Crime is on the increase for first time in six years, according to police figures

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Government pledges to cut crime were called into question yesterday after a survey showed a marked rise in offences for the first time in six years.

Government pledges to cut crime were called into question yesterday after a survey showed a marked rise in offences for the first time in six years.

The overall number of offences in England and Wales rose by more than 6 per cent in the year to March 2002, driven by a continued surge in muggings and an unexpected increase in burglaries.

On average, 850 more crimes were reported every day, with most areas – rural and urban – recording an increase. The survey, published yesterday, suggests that when David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, releases the official figures in a few weeks' time, 38 of the 43 police forces will have recorded increases.

The rises – reversing a long-standing trend for the overall crime rate to fall – will prove a blow to the Government's law and order strategy. The Prime Minister has pledged to make it a priority, famously promising to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.

Chris Fox, vice-president of the Association of Chief Police Officers and Chief Constable of Northamptonshire, explained: "A main cause has been an upturn in the use of harder drugs, which has fuelled acquisitive crime."

West Yorkshire Police saw a crime rise of 15 per cent. In Suffolk, the rate was up 14 per cent; Lincolnshire was up 11 per cent; Derbyshire was up 10 per cent; and Greater Manchester 4 per cent.

The survey was by The Sunday Times, which obtained final figures from 33 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales as well as forecasts from another nine constabularies.

Avon and Somerset reported a 29 per cent increase in burglary and a 77 per cent rise in street robbery, apparently fuelled by the use of heroin and crack cocaine. The Metropolitan Police reported a 5 per rise in burglary and street crime will be up by 38 per cent.

Asked if the overall 6 per cent rise was correct, the Home Office minister Beverley Hughes conceded the official figures, to be published in July, were likely to show a rise but would not say how large.

She said: "We've seen crime figures falling for six years now. We know that if there is a rise it's related specifically to crime in association with Class A drugs and street crime. We are dealing specifically with both of those issues."

Later this month, senior government officials and police representatives will meet in a special summit to discuss crack cocaine and how it is affecting society. The stimulant is being blamed for unprecedented levels of gun crime.

A Home Office spokesman also pointed out yesterday that new Acpo reporting standards encouraged officers to record a higher proportion of offences.

Given that crime had fallen substantially since 1995 and the chances of being a victim were now at the lowest for 20 years, some rise would not be a surprise, he added.

Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "Many of the myriad gimmicks and initiatives of the past five years have obviously not been successful. Long-term strategies, with victims at their heart, must be at the top of the agenda from now on, and gimmicks must be given the red card," he added.

Oliver Letwin, shadow Home Secretary, said: "After 55 eye-catching but superficial initiatives, there is not even any prospect of the Home Secretary making a serious impact on crime in Britain over the remainder of this Parliament."

The survey figures were published as The Independent on Sunday reported that millions of crimes were going unpunished every year.

The Audit Commission is expected to reveal today that only 326,000 offenders were convicted between 2000 and 2001 despite police recording 5.2 million offences. Approximately £80m is wasted each year through adjournments of court cases and cancellations of trials.