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Shock as crime rates fall to their lowest level in 30 years

Crime in England and Wales has fallen to its lowest level in nearly 30 years according to new figures, confounding fears that the recession would lead to an increase in offending.

The number of crimes committed in 2009/10 was 9.6 million, according to the British Crime Survey. It is a drop of 9 per cent on the previous year's figures of 10.5 million and the lowest level since 1981.

Almost every category of crime fell, including acquisitive crimes such as burglary and theft. It had been feared that such crimes would rise due to the economic downturn. Violent crime fell 1 per cent year-on-year while vandalism fell by 11 per cent. Only robbery and street muggings increased.

The figures make particularly good reading for Labour, as they paint an impressive picture of the party's record on crime during its 13 years in power.

Since 1997, overall crime has fallen from 16.7 million offences a year to the 9.6 million figure announced yesterday. It is a drop of 43 per cent and is the first time the total number of crimes yearly has fallen below 10 million.

But Downing Street said yesterday that the figures are still too high. A spokesman for the Prime Minister, David Cameron, pointed out that 9.6 million equated to 26,000 crimes a day. Asked if he would congratulate Labour on the figures, he said: "They are clearly down, but they are still too high."

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, said the figures offer only a "partial picture" and warned that a review of how offences are recorded and presented is in the offing.

Mrs May said: "There are many offences, including anti-social behaviour, which are not always reported or fully recorded, but which ruin too many lives. No society should accept a situation where at least 26,000 people a day fall victim to crime. We are determined to restore trust in crime statistics and are currently considering how they should be collected and published in future. We are working with the UK Statistics Authority and others."

The Shadow Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, MP, responded by saying: "These figures again demonstrate how impressively the police and other agencies tackled crime under Labour.

"But rather than congratulating everyone who has worked so hard to make our country safer, we now have the bizarre spectacle of Tory ministers trashing the official figures, which show undeniably that crime has fallen."

The British Crime Survey is a questionnaire completed by 45,000 people. It is considered more accurate than police recorded crime figures, since not all crime is reported. But the recorded crime figures released by the Home Office showed that the number of crimes reported to police forces across England and Wales has also fallen, by 8 per cent in 2009/10 compared to 2008/09. The number of homicides – which includes murder and manslaughter – was 615 in 2009/10, a drop of 6 per cent on the previous year's figure of 657. Recorded violent offences fell 4 per cent, from 903,447 to 871,712.

Amid the good news, there were some concerning figures, most notably that sex offences continue to rise. There was a 7 per cent increase in the number of recorded serious sex offences. And there was a 15 per cent increase in the number of women who reported being raped, nearly 14,000 in 2009/10.

Chief Constable Keith Bristow, the Association of Chief Police Officers' spokesman on crime, said: "We have been particularly focused on our response to sex offences and we are encouraged by the increased reporting of these serious offences."

Meanwhile, the number of crimes solved by police fell for every key offence group in 2009/10.