Blair pledges policing revamp as Tories seize on violent crime rise

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Tony Blair promised "major, radical changes" to policing as new figures revealed a further sharp increase in violent crime recorded by the police. The Prime Minister also pledged fresh action to tackle an epidemic of attacks using imitation guns and knives.

The increase in violence overshadowed an overall drop in numbers of offences and brought Tory accusations that ministers were "breathtakingly complacent" on law and order. The police figures released yesterday showed 1,381,400 crimes were recorded in the final three months of last year, 5 per cent down on the same period in 2003.

But they included 295,400 violent incidents, a rise of 9 per cent, and 11,802 firearms incidents, an increase of 10 per cent. Offences involving imitation firearms leapt by 66 per cent.

The recorded crime figures uncovered a rise of 18 per cent in sexual offences, although that is likely to have been caused by extra efforts to encourage victims to come forward. Robbery fell by 6 per cent, domestic burglary by 17 per cent and vehicle thefts by 16 per cent.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "Under Labour there are a million violent crimes a year, gun crime has doubled and police clear up rates are at their lowest rates for ... 25 years."

Labour preferred to point to the separate British Crime Survey, based on interviews with the public, which suggested that violent crime and the overall crime rate had dropped last year.

The Prime Minister attributed the rises in the police figures to changes in the way violent offences are recorded, but he acknowledged that "fear of crime remains deeply felt". He said: "That's why a third-term Labour government will see major, radical changes to the way we police our streets."

He said each neighbourhood would be given its own policing team and community support officer numbers would be boosted from 4,000 to 24,000. And he said a violent crime reduction bill, to be published within weeks of an election victory, would "tackle the ownership and use of replica firearms and knives".

Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman, said: "Labour's promises ring hollow in the light of the latest violent crime figures. The binge-drinking culture is to blame, and in eight years Labour has done little about it."