Criminal activity 'less fashionable' for young

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Crime in Britain has fallen by 10 per cent over the past two years, the Home Office said yesterday as it claimed that a "cultural change" may have made criminal activity "less fashionable" for young people.

Crime in Britain has fallen by 10 per cent over the past two years, the Home Office said yesterday as it claimed that a "cultural change" may have made criminal activity "less fashionable" for young people.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, said he believed there had been a public backlash against law breakers and that "people have become less and less tolerant of crime".

Mr Straw spoke at the publication of the British Crime Survey 2000, which showed that between 1997 and 1999 burglary had fallen by 21 per cent, vehicle-related theft by 15 per cent and crimes of violence by four per cent.

The survey confounded the idea that rural crime was on the rise. It found that the risk of crime was less in rural areas and that declines in burglary, vehicle-related thefts and violent crime between 1997 and 1999 had been particulary marked in country districts.

The most worrying findings for the Home Secretary were a 14 per cent rise in robberies and a 29 per cent rise in violence by strangers. The majority of mugging and robbery victims were 16-year-old school children, possibly attacked for their mobile telephones, training shoes or lunch money. Young people were also often the victims of the growing levels of violence by strangers, which was frequently alcohol-related.

Paul Wiles, director of research at the Home Office, said that many of the "robberies" would in the past have been written off by youngsters as "bullying". He said: "Young people now are not being prepared to accept things that in the past they might have been prepared to put up with."

The survey claimed that one of the factors for the falling crime levels, which mirror patterns in America, Canada and other European countries, was a broad change in attitude to crime among young people.

It stated: "There could be intricate cultural change, which is leading to crime simply becoming a less fashionable pursuit for high-risk age groups."

Mr Wiles said: "There seems to be a change taking place, not just in this country but in a number of other advanced industrial societies and that change clearly signals something rather broader ... if this continues there will be a significant shift in crime through a number of countries compared to what has been going on in the last century."

Mr Straw claimed that the fall in crime revealed in the survey was partly due to Home Office policies to tackle anti-social behaviour and steps taken by the Government to reduce school truancy.

But the authors of the survey, which was based on interviews with more than 19,000 people, stated that the key causes for the crime fall were the generally healthy state of the economy and the wider ownership of home and car security systems.

The British Crime Survey is based on people's actual experiences of crime rather than offences reported to the police and is believed to give a truer picture of crime than the recorded statistics.

Mr Wiles said the 10 per cent fall was compatible with the five per cent fall in police recorded offences over the same two-year period. He said police figures had not fallen so sharply because officers now recorded a greater proportion of offences reported to them by the public.

The survey estimated that 14.7 million crimes had taken place in Britain last year, more than four and a half times the police recorded figure.

People had a 30 per cent chance of falling victim to some form of crime in 1999 compared to 34 per cent two years before. The average chance of experiencing violence was 4.2 per cent, rising to 20.1 per cent for young men aged between 16 and 24. In rural areas, the risk of violence was 2.7 per cent.

Despite the drop in offences, public fear of crime remains high. Two out of three people believed crime was rising and one-third thought it had "increased a lot" between 1997 and 1999.

Mr Straw yesterday hailed the survey's findings of a fall in crime as "good news" but said he was not complacent about a downward trend. The statistics provided a fillip for the Government after the release in July of police-recorded crime figures showing a rise in offences of nearly four per cent in the year ending in March 2000.