A surge in the number of murders and knifepoint muggings overshadowed yesterday's release of crime figures that showed the number of offences is falling.
The total number of offences reported to police fell by 4 per cent to 4.1 million in the year to the end of September – but violent attacks increased. More than 15,300 robberies with knives were recorded – a rise of 10 per cent – as offenders targeted smartphones, iPods and handbags.
Half of the country's muggings took place in London, which suffered a 13 per cent rise over the year. The number of robberies in the West Midlands also increased by 10 per cent.
But levels of gun crime dropped by 13 per cent, along with falls in burglary and car theft.
Separate figures revealed a 4.6 per cent rise in the number of killings – from 608 to 636 – in England and Wales in the year to March 2011, a figure that includes the 12 victims of the Cumbrian gunman Derrick Bird. Sixty of those killed were shot (including two by crossbow) and 232 by a sharp instrument.
The Home Office also disclosed that 29 murderers and six people convicted of manslaughter went on to kill again between 2000-01 and 2010-11.
The rise in recorded violent crime reflected the findings of the British Crime Survey, which is based on interviews with the public. It reported a rise of 11 per cent in "personal crime", which includes attacks and muggings, from 3.5 million to 3.9 million incidents in the year to September 2011.
The survey found "no statistically significant change" in the estimated overall crime rate, which remained at about 9.7 million incidents. Nick Herbert, the Policing minister, said the figures showed a "mixed picture" without evidence of a shift in the long-term trends.
But he added: "There are areas of concern and, as we have consistently said, crime remains too high."
But Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "These figures are deeply worrying and show this is the wrong time to cut 16,000 police officers."
Robberies last year involved knives, as items like iPods and handbags were targeted.