Muggings increase by one-third in London

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The Independent Online

Fears of a growing national crime wave were heightened yesterday when the Metropolitan Police revealed a 12.5 per cent rise in the number of offences in the capital.

Scotland Yard recorded huge increases in street muggings, murder, violence and rape. The figures came as Home Office criminologists warned that Britain may be about to suffer a widespread outbreak of lawlessness.

If the Met's figures are mirrored nationally, they would prove extremely damaging to the Government, as law and order has become a general election issue. The Met is by far the country's biggest police force and accounts for about one-fifth of all crimes in England and Wales. Reported crime rose by 2 per cent in England and Wales in the year up to September 1999.

Overall, crime rose in London by 118,000 offences in the 12 months up to April compared with the same period the previous year. Among the biggest increases were 36 per cent more muggings and street crimes, 19 per cent more crimes of violence, and 13.5 per cent more sexual offences. Murders went up from 141 to 180 - one of the highest annual totals seen in the capital.

Turning the figures around will be a Herculean task for Sir John Stevens, who took up his post as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in February.

One of the biggest problems facing the Met is the growing number of street muggings, which has gone from 31,706 to 43,193. In some boroughs, the total of street crimes has risen by 60 per cent.

The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file members, has argued that the increase is partly caused by officers being unwilling to carry out stop and searches because of fears of being accused of racism. But Andy Trotter, the Deputy Assistant Commissioner, blamed a large proportion of the extra offences on schoolchildren stealing fellow pupils' mobile phones.

"There's been a dramatic rise in street crime," Mr Trotter said. "There's been a change in offender behaviour, particularly among young men aged from 12 to 18 against other young men at school. They often steal mobile phones from each other."

The Met is launching a new anti-mugging campaign later this month that will include greater use of specialist units to target repeat offenders.

Drug-related shootings between rival black gangs have been blamed for much of the 30 per cent rise in murders.

A big jump in cases of harassment, including stalking and telephone pests, has accounted for some of the extra cases of violence, but does not explain why the total has shot up by 25,000. The number of rapes rose by 14 per cent to 9,189, many of which, the police believe, are due to increased confidence in reporting sexual offences, particularly domestic ones, to the authorities.

Burglaries have gone up 4 per cent to more than 129,000, although the past two years have seen the lowest number of break-ins in London for 20 years. Car crime rose by 7 per cent to nearly 180,000 offences and fraud and forgery went up by 30 per cent to 151,590 reported incidents.

Offences of trafficking and possession of drugs declined by 18 per cent, but that is considered a bad result because all the national indicators show that more drugs than ever are now available on the streets.