The authoritative British Crime Survey estimated that 15 million offences were committed in 1991 - or one crime every two seconds. Police statistics, however, state that 5 million offences were recorded by officers in 1991.
Yesterday a new batch of police crime figures was released for the year ending June 1992. It showed recorded crime up by 11 per cent to 5.5 million offences. Violent crime reported to the police increased by 9 per cent to 279,000 and the number of robberies jumped by 24 per cent.
Car crime, on the other hand, rose by 7 per cent, compared with a 23 per cent rise a year ago. Ninety-four per cent of all the crimes recorded by police were offences against property.
But policy makers and senior officers will be more concerned with the findings of the fourth British Crime Survey which, the Home Office said, 'provides a better guide to the extent of crime'. It was based on interviews with a representative sample of 10,000 people about their experience of crime in 1991.
The gulf between its conclusions and the police figures comes because the majority of petty thefts from cars and acts of vandalism are not reported. Victims either thought the crime was too trivial or believed there was no point reporting even violent attacks as the police could do nothing. Nevertheless, the reporting rate last year was the highest since the survey began in 1982. The spread of insurance and telephone ownership partially explained the growing willingness to tell the police about crime.
The survey contained a mixed message for ministers. On the one hand, it showed the enormous extent of crime in Britain. On the other, it said the estimated 'real' rate of increase in crime was lower than the police figures stated.
The number of crimes recorded by the police doubled between 1981 and 1991. In contrast, the survey found that crime had risen by just 50 per cent during the same period. However, both the survey and the police agreed that burglaries and thefts from cars had increased by 100 per cent since 1981.
The survey shows that the chance of becoming a victim of crime was highest for the residents of poor council estates or mixed income neighbourhoods in the inner-cities. On a poor council estate the risk of burglary is 2.8 times the national average.
Michael Jack, the Home Office minister responsible for crime policy, said he was 'encouraged' by both the survey and the police crime figures for the year ending in June. He emphasised that on the police figures the annual increase in crime had slowed from 18 per cent to 11 per cent a year.
He added: 'It is also reassuring that our in-depth look at crime through the British Crime Survey has shown that over the Eighties the increase in crime is less than the recorded crime statistics would suggest.'
But Tony Blair, Labour's Home Affair's spokesmen, called the figures 'appalling'. Even on the police statistics a crime was being committed every six seconds of every day. 'It will be no comfort to the millions suffering from crime to know that the annual rise is 11 per cent and not 15 per cent. Only a government that had given up on the battle against crime can count this a success.'
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