Violent crime in UK now higher than in the US

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The Independent Online
THE HOME OFFICE is studying figures which show that violent crime has risen so dramatically that muggings are more commonplace in England than in the United States.

A 100-page study of crime in the two countries since 1981 shows that, while murder and rape are still far more prevalent in the US, the rate of more common violent offences, such as assault, robbery, burglary and motor vehicle theft, are higher in England.

The findings, released yesterday, come ahead of the announcement of annual crime statistics tomorrow, which is expected to show that, although crime as a whole is falling, violent offences are continuing to increase.

Alun Michael, a Home Office minister, has been shown a copy of the report compiled for the US Department of Justice and is said to be determined to "learn the right lessons" from its findings, and turn around the rise in violent crime.

He said yesterday that the crime figures "confirmed his worst fears", adding that there was still an "enormous amount of work to be done".

This could result in pressure to reverse recent attempts to reduce the use of custodial sentencing in the courts.

Norman Brennan, national director of the Victims of Crime Trust, claimed that the Government should no longer be allowed to "get away" with being soft on crime.

British prisons are struggling to cope with record numbers of prisoners and the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee recently called on sentencers to make greater use of alternatives to custody in order to relieve the pressure on jails.

But the Department of Justice report indicates that American successes in reducing violent crime appear to be linked to increased use of prison. It noted that sentences for murder were three years longer in America than in England and Wales, four years longer for rape, and almost three years longer for assault.

The report also criticises the role of the police in England and Wales in making too much use of cautioning, and blames the Crown Prosecution Service for not bringing sufficient prosecutions.

The Home Office said last night that it placed greater emphasis on the findings of the British Crime Survey, and its annual crime statistics, than on the American report.

But it conceded: "We have looked at this report and there are some interesting points in there which will help inform our own statisticians."

Labour may seek to use the American report to deflect criticism of the continuing rise in violent crime by showing that the phenomenon dates back to the early years of the last government.

One of the authors of the American report is David Farrington, a criminologist based at Cambridge University, who pointed out that the traditional public view of the respective rates of crime in the two countries was now based on outdated facts. "Then, America had much higher rates, whereas now, England is much higher," he said.

His co-author, Patrick Langan, a senior statistician with the Department of Justice, said the findings came as a huge surprise.