Murder rate hits 20-year low

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The murder rate in England and Wales is the lowest it has been for 20 years, according to annual crime figures released today.

There were 136 fewer homicides – including murder, manslaughter and child killings - in 2008/9 compared to a year earlier, a fall of 17 per cent.

Provisional figures show the police recorded 648 incidents of homicide in 2008/09, the lowest recorded level in the last 20 years. The number of attempted murders also decreased from 621 in 2007/08 to 575 in 2008/09.

Home Office statistician Dr Chris Kershaw said the fall in killings was "striking" and suggested it could be attributed to improvements in medical science. "It's certainly very striking and I don't describe it as a blip," he said.

But ministers say short-term initiatives aimed at tackling gangs and gun and knife crime have also had an impact.

Dramatic results have been achieved through the Government's Tackling Gangs Action Programme which last year saw a reduction of 51 per cent in firearms-related injuries, from 93 offences in October 2007 to 46 in February 2008 in the areas targeted.

Between August 2008 and March this year there were no gang-rated homicides or attempted homicides in Birmingham.

In Manchester, between February 2008 and February 2009, there was a 92.7 per cent reduction in gang-related firearms discharges compared with the same period last year - and no injuries or fatalities. While in London gun crime offences were down by 25 per cent in 12 months to end of February 2009.

Yesterday's report found that after taking into account the Harold Shipman murders, reflected in the 2002/03 figures, and the London bombings, in 2005/06 figures, homicides recorded by the police have fluctuated between 700 and 900 per year since 2002/03. However, the latest figures for 2008/09 are down to a low of 648, a fall of 26 per cent since 2002/03.

But there were signs the recession was beginning to lead to increases in other crimes - with burglary up 1 per cent, pickpocket and bag snatch thefts up 25 per cent and shoplifting up 10 per cent

Despite the drop in the murder rate and a fall of 35 per cent in overall crime in the last 15 years, three out of four people believe crime is rising nationally. Fewer though, 36 per cent, say it is increasing in their own neighbourhood.

According to the BCS, the risk of being a victim of crime rose for the first time for several years from 22 per cent to 23 per cent but remained substantially down on the 40 per cent recorded when crime peaked in 1995.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said: "Figures show that the reductions in crime are being maintained and the risk of being a victim is still historically low. Encouragingly, violent crime continues to fall with homicide figures now lower than they have been for a decade and attempted murder also falling. Overall, violent crime with injury is down seven per cent and there has been a five per cent fall in recorded robberies, now at its lowest level since 2002."

But Mr Johnson said ministers must not be complacent and acknowledged that during economic downturns certain crimes "face upward pressure."

He added: "Although figures show signs of some acquisitive crimes increasing, the Government is determined to keep these crimes down by continued investment in preventative measures, tough, targeted policing and historically high numbers of police officers."