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Wednesday, October 14, 1998 Published at 09:25 GMT 10:25 UK


Turning the corner on crime

BBC Home Affairs Correspondent Jane Peel reports

Crime in England and Wales has fallen, according to two sets of figures published by the Home Office.

The BBC's Jane Peel: "Crime in England and Wales is still 50% higher than 10 years ago"
The number of offences recorded by the police between April 1997 and March 1998 - known as 'Notifiable Offences' - has dropped by 8%.

Domestic burlgary fell by 14% and vehicle theft is down 12%. But violent offences are up by 1%.

The British Crime Survey (BCS), a study of 15,000 people over the age of 16 and their personal experience of crime during 1997, shows an overall fall in crime of 14% - the first drop since the survey began in 1981.

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Burglaries went down by 7% and violent offences by 17%. But thefts of vehicles, which are to be targeted by the government as a priority, have been cut by as much as a quarter.

The most dramatic fall in crime between 1995 and 1997 was in car crime, according to the BCS. Thefts of vehicles fell by a quarter.

Better car security and expansion of closed circuit cameras in car parks are thought to be partly responsible. Some police forces have also given priority to targeting car thieves and crime hotspots.

Ironically, this unprecedented fall comes just as the government and the police start a national crackdown on vehicle crime with the aim of reducing it by 30% in the next five years.

Ministers say the situation might be improving, but car crime still costs the country around £3bn a year, and Britain has one of the worst records in Europe.

Two surveys, one picture

Although the two sets of figures cannot be directly compared, taken together they provide a picture of crime in England and Wales.

The recorded crime figures cover only those offences both reported to the police and recorded by them.

The British Crime Survey is widely seen as providing a more reliable indication of the true extent of crime, as it is based on the experience of victims.

Even so, it does not cover all crimes. It excludes offences against those under 16, fraud, and victimless crimes such as drug or alcohol misuse.

The survey estimates that there were more than 16m crimes against adults. Most of them - just over 10m - involved some type of theft.

Just over 3m were offences of violence, although the majority of these resulted in minor injuries.

The BCS also gives a breakdown of those most at risk of crime. These are:

  • Young people

  • The unemployed

  • Single parents

  • Those living in private rented accommodation, inner cities and problem areas

The rise in crime throughout the 1980s and the early 1990s would seem to have been reversed.

But it is dangerous to assume the crime problem has been cracked.

There are so many different factors that affect crime levels that increases in the future cannot be ruled out.

And while any falls are likely to be widely welcomed, the statistics show that crime has, nevertheless, gone up by almost 50% in the past 16 years.

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