The number of murders and other killings recorded by police fell to its lowest level in almost 30 years last year, figures showed today.
A total of 550 murders and cases of manslaughter and infanticide were recorded in 2011/12 - the lowest since 1983, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
Overall, the total number of recorded crimes fell to below four million for the first time since 1989, dropping to 3,976,312.
But pickpocketing offences rose by almost a fifth (17%) over the last two years, separate figures from the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) showed.
There were some 625,000 such offences last year, compared with 523,000 in 2009/10, according to the survey of more than 40,000 households.
Thefts from gardens and sheds, including tools, equipment and furniture, also rose 10% to 1,371,000 from 1,245,000 in 2010/11.
Around half of these were opportunistic thefts of garden furniture taken from outside a property, the ONS said.
And thefts of metal, wallets, mobile phones and unattended bags drove a 2% rise in so-called "other theft" offences, following a 4% rise the previous year.
Some 1,105,117 such crimes were recorded by police last year, up from 1,078,679 the previous year.
John Flatley, the head of crime statistics at the ONS, said the number of homicides rose from around 300 per year in the 1960s to just under 1,000 a decade ago, before dropping since 2007/8 to 550 last year, the same as in 1983.
Killings were down 14% from 638 in 2010/11.
But Mr Flatley said he doubted claims that advances in medical science were responsible for the fall.
He said: "If you look at the trends in both murder and attempted murder, you'll see they're pretty similar, so I'm a bit sceptical about the medical science argument, because you would have expected attempted murders to go up as murders came down. We haven't seen that.
"What we do know is over two-thirds of homicides are committed by partners, ex-partners or other family members and that is what's driving the overall change.
"I haven't got an explanation as to what's causing that."
Final figures, including a breakdown of the numbers of murders, manslaughters and infanticides, will not be available until January.
Overall, the number of crimes recorded by police fell by 4% and the CSEW showed crime figures remained stable at about 9.5 million.
The drop in crime was driven by the falls in volume crimes such as vehicle crime and burglaries, Mr Flatley said.
Burglaries were down 4% last year to 501,053 offences while vehicle thefts were down 7% to 417,444, the police figures showed.
"I don't think there's any dispute that security has played a major role in that, both in terms of domestic security - window locks, door locks, alarms, etc - and certainly in relation to vehicles, with immobilisers, deadlocks, etc," he said.
The proportion of households with window locks rose from 80% in 2002/3 to 88% in 2010/11, while those with deadlocks rose from 76% to 84% over the same period, CSEW figures showed.
Car radios and CD players were now harder to steal and worth less, he said.
But there was a 2% increase in so-called "other theft offences", including opportunistic thefts of metal, mobile phones and bags left unattended in pubs and bars, he added.
Robberies recorded by police rose 8% in the Metropolitan force area, but this was masked by falls of 20% and 14% in the West Midlands and Greater Manchester respectively, leading to an overall reduction of 2%, the ONS said.
The 8% increase in the Met area came on top of a 7% increase in robberies between 2009/10 and 2010/11.
Referring to the CSEW figures, Mr Flatley went on: "While 20 in 100 households with vehicles were subject to vehicle-related theft in 1995 this has now fallen to five in 100 households," Mr Flatley said.
Javed Khan, chief executive of Victim Support, said: "Although we welcome the fall in overall crime, the 9.5 million crimes recorded in the Crime Survey for England and Wales is still too high.
"The rise in pickpocketing, thefts of wallets and unattended bags is also worrying and can be the cause of upset for many victims.
"So we cannot afford to be complacent in the fight against crime."
Policing Minister Nick Herbert said: "Today's figures show that despite the challenge of reducing police budgets, crime has continued to fall.
"They give the lie to the spurious claim that there is a simple link between overall police numbers and the crime rate.
"There are some areas of local concern, and the election of Police and Crime Commissioners in November will enable local people to hold their force to account and ensure that problem crimes in their area are tackled head-on.
"Police forces should be congratulated for continuing to drive down crime and maintaining their service to the public while saving money.
"We are freeing the police from red tape and central targets so that they can focus resources where they are needed most."
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