fear of crime, are heightened in poor neighbourhoods frequented by drunks, tramps and drug addicts, vandals and graffiti artists.

It suggests that putting bobbies on the beat might be an effective way of restoring pedestrian use of the streets - or as Jack Straw, Labour's home affairs spokesman, had suggested, "reclaiming the streets".

Yesterday, researchers themselves expressed surprise that given the low level of risk, as many as 12 per cent of people said they were worried about terrorist attacks. By comparison only 11 per cent worried about household accidents - yet 2.5 million people a year will end up in hospital as a result of mishaps in the home.

But Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: "The fear of crime is understandable in the light of the growth in violent crime during the last decade, although it remains the case that the chances of being the victim of violence are slight."

The study was based on the findings of the latest British Crime Survey, which examines the experience of more than 15,000 households and is regarded as the most accurate indicator of crime rates and trends in England and Wales.

It showed that for many women, domestic violence poses a grave threat. Nearly 1 in 30 women said they were worried about being attacked by someone in their own family. Among women under 30, the figure rose to 1 in 10 and in inner cities was as high as 1 in 5.

The impact of domestic violence, harassment, sexual insults, and behaviour that many women have experienced "fairly routinely" at the hands of men, has contributed to their fear of crime, more than from the chance of a life-threatening attack, the report concludes. More than a quarter of all women under 30 had received abusive comment in the streets, one in five had been followed.

The study showed that between 1 and 2 per cent of people did not go out of their houses after dark, for fear of attack. Older women, up to 11 per cent in inner cities, are most likely to stay at home. For many others, fear of crime meant they avoided events or activities, like cinemas, theatres and evening classes.

Yesterday, David Maclean, a Home Office minister, said the best way of curbing fear of crime was to tackle crime itself. Citing the recent drop in recorded crime, he said recent government initiatives to tackle crime, such as the introduction of closed-circuit television and police operations targeting specific crimes, like burglary and mugging, had improved people's confidence.

tAnxiety about Crime, findings from the British Crime Survey, Home Office Research and Planning Unit, Queen Anne's Gate, London SW1H 9AT.