Robberies rise by more than a quarter in a year

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Violent crime and street robbery are rising steeply with nearly 100,000 extra offences recorded last year, police figures show.

Violent crime and street robbery are rising steeply with nearly 100,000 extra offences recorded last year, police figures show.

The Government's law and order credentials were severely dented by the disclosure that reported assaults and other violent incidents rose by 16 per cent in England and Wales. That is the biggest annual increase recorded.

Robbery, including mugging, went up 26 per cent. Overall reported crime went up 3.8 per cent, an extra 192,096 offences, to about 5.3 million in the year ending in March, compared with the previous year.

The Home Office's annual crime figures reported successes in reducing burglary and car crimes - which make up 80 per cent of all offences - but a rising crime rate for the first time in seven years is a big blow to Labour with a general election expected next year.

The statistics also revealed huge variations between police forces, with the South and South-east bearing the brunt of the rises in lawlessness.

Crime rates for local authority areas with similar social, demographic and economic characteristics were also published for the first time, also showing big difference between the best and worst areas.

Home Office ministers yesterday blamed much of the rise in violence - most of it minor assaults - on increasing numbers of young people becoming drunk and aggressive.

They said measures, including greater use of ID cards to reduce under-age drinking, and tighter regulation ofbouncers are to be introduced to combat drunken louts. Schemes encouraging doormen to report trouble directly to police are expected to be supported. The Treasury is said to be announcing a substantial increase in police budgets to pay for more beat bobbies.

The scale of the increase in reported violence was far greater than expected. The rise of 16 per cent to 703,000 offences follows a 10 per cent fall the previous year. The number of incidents considered life-threatening increased by nearly 13 per cent to 30,000 offences. There were big rises in cases of harassment, common assault and attacks on police.

The Home Office's criminologists said some of the increase could be due to new counting methods introduced two years ago, which were still "bedding in". Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, said: "I am not in any doubt there has been an increase in violent crime full-stop, as there has been in robberies." He blamed the drinking culture and increased prosperity.

"There is more money around, there is no doubt about that," he said. "I think the fact that more young people seem to be going out drinking is reflected in the figures." Another area of concern for ministers and police chiefs is the rise in street robberies.

Greater Manchester, the Metropolitan Police area and West Midlands account for about two-thirds of the 84,000 offences, an increase of 17,000 on the previous year. Police believe the explosion in mobile phone ownership is contributing. And for the first time, racially motivated offences were recorded, showing 22,000 cases were reported, half of which involved harassment.

There were huge regional variations, with 18 of the 43 force areas recording a drop in offences. Lancashire had the best figures with nearly 8 per cent fewer. The biggest increases were the Metropolitan Police (12.6 per cent) and West Midlands (16 per cent).

The Home Office also reveals Hull has the worse rate of burglary in England and Wales; you are most likely to be a victim of violence in the City of Westminster, central London; and your car is most at risk of being stolen in Salford, GreaterManchester.

Hastings in Sussex and Caerphilly in the Gwent Police area of Wales rate among the worst for violence, burglary and theft. Cities with similar economic and demographic profiles, such as Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and Manchester were found to have wildly differing crime rates, with Sheffield safer in every category.

Mr Straw, who criticised poorly performing areas for bad management, said: "The regional variations are very striking indeed."

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman, said the overall figures were "seriously bad" and demanded more police on the street to the rise in violent and property crime.

Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Home Secretary, added: "Today's figures show crime is spiralling out of control with an appalling 190,000 more victims last year than in the previous 12 months.

"Things are getting worse, not better, under Tony Blair."