Labour admits it is failing on key crime target

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Labour is failing to meet its election promise to prosecute and convict more criminals, ministers have admitted in a report that candidly sets out the Government's record on fighting crime.

Labour is failing to meet its election promise to prosecute and convict more criminals, ministers have admitted in a report that candidly sets out the Government's record on fighting crime.

The document, signed by the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor, concludes that there must be "significant" improvements if Labour is to reach its 2001 manifesto target of solving 100,000 more crimes each year. Instead of more criminals being brought to justice, the number of prosecutions has fallen by 80,000 in the past year, the report reveals.

The new figures will add to the growing concern that Labour is losing the war against crime. Oliver Letwin, the shadow Home Secretary, described the findings as "part of a pattern" of failure.

He said: "Far from crime on our streets being brought under control, what we have seen is the worsening of an already bad situation."

Simon Hughes, home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: "One of the key government pledges of the last two elections was to be 'tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime'. In the first Parliament, police numbers went down and now, in the second Parliament, the target for increasing offences brought to justice is not being met."

The falling prosecution rates will be of particular concern when contrasted with new police figures published last week, which show that there have been more street crimes in the first 10 months of this financial year than in the whole of the previous year. Figures for last month take the year's total so far to 57,680, overtaking the 50,607 for 2000-01, which was itself a record.

In its 2001 manifesto, Labour set itself the "short-term target of 100,000 more crimes ending in a criminal brought to justice".

But because last year prosecutions fell to 1.02 million from 1.1 million in 1999-2000, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service now have the bigger target of resolving 180,000 more crimes by 2004.

In the Government's criminal justice business plan published this week, the ministers say: "It is vital that the criminal justice system becomes better at resolving crime. We need to ensure that more crimes are detected and that more crimes are properly resolved with an offender brought to justice."

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor, and Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, say: "Our top system-wide priority is therefore to increase the number of offences for which offenders, and particularly persistent offenders, are caught and brought to justice."

Yesterday a spokeswoman for the Home Office said that while the figures were "not good", the Government expected to meet its target.

She said that recent initiatives, including the recruitment of 9,000 more police officers and an expansion of the DNA database was "just beginning to have an impact" on the figures.

In December, Mr Blunkett accused the police of failing the public with "appallingly low" detection and conviction rates which were demoralising for the police andtotally bewildering for the public.

* Non-violent inmates serving short sentences may be released early as the prison system struggles to cope with a surge in numbers in recent weeks. The option is one of several under consideration by ministers as the prison population nears 70,000 at the 137 jails of England and Wales.

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