Police chiefs accuse Conservatives of exploiting crime fears in advert

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The Conservatives faced embarrassment last night after police chiefs accused them of exploiting the fear of crime in a series of pre-election advertisements.

The Conservatives faced embarrassment last night after police chiefs accused them of exploiting the fear of crime in a series of pre-election advertisements.

The row overshadowed an attempt by Michael Howard, the Tory leader, to switch the political focus on to combating Britain's "thriving yob culture".

It was provoked by newspaper adverts suggesting steep rises in recorded crime since Labour came to power in 1997. Richard Brunstrom, the chief constable of North Wales, told Channel 4 News yesterday: "This misleading advert quite improperly seeks to stir up fear of rising crime when it is a well established fact that crime has been falling for years, both locally and nationally. I am disappointed in the extreme that it has appeared in the press in a very marginal constituency in the run-up to a general election."

The programme claimed that at least six chief constables privately shared his views. They were said to have protested that the figures were accurate, but misleading because of changes to the way crime statistics are compiled.

The Association of Chief Police Officers said last night: "If we wanted to increase fear of crime, the select use of statistics can help in doing that."

Liam Fox, the joint Tory chairman, said: "We won't be making any apologies for raising crime as an issue at this election. It's very important we are not dictated to by politicians, commentators, professional groups or anyone else."

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, said: "Statistics can always be used and misrepresented. That is quite true. But what the chief constables are calling for is a fair and balanced debate on crime, based on the actual facts, not based on manufactured facts."

Earlier, Mr Howard, keen to move on from the controversy over Howard Flight's sacking, set out a five point-plan he promised would put fear into the hearts of the tearaways who made a misery of the lives of "decent law-abiding citizens".

He said Tony Blair had "lost the plot" on crime and lacked the political will to get tough on the thuggery and vandalism blighting many communities.

The Tories would recruit 5,000 extra police a year, scrap Whitehall targets for police, publish weekly crime statistics for each community and hold elections for local "police commissioners".

And "politically correct" rules requiring police to take a written note every time they stop a suspected troublemaker would be scrapped.

Mr Howard said: "What signal does that send to the yobs terrorising our local communities? It's quite clear to them whose side the law is on.

He added: "I want policemen and women to have the confidence to eyeball these characters, to invade their personal body space, just like they're invading ours - to confront and challenge their unacceptable behaviour.

"Police muscle-power will go behind the public's priorities - tackling crime and disorder, vandalism, rowdiness, thuggery."

He promised further policy announcements, designed to "make yobs afraid of the police again", during the run-up to the election expected on 5 May.

The Tory leader painted a picture of a nation where decent citizens were "regularly intimidated by yobs on their streets and in their town centres.

"In today's Britain, no one seems prepared to take a stand - to hold these arrogant young yobs to account for their appalling behaviour."

The Tory plan for publishing weekly crime statistics is based on the "Compstat" method pioneered in New York and since adopted in other US cities.

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