Recorded crimes rise by 500,000 in a year

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The Independent Online

THE NUMBER of recorded crimes in England and Wales rose by more than 500,000 in the past year, under a more accurate counting system published yesterday.

THE NUMBER of recorded crimes in England and Wales rose by more than 500,000 in the past year, under a more accurate counting system published yesterday.

The figures reveal evidence of widespread "low-level" violence, with an extra 150,000 victims of assault being recorded and 80,000 people who have suffered harassment, including stalking and racial intimidation.

But despite a 12 per cent rise in recorded crime in the year to March 1999, the underlying trend is still downward. Under the previous method of counting, the number of crimes in fact dropped by 1.4 per cent compared with the previous year - the sixth consecutive annual decline.

The confusion follows the Home Office's decision to adopt a system of counting crimes, which includes offences, such as common assault, drug possession, and neglect of children, that were previously excluded from the official statistics.

The figures, published yesterday, show 5,109,104 offences were logged, based on the new rules. Records based on the old rules, published side-by-side to allow comparisons with last year's statistics, show 4,481,817 crimes, down on last year's 4,545,337.

The new system gives a truer picture of crime in England and Wales. It reveals that 150,000 assaults - often involving fights in pubs and clubs - and 80,000 cases of harassment, that include nuisance neighbours, were recorded in the past year. Other offences included in the statistics for the first time include 2,300 cases of cruelty to, or neglect of, children; 21,510 assaults on police officers; 112,000 people caught in possession of controlled drugs; 3,325 offences involving firearms; 10,327 indecent exposures; and 4,589 dangerous driving cases.

The new system also counts the individual victims rather than the crimes, so that if a thief breaks into seven vehicles in a car-park, it is recorded as seven offences rather than one. The Home Office had anticipated a large increase in the total number of recorded offences using the new system. The figures based on the old system published yesterday provided some good news for the Government. Serious violent crime declined for the first time ever, dropping by 6 per cent. Vehicle crime was down by 2 per cent and domestic burglary by 6 per cent. Overall, 29 of the 43 police forces recorded a drop in crime. Sexual offences, however, rose by 2 per cent, including a 9 per cent rise in rapes of females, up to 7,132 cases, and a 34 per cent hike in male rapes to 504 attacks.

Tony Blair said yesterday: "There is no point in trying to pull the wool over people's eyes and pretend the situation is better than it is. Yes, there are good things happening, yes, the trend is down, but there is still a huge amount of crime and we are all very aware of that."

The Prime Minister spoke after meeting 12 chief constables to discuss anti-crime strategies. Among the schemes the police chiefs are examining is a system to install microchips into electronic consumer goods that would include details of the owner and retailer.

The figures revealed for the first time a crime-rate "league table" for the 43 forces in England and Wales. The highest recorded crime rate per 100,000 residents was in Humberside with 14,800 offences; the lowest was in Dyfed-Powys (5,100). The biggest decrease in crime - 10 per cent - was in Lancashire. The largest increase - 17.5 per cent - was in the City of London.

David Lidington, the Tory home affairs spokesman, said the figures showed the fall in crime was "grinding to a halt".