Injuries from violent crime fall to five-year low

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The Independent Online

Serious violence resulting in injury has plummeted in England and Wales over the past five years, according to a study. Almost 26,000 fewer people were treated in major accident and emergency departments in England in 2004 - 13 per cent down on 2000. There were 2,800 fewer victims treated in Wales, a fall of 20 per cent, researchers from Cardiff University reported.

Serious violence resulting in injury has plummeted in England and Wales over the past five years, according to a study. Almost 26,000 fewer people were treated in major accident and emergency departments in England in 2004 - 13 per cent down on 2000. There were 2,800 fewer victims treated in Wales, a fall of 20 per cent, researchers from Cardiff University reported.

The results run counter to Conservative claims of a big rise in violence. Those claims are based on violent offences recorded by the police, which have been rising steadily and reached almost 300,000 in the last three months of 2004.

But those figures include harassment and common assault, which do not result in injury. Young men who have been drinking and get involved in scuffles late at night may be arrested and categorised as victims or perpetrators of violence even though no injury has been caused.

The new study, by Cardiff's Violence Research Group, was based on figures for injuries caused by assaults from 32 major accident and emergency departments in England and Wales.

Professor Jonathan Shepherd, a consultant face and jaw surgeon, who led the study, said: "As someone who treats these injuries I think this is very good news. It's something I greet with some relief."

Professor Shepherd said the installation of CCTV cameras in city centres had helped prevent injuries from violence even though it had not curbed the number of assaults.

By helping police to spot incidents of disorder sooner and respond more quickly, they had been able to intervene before assaults got out of hand. Professor Shepherd said the risk of severe injury increased the longer a dispute continued and blows were exchanged.

"Prevention of violence-related injury is a major public health priority. These results represent a clear reduction in harm across all age groups and both age groups and genders.

"The findings indicate that police statistics are not a reliable measure of violence. The benefit of CCTV in town centres probably lies less in preventing such offences, which are likely to occur anyway because of their impulsive nature and the role of alcohol, but more in facilitating a faster police response to arguments and assaults in city centres, which limits their duration and reduces the likelihood and seriousness of injury."

Towns with CCTV showed a 3 per cent decrease in the number of cases treated for serious violence, the report said.

But CCTV did lead to an 11 per cent increase in the number of violent offences recorded by police.

"A previous report of ours looked at violence-related accident and emergency department admissions between 1995 and 2000, concluding that levels were stable. That stability has now converted into a clear and substantial decrease across the country."

The report came just four days after latest recorded crime figures showed violent crime jumped 9 per cent.

Last week Labour ministers pointed to the separate British Crime Survey - which they claim is a more reliable indicator of crime trends - which suggested violent crime had fallen by 11 per cent.

"Overall, this study validates the British Crime Survey as a reliable measure and suggests that police records should be interpreted more as a measure of police activity and not as a measure, necessarily, of violence."