Violent crime up by 14%

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The Independent Online

Violent crime soared by 14% during the third quarter of 2003 compared with the same period the previous year, according to figures published today.

Offences of violence against the person in July to September rose 17% period-on-period.

This figure included an 18% rise in more serious violence such as homicide and serious wounding, while sexual offences also rose 8%.

But results from interviewees in the British Crime Survey suggested violent crime fell 3% overall in the 12 months to September.The Home Office suggested that the rise in violent crime was partly due to the continuing impact of changes in the way police record offences.

Criminal damage also increased by 7% under recorded crime data.

There were 11,800 offences of serious violence in the period, up from 10,000.

Less serious violence - such as minor woundings, harassment, common assault and possession of weapons - rose from 203,800 offences to 238,000.

Recorded robberies fell by 2% compared with the same quarter in 2002, recorded house burglaries fell by 3% and thefts from vehicles fell 8%.

Overall, recorded crime levels were stable, said Home Office statisticians.

Final gun crime figures published today - after initial publication of headline data last year - showed a huge rise in the use of replica weapons.

The figures for 2002-03 showed:

* Imitation firearms were used in 1,815 recorded crimes - a jump of 46% year-on-year.

* The overall number of firearm offences increased by 2% to 10,248 incidents, compared with a 34% rise in 2001-02.

* Offences involving firearms, including air weapons, accounted for 0.41% of all crime.

* The number of firearm robberies decreased by 13% between 2001-02 and 2002-03, and the use of handguns to commit a crime decreased by 6% or 5,549 offences.

* There were 81 homicides involving firearms in the year compared to 97 the year before - a reduction of 16%.

The Home Office announced that from today offenders in possession of an illegal firearm would receive a mandatory five-year prison sentence.

A Home Office spokesman pointed out that about two-thirds of recorded violent crimes involved no serious physical injury to the victim.

The British Crime Survey showed the risk of being a victim of crime remained historically low at 27% - about the same level as 1981.

Data showed homicides rose by 21% to 1,045 in 2002-03 but this included 172 victims of killer doctor Harold Shipman. The rise excluding Shipman's victims was 1%.

Home Office minister Hazel Blears said: "It is important to put the increases in police recording of violent crime into context.

"Better police crime recording policies mean that local forces now have a clearer picture of crime in their area and that anti-social behaviour and low level thuggery, which are included in the violent crime figures, are more accurately recorded.

"We are also encouraging victims to report crimes, especially violent and sexual offences, and we would expect to see a rise in these figures."

She went on: "We are also making significant progress in the fight against gun crime and the rate of increase has slowed considerably.

"The five-year mandatory sentence for possession of a firearm and the new offences of possession of an air weapon or imitation firearm in a public place, as well as the ban on high-powered air cartridge weapons, will deter offenders and punish the perpetrators.

"We are determined to drive down gun crime and this sends out a tough message that anyone flouting our gun laws will face a lengthy time in prison."The minister added: "Crime overall is stable and I am pleased that volume crimes such as burglary, robbery and vehicle crime, are continuing to fall significantly.

The National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS) was introduced formally in all police forces in April 2002.

It led to increases in some of the figures because police had to include in their figures crimes which had previously gone unrecorded.