Anti-knife crime campaigners protest outside Downing Street

Knife crime reaches record high as prosecutions fall to all-time low

Just over 7 per cent of crimes recorded by police in England and Wales are now prosecuted

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 23 January 2020 10:50

Knife crime has reached a new record high in England and Wales, as senior officers warn that police cannot fight an "epidemic" of violence alone.

Official figures showed a 7 per cent rise in offences involving knives or sharp instruments, including stabbings, in the year to September.

Police recorded almost 44,700 offences in England and Wales, which the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said was a new record.

The Police Federation (PF), which represents rank-and-file officers, warned that the trend would not be reversed with the extra officers and money promised by Boris Johnson.

“Society has become a more violent place and the police cannot and should not be expected to fight this crime epidemic alone," said chair John Apter. “We need more support from other areas of the public sector. This is not a simple problem to fix.”

The statistics were revealed a day after a senior Metropolitan Police officer said a "shrinkage across public services" was driving up violence.

Assistant Commissioner Mark Simmons added: “Some of the causes of violence are beyond the power of police to deal with alone. We need a whole coalition of agencies.”

Sarah Jones, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime, called the situation a “state of emergency”.

“We need to see more urgency, funding and a commitment to follow the evidence,” she added.

“I want to see the new police we were promised deployed more quickly, better support for schools and councils and a fresh approach to government spending on young people which takes into account the cost of crime if we fail to prevent it.”

Separate statistics released by the Home Office showed the proportion of all crimes resulting in a charge falling to a new low of just 7.3 per cent in the same period.

Rape prosecutions remained steady at 1.4 per cent – a rate that sparked accusations that the crime has been “decriminalised”.

The figure for all sexual offences was just 3.3 per cent, theft was 5.4 per cent and violence 7.2 per cent. The crimes most likely to be prosecuted were weapons possession (35.9 per cent) and drug offences (25 per cent).

A legal challenge has been launched against the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) over the fall in rape prosecutions, although the body has denied changing its practice.

The CPS has partly blamed the police for referring fewer cases for its consideration, while senior police officers have accused prosecutors of demanding more and more evidence from phones and digital devices.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said the fall in prosecution rates was “concerning but not surprising”.

Chief Constable Andy Cooke, said: “In the past decade, we’ve dealt with more complex crimes and increasing demand while our resources fell. Changes to crime recording mean we now record more crimes that have no realistic prospect of conviction, which also effects the statistics.”

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Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, called the figures a “damning indictment of 10 years of Tory neglect of policing and the effect of cuts”.

“It is far from clear that the government will meet its own target for recruiting extra officers,” she added.

“It is certain they will not address some of the underlying causes of crime because they don’t even intend to.

“This government cannot ensure the safety of our citizens is given the correct priority unless it changes course dramatically.”

Last month, the government announced a new royal commission on the criminal justice system that it said would deliver a “fundamental review of key issues” and “make it more efficient and effective”.

A Downing Street document made no mention of nine years of budget cuts imposed on police and the Ministry of Justice since 2010, which are now starting to be reversed.

On Wednesday, the government announced what it called the “biggest increase in funding for the police system in a decade”.

The Home Office said the amount of funding available would increase by more than £1.1bn to £15.2bn, but only if elected police and crime commissioners increase the money taken through council tax precept.

The money is to be used to recruit 6,000 of the 20,000 extra police officers promised by Boris Johnson, as well as for efforts against violence, organised crime, county lines drug gangs and online child abuse.

The PF said the “buck had been passed” to taxpayers and called for the funding formula to be changed.​

“The funding announcement was a move in the right direction, but it goes nowhere near enough on undoing the damage from the past decade of government cuts," Mr Apter added.

The year to September saw homicides fall by 6 per cent overall, while murders involving knives dropped by a fifth.


Overall knife crime varied across the country, rising by 17 per cent in the West Midlands, but only by 2 per cent in London, and falling by 8 per cent West Yorkshire, the ONS said.

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.

Helen Ross, of the ONS Centre for Crime and Justice, said there were also rises in fraud, vehicle offences and robbery, while murder and burglary fell.

“Although the number of offences involving a knife has continued to increase, there is a mixed picture across police forces and overall levels of violence remain steady,” she added.

“We have also seen the number of homicides where a knife or sharp instrument was used decrease by a fifth, driven by falls in London.”

The Barnardo’s children’s charity called for “urgent action to break the spiral of violence".

“Knife crime is a symptom of a much wider, complex problem,” said chief executive Javed Khan.

“Too many young people are suffering a ‘poverty of hope’ – facing a future with no qualifications, no job prospects, and no role models, making them vulnerable to criminal gangs who force them to deliver drugs and carry knives.”

Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Committee, called for stronger prevention work.

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

“It is extremely concerning that the number of crimes being prosecuted has fallen to a new low, especially at the same time as violent crime is going up. The public need to have confidence that the criminal justice system is finding, prosecuting and convicting criminals – so it is a serious problem that fewer crimes are being solved or dealt with.”

The policing minister, Kit Malthouse, called the figures “extremely concerning”.

“We are throwing everything we have got at this issue, recruiting 20,000 more officers and taking a smarter, more assertive approach to fighting crime,“ he added.

“We all have to work together to win this fight and we won’t stop until we do.”