Gun crime increases to record levels

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The Independent Online

Gun crime has risen to a record level while violent offences recorded by the police have increased by 11 per cent, according to new figures revealed yesterday.

Firearms offences rose by three per cent to 10,590 in the year to June 2004, compared with the same period in the previous year.

Concerns about the emerging gun culture in Britain were highlighted by the killing of 14-year-old Danielle Beccan earlier this month in a drive-by shooting in Nottingham.

The figures show that although the rapid rise in firearm offences appears to have plateaued following numerous police operations and tough new prison sentences, it is still going up.

Although the number of people shot dead has dropped from 82 to 70 in the past year, there were a further 430 incidents involving serious injuries, as well as a big jump in minor injuries and in the use of imitation guns.

The escalation of gun crime prompted the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, to announce yesterday that schemes similar to the Metropolitan Police's Operation Trident, which targets "black-on-black" shootings, are to be adopted in Manchester, West Midlands and Nottinghamshire.

Mr Blunkett also promised that there would be new efforts to involve local communities in combating gun crime, as well as a drive to break the link between crack cocaine and firearms. He said: "We have a situation where crack and guns go together, and crack is a dangerous drug that stimulates violence."

However, general crime is continuing to fall, with a 5 per cent drop in the number of recorded offences to 1,447,400 in the second quarter of this year, compared with the same three months in 2003.

Among those figures there was a remarkable 23 per cent decline in domestic burglaries and a 15 per cent fall in robbery.

Yet acts of violence against the person rose by 14 per cent, to a total of 265,800.

Although around half of all recorded violent crime does not result in an injury, and includes things like pushing and shoving, more serious violent offences such as homicide and serious wounding were up by 16 per cent to 12,000.

Separate quarterly crime figures compiled by the British Crime Survey, which is considered a more accurate study and includes offences not recorded by the police, found that violent crime fell by 6 per cent in the past year.

Mr Blunkett acknowledged yesterday that violent crime was a concern, saying: "There is an issue about violent crime, so let's take it head-on. We're going to target those areas of the country and those particular neighbourhoods where violent crime has caused concern."

The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Mark Oaten, said: "Today's increase in firearm offences is totally unacceptable and shows that the shooting of Danielle Beccan is not just an isolated incident. The Government is still not doing enough to stem the flow of guns on to the streets of our towns and cities.."

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said that violent crime in Britain was "out of control" and "a consequence of the Government's failure to deal with the drink and drug problems blighting this country".