Police budget cuts blamed as fatal stabbings hit highest number on record in England and Wales

'This is the true cost of austerity,' police leader says after fourth consecutive annual rise in homicide 

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 07 February 2019 14:20 GMT
Cressida Dick on London knife crime spike: 'We clearly, as a city, have a big problem'

The government has been accused of a “weak” response to rising violence after stabbings hit the highest number on record in England and Wales.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said there were 285 knife killings in the year to March 2018 – the largest figure since recording started in 1946.

The total of 726 homicides was the highest since 2008 – after the fourth consecutive annual rise – but officials said that population changes meant the murder rate had stayed level in the decade.

“The rise in homicide seen in recent years has been most pronounced in male victims and those in younger age groups,” a report said.

“As in previous years, women were far more likely than men to be killed by partners or ex-partners, and men were more likely than women to be killed by friends or acquaintances.”

Just under two-thirds of victims stabbed to death were white and a quarter were black – the highest proportion of black victims on record, the report said.

Statistics show that most of those killings happened in a public place, and black men aged between 16 and 24 being stabbed to death increased by 78 per cent.

“There are likely to be important socioeconomic factors in homicides that cannot be examined using homicide index data,” the ONS said. “There is evidence from other studies that suggests that ethnicity is just one of many factors in homicides and violent incidents in general.”

Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Committee, called the rise in fatal stabbings “shocking”.

“There is an urgent need for a more comprehensive strategy from the government to help communities and the police prevent this awful violence,” she added.

“The police are under mounting pressure, and it’s worrying that as cases of murder and manslaughter are rising, the number of suspects being charged across the board has been falling.”

Ms Cooper called for “proper leadership” from the Home Office to help police tackle violent crime, adding: “Teenagers are dying and families are being devastated by this appalling rise – yet the government’s response is far too weak.”

Diane Abbott, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said the government was “in denial” over the impact of austerity and police cuts.

Man jailed after stabbing victim in front of police officer

“Ministers are now almost completely isolated in claiming that their own policies have nothing to do with this,“ she added.

“There are many causes of rising serious crime, but government cuts have worsened them all in every area, from welfare, to schools to mental health treatment. Cuts to police funding are also a factor.”

John Apter, chair of the Police Federation, said the government should "hang their heads in shame".

“The government has a duty to protect its citizens and they are failing to do so – failing a generation," he added. “The consequences of the cuts are clear for all to see. This country is in the grip of a terrifying spiral of violent crime and the police service is struggling to cope. But we are not the only ones - all public services which have a role to play in tackling this insidious issue have been stripped to the bone. This is the true cost of austerity."

There were 12 offences of homicide per million population, with the rate double for men compared to women.

The ONS said a rise in the number of men and boys being killed “reflects the increase in serious violence in London and other cities where young adults have been disproportionately affected”.

The proportion of victims aged 25 to 34 has increased by 23 per cent, and 67 victims were children aged under 16 in the year.

The most common method of killing was a knife (285), followed by “kicking or hitting” (106) and shooting (29), while a third of suspects and victims were under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

As in previous years, the majority of suspects convicted were male, with a third aged between 16 and 24, a quarter 25 to 34 and 18 per cent 35 to 44.

All criminal offences involving knives rose by 17 per cent in the year, to almost 40,500 incidents including stabbings and robberies.

The ONS said that although the figures “reflected a real rise” in knife crime that is backed up by NHS injury data, the way police record them had also improved.

The number of knife possession crimes recorded rose by 28 per cent to the highest figure since 2009, but the ONS said it can be influenced by targeted police action like stop and search.

Research by the Crime Survey of England and Wales estimated that 7 per cent of children aged between 10 and 15 knew someone who carried a knife for their own protection.

Nick Hurd, the policing minister, said the latest figures showed knife crime was "stabilising" in London and slowing elsewhere.

“Tackling the impact of violent crime remains a government priority," he added. “We recognise that young people are most at risk of falling victim to knife crime and our Serious Violence Strategy sets out a multi-agency approach, which includes a greater focus on early intervention. We are investing a further £220m in community early intervention projects and have made clear that all public bodies need to treat serious violence as a priority and will be consulting on making it a legal duty.

“We must also provide the police with the necessary powers to tackle violent crime, that is why we have listened to their concerns about rising demand and have proposed the biggest increase in police funding since 2010. I’m confident the new settlement, which delivers up to £970m of additional public investment into policing in 2019/20, will help the police continue to recruit more officers.”

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