Knife crime hits record high in England and Wales after 7% rise in 2019

Robberies drove increase in offences last year but figures have fallen during the coronavirus lockdown

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 23 April 2020 10:42 BST
Marttin Hewitt reveals 21 per cent crime drop over the last four weeks

Knife crime hit a new record in England and Wales in 2019, official figures have revealed.

The number of offences involving knives and sharp instruments rose by 7 per cent to 45,600 in the year.

However, the true figure is likely to be significantly higher, as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) did not include Greater Manchester Police’s total because of IT issues.

“Figures for the year ending December 2019 showed a 7 per cent rise in offences involving knives or sharp instruments recorded by the police in the last year,” said a report published on Thursday.

“This was 49 per cent higher than when comparable recording began in the year ending March 2011, and the highest on record.”

Almost a third of all knife offences recorded in England and Wales were in London, and the ONS said they were “concentrated in metropolitan areas”.

In London, the number of fatal stabbings increased by 13 per cent in the year, although the figure fell by 8 per cent nationally.

The areas with the highest rate were London, West Yorkshire and the West Midlands, but while London saw a 5 per cent rise, offences in the West Midlands rocketed by 13 per cent and West Yorkshire fell by 9 per cent.

The offences included in the figures were homicide, attempted murder, threats to kill, assault with injury, assault with intent to cause serious harm, robbery, rape and sexual assault.

The ONS said an increase in robbery – which accounted for 44 per cent of knife offences – contributed to the historic rise, while assault was the largest category.

The number of possession of a bladed article offences rose by 11 per cent in the year, which the report said was influenced by increased police stop-and-search operations.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, accused the Conservative Party of “failing communities on crime”.

“This has been the inevitable consequence of huge cuts to policing and the loss of 21,000 officers, and the cuts to the key services we rely on to prevent crime, such as youth clubs, mental health support and probation,“ the Labour MP added.

“The failure on crime shows again the devastating impact of austerity and why our country can’t afford to make the same mistakes when we emerge from the coronavirus crisis.”

The record could stand for a significant length of time as 2020 crime is affected by the coronavirus lockdown

Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, called for a “more comprehensive national strategy from the government” to prevent violence.

“As the committee has warned, the police have been too heavily overstretched for some years and we need more police officers,” she added. “But we also need a comprehensive prevention programme in place with leadership from the Home Office.”

A Home Office report released last month found that budget cuts to police contributed to the rising number of murders in Britain.

Boris Johnson pledged to recruit 20,000 extra police officers in three years – fewer than those lost since 2010 – but the scheme has been hampered by the coronavirus outbreak forcing the closure of training centres.

The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said the investment would “still only bring us back to pre-2008 levels”.

“However, it will take time for the effects of this much needed investment to be felt and we can see the results in these figures,“ said its chairman, John Apter.

“It is a tragedy that knife crime continues to spiral as my colleagues are stretched to their limits, and with fewer officers on patrol it comes as no surprise that street crime such as robbery has increased.”

The knife crime record pre-dates the coronavirus lockdown, which will affect the next round of quarterly statistics covering January to March 2020.

In the month to 13 April, overall crime recorded by police across England and Wales dropped by 28 per cent compared with the same period in 2019.

Provisional data showed a 27 per cent drop in serious assaults and personal robbery, with residential burglary down 37 per cent and shoplifting halved.

In 2019, police recorded 5.8 million crimes in England and Wales in total.

The figures showed a 2 per cent increase in the number of homicides, although the figure includes the 39 Vietnamese people who were found dead in a lorry in Essex in October last year.

The separate Crime Survey of England and Wales, which records people’s personal experiences rather than what they report to police, showed a 12 per cent increase in robbery but a 7 per cent fall in burglary.

Joe Traynor, of the ONS Centre for Crime and Justice, said: “Information collected prior to the coronavirus pandemic from the Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates a fall of 5 per cent in crime for 2019. It is not possible to say whether this would have come to represent a change from the flat trend in recent years, as it is likely that the current lockdown will have an impact on the level of crime in 2020.”

The Home Office said the 5 per cent decrease in the survey figures was the “first significant fall since 2017”.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, said: “This is extremely encouraging and a positive step in the right direction, but I remain steadfast in ensuring the criminal minority do not get away with their crimes.

“I will continue to give the police the stop and search powers, funding and extra officers they need to keep our families, communities and country safe.”

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