7 per cent rise in knifepoint robberies

Knifepoint robberies rose by 7% in the last year as thieves targeted mobile phones which can be sold for up to double their value on the black market abroad, police chiefs have said.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said the rise in robberies was a "cause for concern", while the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, warned the Government must reconsider its cuts to police budgets.

The latest figures showed that the easing of the falling levels of overall crime has continued after sustained reductions since the mid-1990s.

Police forces in England and Wales recorded 14,980 robberies involving knives in the 12 months to June, up from 13,994 the previous year.

Chief Constable Jon Murphy, the Acpo lead on crime, said: "While there were falls in most police-recorded crime and particularly in violence against the person, the increase in robbery and robbery with knives is a cause for concern.

"We believe this is in part driven by demand for mobile phone handsets, which can fetch more than double their worth on the black market abroad.

"Worryingly, a large proportion of phone owners still do not have passcodes on their phones, leaving them vulnerable to possible ID theft and fraud."

Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation, said the figures were no surprise and "paint a bleak picture".

"We have warned again and again that property crime and robbery will rise during times of economic hardship," he said.

"The Government simply must heed the warnings and reconsider the planned 20% cuts to policing.

"We can only protect the public if we have enough police officers on our streets."

Labour's shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper also said the rise in knifepoint robberies was "extremely concerning" while there was "not a squeak from the Home Office about rethinking the huge cuts to police forces across the country".

"We are seeing evidence of crime rising under this Tory-led Government," she said.

"They need to take urgent action to cut crime instead of just cutting police."

Along with the rise in the number of robberies involving knives, the overall number of robberies also rose by 3%, up to 76,786 from 74,887, the figures showed.

The number of the most serious sexual crimes - including rapes, sexual assault and sexual activity with children - also went up, from 44,415 to 45,498.

But the number of victims killed with knives remained broadly the same at 205, compared with 206 the previous year, and the number of attempted murders with knives fell to 209 from 229.

And overall, the number of crimes recorded by police fell 4% over the last 12 months to 4.1 million in the year to June, down from 4.3 million in the previous 12 months.

Other figures, from the British Crime Survey (BCS), showed the number of burglaries rose 10%, up from 678,000 to 743,000, but officials said this was not statistically significant.

The BCS figures, based on interviews with tens of thousands of people in more than 45,000 households, also showed the number of thefts from outside homes, gardens and sheds rose by 13% over the last year.

Levels of such crimes have generally remained steady for the last six years and the increase, up to 1.3 million offences from 1.2 million the previous year, comes despite overall crime levels remaining stable.

There were an estimated 9.7 million crimes in the 12 months to June, compared with 9.6 million the previous year, the BCS figures showed.

There were also increases in lower-level theft offences, such as pick-pocketing, shoplifting and thefts from homes by workmen.

Asked about the rises in robberies with knives and burglaries, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "When you look at the individual categories, some of the changes are not necessarily statistically significant and the ones you refer to, I don't think are."

He went on: "The figures show a mixed picture. We see different things across different offences and different areas of the country.

"We are doing everything we can to reduce crime."

Policing and criminal justice minister Nick Herbert added: "While the British Crime Survey is stable, and overall crime recorded by the police is falling, there are particular types of crime that some forces need to address.

"The police do a fantastic and difficult job and we want to support them. We know the police want to be out in their local communities stopping crime, catching criminals and helping victims.

"That's why we have swept away central targets and red tape to help police forces focus on their one core mission: to cut crime."