Violence and sex offences mar 5% fall in crime rate

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The number of criminal offences in England and Wales has dropped again, officially figures will show today. But as Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent, writes, it is not all good news for the Government

Recorded crimes fell by about 5 per cent - 125,000 offences - in the first half of the year, it is expected to be announced today. Violent crimes, however, are believed to have risen again in England and Wales.

Offences involving violence rose by 11 per cent to 344,300 cases last year, the biggest increase for seven years. Sexual offences including rape also rose significantly. The worst areas for violent crime in 1996 were London and the South-east.

Today's police figures are expected to show that the bulk of the 5 per cent drop to about 2.4 million - the equivalent of about 4.75 million a year - are due to a reductions in property crimes, such as burglary.

The Conservative Party is bound to seize on the figures as evidence that their "prison works" anti-crime strategy is continuing to prove effective. Michael Howard, the former Home Secretary, was in charge during four of the six months covered this year. The number of crimes have now fallen for four consecutive years, although they have almost doubled since the Tories came into power in 1979.

The way in which crime statistics are collated are also about to be altered, which is bound to result in a steep increase in the total of recorded offences. Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, is expected to stress the nature of the changes today to avoid having Labour's next crime results being branded a failure.

The way the twice-yearly crime figures are published are being over-hauled in an attempt to provide a more accurate total and cut the political controversy that surrounds them. The previous system was criticised for the way a string of offences committed by an offender could end up being counted as just one crime. The new system would be broadly based on the principle of "one crime per victim".