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Risk of becoming victim of crime at 27-year low

The risk of becoming a crime victim is now at its lowest for more than 25 years following a sharp fall in the number of offences reported to police.

But a 9 per cent drop in the overall crime rate was marred by a 21 per cent rise in drug offences and a 4 per cent increase in gun crime.

Just days after Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, admitted she would not walk alone in London at night, ministers will be keen to point to an 8 per cent fall in violent attacks.

The continuing fall in the crime rate was revealed in the number of offences reported to police and in the British Crime Survey (BCS), which is based on interviews with the public.

Crime levels have been dropping since the mid-1990s, but there are signs that the fall is again gathering pace. The Home Office said the chance of a member of the public suffering any crime in a year was now 23 per cent, the lowest on record since the BCS was launched in 1981.

Police in England and Wales dealt with 1,240,800 offences in July to September last year, a fall of 9 per cent on the 1,359,100 reported to officers in the same period in 2006.

They included 253,100 violent attacks (down 8 per cent), 20,000 robberies (down 17 per cent) and 14,400 sexual offences (down 9 per cent). Police investigated 67,000 burglaries (down 8 per cent), 163,800 cases of car crime (down 12 per cent), 288,200 thefts (down 6 per cent) and 250,100 offences of criminal damage (down 11 per cent).

On the downside, police recorded 55,700 drug offences, a huge increase of 21 per cent. The Home Office said the rise coincided with the reclassification of cannabis from a class B to class C substance, which allowed officers to issue on-the-spot cautions instead of prosecuting offenders.

Separate figures showed that police recorded 10,182 firearms offences for the year ending in September, an increase of 4 per cent on the previous 12 months. But the rise mainly involved incidents in which no one was injured, or in which a gun was used simply to threaten.

The number of deaths from gunshot wounds fell from 55 to 49, and the number of serious injuries dropped from 438 to 368.

According to BCS calculations, 10,736,000 crimes were committed in Britain in the 12 months between October 2006 and September 2007. That is a 4 per cent fall overall and includes a drop of 2 per cent in violent attacks, of 4 per cent in car crime and of 4 per cent in vandalism, but a 5 per cent rise in burglary.

Ms Smith said: "These latest crime figures contain some excellent results and I am particularly pleased that the risk of being a victim of crime is now at a historically low level. Police- recorded violence against the person, robbery and burglary have fallen considerably compared with the same period [July to September] a year ago."

But David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, accused the Government of failing to get to grips with drug-fuelled crime. He said: "Drugs wreck lives, destroy communities and are a major symptom of our broken society. The Government's complacency shows they are part of the problem, not the solution."

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "Police should be devoting more time to stop-and-searches for knives and guns, and the Government needs to clamp down with a major new effort to stop gun smuggling.

"Nine times more officials are allocated to tackling cigarette smuggling than gun smuggling, which is a crazy set of priorities."