Focus: Crime UK

It is the public's number one fear - and for good reason. Although crime rates are falling, sexual violence, teenage thuggery, robbery and fraud have established themselves as part of the British way of life, particularly in our major towns and cities. Here, we reveal the stark reality behind the headlines and outline what can be done. Investigation by Paul Lashmar and Nick Pyke
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The Independent Online

It was just another cold weekend in March. In the Sandridge district of Glasgow, 76-year-old Matt Adams looked through his window, saw a group of young men vandalising his neighbour's property and went outside to challenge them. He was slashed in the neck with a knife.

"I saw the knife and I thought, 'I'm in for a tanking here,'" he later said. "But I was lucky, the man up there is on my side."

In Cookridge, Leeds, 88-year-old Arnhem veteran, Budge Pearce heard a knock on the door. Two men told him they were from the water board, but once inside, they stole £1,500 in cash saved for Mr Pearce's final trip to the battlefields.

At the Gaiety pub in Smethwick, Birmingham, several armed men walked through the door. They could not see their intended victim, but one of the guns went off, hitting an innocent man drinking at the bar. He collapsed, wounded.

A stabbing, a callous theft and a shooting: there was nothing exceptional about the three incidents, which all took place within the space of a few hours last month.

The headline figures show a falling crime rate, with a steady, year-on-year reduction in offences. But in Britain's major towns and cities, the reality is often very different. Today, The Independent on Sunday publishes its Crime in the UK survey, revealing the "hot spots" that are developing around the country in defiance of national trends.

It describes a distinctive and depressing landscape of lawbreaking, showing how local crime follows patterns, focused on, say, burglary, car crime or murder.

Criminals in Glasgow prefer knives, just as their fathers once used open-bladed razors, or "chivs". It is no accident that Matt Adams fell victim to a slashing. Leeds criminals are fond of burglary, including distraction crimes where elderly people such as Mr Pearce are fooled out of their savings and belongings. Up-and-coming young hoods in Birmingham carry guns as fashion accessories and use them from time to time, giving the area one of the worst gun-crime records in the country.

Our survey throws up some surprises, too.

Liverpudlians, often stereotyped as Britain's most prolific criminals, turn out to commit fewer crimes per head than their Mancunian neighbours, responsible for the country's highest rates of car theft. Manchester is also badly affected by youth offending.

Gwent in south Wales turns out to be one of the most dangerous places in Britain. The "York Index for Public Safety index" (YIPS), devised by the University of York, compared six key types of crime in locations around in England and Wales, and concluded that it is even more violent than London.

Our Crime in the UK survey is based on official crime figures and mostly uses the number of crimes per head of population - widely accepted as the best measure of an area's crime problem.

Glasgow is easily the murder capital of western Europe, outstripping other cities with an astounding 81 killings in the last recorded crime figures - twice as many as London. Per head of population that is 58.7 murders per million people, compared with 45 per million in Manchester, 55.9 per million in Belfast and 26 per million in London.

More than half the murders in Glasgow involved a knife and in nearly half the murder cases that come to court the accused was drunk.

Other cities have been hit by a rise in gun crime. The notorious shootings of Letisha Shakespeare, 17, and Charlene Ellis, 18, shot dead in Aston on 2 January 2003, gave Birmingham a particularly violent reputation.

The killings came at the peak of a wave of shootings when the local murder rate was nearly double that of London. According to statistics released in January, the West Midlands has more than double the national average of gun crime and is third worst overall in England and Wales. There was a total of 1,101 offences in the West Midlands between September 2002 and September 2003. Only London and Greater Manchester had higher rates per head.

In the days following the Aston shootings, grandfather Eddie Byrne, 66, was murdered by a masked gunman in a Liverpool pub. And Tasawar Hussain, 36, was shot dead as he chased robbers who attacked a security guard in Bradford, West Yorkshire. Last April, Andrew Sams, 25, was killed in south London. A man in his 20s was gunned down in north-west London in the same week.

In Birmingham, Mohammed Sabir, a father of two children, also died that month, hit by 16 bullets from a semi-automatic.

In August seven-year-old Toni-Ann Byfield was cut down amid Yardie violence after she witnessed the murder of her father Bertram, 41, in his north-west London bedsit. Marian Bates, a jeweller, was killed in Arnold, Nottinghamshire. Dave King, 32, a celebrities' minder, was killed with a shotgun in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire.

If murder and the use of weapons is the most dramatic of crimes it is the more mundane offences that affect people's everyday quality of life. Burglary, robbery and car theft weigh more heavily than murders in creating the pervasive fear of crime.

Leeds emerges as a centre of burglary, with Hull close behind. The residents of Leeds suffer 446 break-ins a year per 10,000 houses. That is more than twice the average of 202 for England and Wales. The figures show that in Yorkshire and Humber (the police authority centred on Hull) 25 per cent of families had been victims of household crime compared to the England average of 21 per cent and Wales's 15 per cent average.

Manchester has seen the most radical use of the new anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) where youths are banned from areas of their towns and in some cases barred, for example, from wearing hooded tops or haircuts associated with local gangs. The city also has a major problem with car crime. Only last month, Martin Pagel, the deputy leader of the Manchester City Council, used his own car to box-in a stolen car driven by joyriders. He dialled 999, but the police took more than 40 minutes to turn up. By then the joyriders had stoned Mr Pagel and got away.

Drug addicts are responsible for much robbery and theft. The Home Office estimates that a third of offences are committed to buy heroin and cocaine. The preponderance of gang murders in various cities often has drug turf wars at its heart. This is spreading into Britain's smaller cities, often with aggressive marketing by Yardie gangsters with links to Jamaica.

Avon and Somerset Police last year reported a "huge increase in Jamaican criminals operating in Bristol in loose networks". Dorset Police say that Afro-Caribbean heroin and crack dealers are now established in genteel Bournemouth.

In Great Yarmouth, where the drugs problem has recently become more visible, more than 100 police officers last October swooped on drug dealers as part of Operation Harrier.

The raid, one of the biggest mounted in Norfolk, aimed to break up a crack cocaine and heroin supply line that had been linked to Merseyside and resulted in 25 arrests in the Liverpool area.

But if drugs and the resultant crime are now seeping into rural communities, the countryside remains the safest place to live in England and Wales.

While London has the highest level of recorded offences, at 153 per 1,000 people, Devon and Cornwall has only 83, as does Kent. Suffolk has only 75 and Wiltshire, with 72 per 1,000, is better still.

But the lowest rate of all is in agricultural south Wales where the Dyfed-Powys police authority reported just 51 recorded crimes for every thousand people living there.