Fall in crime rates may have been exaggerated because of pressure on police not to record lower-level offences

Downward trend in offences questioned by statisticians as police grapple with cuts

The continuing fall in crime rates may have been exaggerated because police officers were under pressure from their superiors not to record lower-level offences, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The latest figures showed levels of crime recorded by police was down by 7 per cent in a year, with falls in almost every category, including murder, gun crime, knife crime and robbery.

Crime has been dropping for more than a decade in England and Wales – and across much of the western world - and the decline is continuing despite the economic downturn. To the surprise of statisticians, yesterday’s figures – for the year ending

September 2012 – even suggested the fall had accelerated in recent months.

However, while there is no doubt about the general trend, the ONS expressed concerns that the police had decided not to list 400,000 offences over the last five years, opting to treat them instead as anti-social behaviour.

The discrepancy arose when the ONS compared the official police figures with the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), which asks members of the public about their experience of crime. The ONS found that offences recorded by police were dropping twice as fast as suggested by the CSEW results.

Statisticians and criminologists said the falls could have inflated by officers being pressed to achieve targets to cut crime, while Labour suggested they were linked to cuts in police numbers.

The Police Federation, representing rank-and-file officers, said officer numbers had been cut by 9,000 in three years and added that the closure of police station meant victims were less likely to report minor crimes.

John Flatley, head of the ONS crime statistic and analysis division, said: “Police recorded crime appears to overstate the true rate at which crime has been falling.

“[With] some lower level crimes, there is a judgment call to be made as to whether the incident attended to by the officer is actually a crime in law or a low-level incident that would not get into the crime figures. It is possible in an era of targets to cut crime and pressure on officers to see a reduction in crime that their judgment will sway more to including that in the lower level category.”

Mike Hough, co-director of the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, London, said: “There is probably less pressure than there was two or three years ago for the police to record [complaints] absolutely fully.”

But he stressed that it was important to focus on the bigger picture, showing that crime rates were dropping by all measures.

Today’s police figures showed 551 murders were committed in England and Wales last year, the lowest total since 1978. Gun crime was down by 17 per cent, knife crime down by 11 per cent and violent attacks down by 5 per cent.

There also fewer robberies (down 11 per cent), fewer burglaries (down 11 per cent) and less car crime (down 8 per cent).

The most serious sexual offences, which include rape, fell by 6 per cent. A blot on the figures was a six per cent rise in street crime, with a surge in thieves snatching mobile phones and iPads and in pickpocketing. There was also a rise in thefts from sheds and garages.

The latest CSEW painted a similar picture, concluding that crime fell by eight per cent over the last 12 months. The Crime Prevention Minister, Jeremy Browne, said: “Police reform is working. We have swept away central targets, reduced bureaucracy and these figures show forces are rising to the challenge of doing more with less. Many have achieved significant reductions in crime with reduced budgets.”

Suggested Topics
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little