Crime to rise by a third during next two years

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The Independent Online

Britain is on the brink of a crime boom, with the number of burglaries and thefts expected to rise by nearly one third, or 900,000 offences, in the next two years, according to Home Office projections published yesterday.

Britain is on the brink of a crime boom, with the number of burglaries and thefts expected to rise by nearly one third, or 900,000 offences, in the next two years, according to Home Office projections published yesterday.

An increase in the number of young men and a growth in the amount of stealable goods are being blamed for the predicted rise in lawlessness. Jack Straw yesterday announced a series of measures, including setting police tough targets to reduce the number of muggings, house break-ins, and car crimes, to tackle the problem.

The Home Secretary said that unless effective anti-crime measures were introduced, theft in England and Wales would rise by 40 per cent by 2001 and burglary by 25 per cent. A huge rise in crime in the run up to the next general election would be disastrous for Labour. The Home Office model for England and Wales published yesterday suggested that theft was likely to rise by about 30 per cent - or 650,000 offences - by the end of 2001 to 2,820,000, although the rise could be as much as 40 per cent.

About half of these crimes involve breaking into, or stealing, vehicles. Burglary is likely to rise by around 26 per cent, or 250,000 offences, to 1,420,000 the model says. Property crime makes up about 60 per cent of all crime.

Statisticians stressed that the figures were based on a projection of what would happen if current demographic and economic trends continued and took no account of the effects of crime reduction initiatives. They predicted that, at best, property crime would rise by 17 per cent by the end of 2001.

"The numbers of recorded burglaries and thefts are projected to increase substantially in the next three years," said the study "Modelling and Predicting Property Crime in England and Wales".

The predicted crime rise is fuelled by long term economic growth which results in more property being available to steal. Researchers said there had been a 60 per cent increase in the amount of consumer goods since 1981. A growth in the number of young men is also seen as heralding more burglaries and theft - the crime that is most often committed by men aged 17 to 20 .

Home Office criminologists estimate that a one per cent rise in the number of young men will lead to a one per cent rise in the number of burglaries and thefts. The young male population will rise by about four per cent from 1998 to 2001.

The Home Office officials said the model was not fool-proof and had over-estimated the problem in the past.

Announcing a national crime strategy in the House of Commons yesterday, Mr Straw said the research revealed the "scale of the challenge we face". He said: "I want to emphasise that the projections are not forecasts of what we as a Government believe will or should happen." Among the new measures announced are five year targets to bring down vehicle crime by 30 per cent, burglary by 20 per cent and street robbery by 50 per cent.

But David Lidington, a Tory spokesman on Home Affairs, said: "It's a smoke-screen. What Jack Straw is trying to do is soften people up for the next set of crime figures that will show a sharp rise in crime. He will probably claim that the rise is less than that predicted by the Home Office economists and will be trumpeted as a success. It a cop-out."

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