Police solve less than a quarter of crimes

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The Independent Online

The Police are failing to solve three-quarters of crimes – the lowest detection rate since records began, the Home Office disclosed on Wednesday.

The number of detected offences in England and Wales fell by nearly 73,000 to 1.26 million last year, including a fall from 59 per cent to 55 per cent in the solving of violent crimes. Since 1989 the detection rate has dropped from 34 per cent to 24 per cent, with a fall of one percentage point since 1999-2000, although some of the decline is due to changes in the way the figures are compiled.

There was good news in the overall figures for recorded crime, with the total falling by 2.5 per cent – or 130,000 offences – in England and Wales to 5.2 million in the year up to March. But, despite the successes, violent crime and robberies have continued to rise.

Worryingly for the police, the annual recorded crime statistics also showed that 31 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales cracked fewer crimes during the year.

The detection rate includes people charged and cautioned, plus offences where the police decide not to take further action – for example, because the victim does not want to press charges. This fell from 25 per cent to 24 per cent. There were detection rates of 62 per cent for assaults, 53 per cent for sexual offences, and just 18 per cent for robberies. Part of the explanation for the decline may be that the police are now recording more minor assaults, such as pub brawls, which are given lower priority.

With property offences, 88 per cent of all recorded burglaries are going unsolved and 92 per cent of car crimes are never detected. Nine out of ten murders are solved.

Statistics published for the first time also reveal huge variations between police divisions in their success in catching criminals. For example, in Lambeth, the south London borough where a man brandishing a gun-shaped cigarette lighter was shot dead by police on Monday, the detection rate for robbery has dropped from 7 per cent to 5 per cent – the lowest in the country; violent offences being solved are down from 26 per cent to 17 per cent; and the proportion of burglaries solved has slumped from 17 per cent to 6 per cent.

Other police divisions that have experienced severe drops in detection rates include Canterbury in Kent, Worthing in Sussex and Ipswich in Suffolk, while places such as Oxford, central Wirral in Merseyside, and Dunstable in Bedfordshire have seen across-the-board rises in crime solving.

Paul Wiles, the chief criminologist at the Home Office, said detections were probably at their lowest ever "in numerical terms". He added that part of the fall was due to changes in recording practice – the police are no longer allowed to include confessions made by convicted prisoners.

The police have succeeded in reducing the number of crimes, particularly burglary and vehicle offences, but are struggling to prevent a continued rise in robberies, which went up by 13 per cent to 95,000, and offences of violence, which rose by 4.3 per cent to 733,000.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, said: "Part of this [rise in robberies] is due to a rise in mobile phone theft, which in some urban areas accounts for up to 40 per cent of all robberies. There are no quick wins on crime; it is a long-term investment. We have had real success with burglary and car crime but this was hard earned."

Recorded crime fell in 34 police forces, with Cumbria showing the largest decrease at 13 per cent, followed by South Wales at 12.5 per cent. The Metropolitan Police saw the total drop by 2.2 per cent, or 22,500 fewer crimes. Nine forces recorded rises, topped by Lancashire with an 8.1 per cent increase, followed by North Wales at 7 per cent.