Violent crime down but credit fraud is soaring

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The number of muggings and burglaries could soon start to rise again because of the economic downturn, the Home Office warned yesterday as it trumpeted sharp falls in overall crime rates. It also said credit card fraud is increasing rapidly as criminal gangs exploit the boom in internet shopping to produce cloned cards.

The first official police figures on knife crime disclosed that more than 22,000 attacks with blades were carried out last year, although separate statistics yesterday suggested the actual figure could be almost 130,000.

The British Crime Survey (BCS) said the overall numbers of offences – including those not reported to police – fell by 10 per cent from 11.3 million to 10.1 million over the past year, while violent crime dropped by 12 per cent. The risk of being a crime victim is now at its lowest since 1981, when the survey began. The numbers of crimes recorded by police was down by 9 per cent to nearly five million.

Most categories of offence were down over the past 12 months and the Home Office said reductions of two-thirds in burglary and car theft since 1995 were "by far the biggest falls in living memory".

But Paul Wiles, the department's chief scientific adviser, warned that the credit crunch and rising prices could result in increases in burglaries and street crime, as happened during the previous recession in the early 1990s. He said: "If you get any economic downturn, property crime tends to go up."

Professor Wiles added that the impact would "depend on the nature and extent of the downturn that would put upward pressure on property crime".

The changing patterns of crime in the internet age were underlined by statistics from the British card payments association Apacs, which revealed that £535m was lost to credit card fraud in 2007, an increase of 25 per cent in a year.

More than £290m was stolen when shoppers fell victim to online and telephone fraudsters, while £144m was lost by people whose credit cards were cloned by criminal gangs at home and abroad. There were 2.7 million fraudulent credit card transactions last year, a rise of 400,000.

The first police figures on knife attacks revealed that 22,151 offences of grievous bodily harm, attempted murder, woundings and robbery using blades were recorded in England and Wales in 2007-08.

More than one-third – 7,428 – were recorded in Greater London, followed by 2,303 in the West Midlands and 2,294 in Greater Manchester.

But the BCS, which is based on interviews with 45,000 members of the public, concluded that almost 130,000 knife crimes took place last year, a figure that does not include under-16s, who are not surveyed by the BCS. That is equivalent to 350 attacks in Britain every day.

A total of 784 homicides were recorded last year, a rise from 759 in 2006-07, and the number of firearms offences recorded by police increased by 2 per cent to 9,803, according to the BCS.

Fears of a growth in gang activity was underlined by the disclosure that a quarter of all violent crimes is committed by four or more assailants.

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, said she was delighted by the statistics, which showed that overall crime figures had fallen by 18 per cent since 2003 – beyond its target of 15 per cent.

But Dominic Grieve, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "The fact that violent crime has risen by 80 per cent under Labour and the scale of knife crime on our streets, officially recorded for the first time, is a shocking indictment of Labour's failure to tackle crime and its causes."

The figures came as the Home Office published plans to reform the police to make officers much more accountable to communities. Central government targets will be scrapped and elected politicians given a bigger role in local police boards.