The number of armed burglaries has risen to record levels, new crime figures show.
Latest statistics from the Home Office reveal 645 cases of burglars using a firearm in the year ending April 2006, a 46 per cent rise on the previous year.
The figures were published in the British Crime Survey, an annual assessment of households that is considered the most accurate indicator of crime as it includes incidents not reported to the police.
It showed overall, guns were used in 4,120 robberies in England and Wales in the year ending April 2006 - a 10 per cent increase on the previous 12 months.
The total number of crimes involving a firearm - 11,084 - had not risen significantly from the previous year. But in a fifth of the crimes the victim was injured and just under 3 per cent resulted in a serious injury or death.
The Home Office minister Tony McNulty stressed that the rise in residential armed robberies represented a "tiny proportion" - 0.4 per cent - of the 11 million crimes recorded during that period. He said that since the figures were collected the Government had toughened its stance on gun crime and now had "some of the toughest firearm legislation in Europe".
Mr McNulty pointed to separate figures also released yesterday by the Home Office on crimes recorded by the police during the four months leading up to September last year, which showed a 3 per cent reduction in crime overall.
The number of armed burglaries increased by 204 from 2006 and were four times the level recorded in 2000-01. And the number of times a firearm was used in a street robbery increased by 9 per cent, with 1,439 cases reported last year.
Findings from the survey dealt a blow to the Government's campaign against antisocial behaviour, with people questioned saying they are becoming more worried about the problem in four out of seven categories used to measure results. The total number of crimes - 11,138,000 - marked a 4 per cent increase from the results of the previous year's crime survey.
Violent crime rose by 2 per cent to 2.4 million, although within that total, incidents which involved injuries fell, by 9 per cent.
Domestic burglary reported to the survey fell by 4 per cent, to 709,000 and also dropped by 3 per cent in recorded crime figures.
The shadow Home Secretary David Davis said gun crime was rooted in "gang warfare and drug addiction", and the increase demonstrated the Government's "failing drugs policy." He said: "Labour is losing control of gun crime across the board, whether it be on the street or in innocent people's homes."