Surge in crime gives lie to official claims

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The Independent Online
The number of crimes in England and Wales rose in the past year, with violent offences shooting up by 17 per cent, according to two reports published yesterday.

One of the studies, which is considered the most accurate, showed that crime has continued to rise since 1981, despite claims by the Government that it had "turned the tide" in the past few years and offences were going down.

The British Crime Survey (BCS), in which 16,500 people were interviewed, revealed that only one in four crimes were recorded by the police. In 1995, it estimated there were more than 19 million offences, although in the past year the rate of increase had slowed considerably, with a 1.1 per cent rise.

The second survey showed that the number of crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales rose by 0.4 per cent - the first time this had happened in four years.

The figures were seized upon by opposition parties as evidence that the Government's anti-crime initiatives were failing, although Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, insisted the trends were "encouraging".

News that crime is increasing will be a setback for the Government on the eve of the Conservative Party conference and months before the election.

On the positive side, both reports recorded drops of 1 per cent in the numbers of burglaries and car thefts, but the big hike in all types of violent crime, including rape, is worrying.

The BCS takes place every two years and questions adults about crimes that have not been reported to the police as well as ones that have. Particularly common offences that go unreported are minor assaults, car vandalism and personal theft, athough more serious crimes are also not reported.

In the period 1993 to 1995, for those crimes that can be compared, recorded offences fell by 8 per cent, whereas BCS figures rose by 2 per cent.

The most worrying trend is the rise in violent crime. The BCS found that in most acts of violence, the victim knew the attacker - there were 1.7 million cases in 1995. Cases of domestic violence have also risen, with about one million incidents last year, according to the BCS.

The police records show a smaller, 10 per cent, increase in violent crime to 331,300 offences - the largest rise for eight years - in 1995/96. Offences of violence against the person, which make up two in three violent crimes, rose by 21,400 or 10 per cent. Rapes increased by 14 per cent. Robberies increased by 15 per cent to 72,300.

Fear of crime has dropped, with the proportion of women who felt "very unsafe" or "a bit unsafe" out alone at night falling to 47 per cent in 1996 from 54 per cent in 1994. The elderly are also fearful of attack even though only one in 10 victims of violence is aged over 60.

Twenty-four of the 43 police forces in England and Wales recorded fewer crimes in 1995/96. The biggest increases were in Gwent (15 per cent), Cambridgeshire (12 per cent), and West Midlands (8 per cent). Decreases of 13.5 per cent were recorded at Durham, and 5 per cent in Northumbria. The Metropolitan police recorded 11,000 fewer crimes.

Jack Straw, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "A year ago, Michael Howard was trumpeting that the crime figures showed a real turning point in the fight against crime. I hope he has now discovered that empty words are no substitute for an effective strategy."

Mr Howard said: "My concern is of the long-term picture. Both the bulletins taken separately and together provide encouraging evidence on the trends in crime."

Polly Toynbee, page 15