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Sunday, October 11, 1998 Published at 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK


Muggings shock for England and Wales

A UK poster: The American way appears to have more success

The English and Welsh are at greater risk of becoming a victim of mugging than people living in the United States, a report has found.

Daniel Boettcher: "The Home office is looking closely at the findings"
A number of potentially violent crimes such as burglary, robbery, assault and car theft appear to be more common in Britain than America.

The US Justice Department study contradicts the commonly held view of the United States as one of the most violence countries in the world.

The report, which took more than a year to complete, found the gap narrowing between America and England even in the most serious offences of rape and murder.

[ image: A number of violent crimes are more common in England than the US]
A number of violent crimes are more common in England than the US
Home Secretary Jack Straw is said to be "shocked" by the report, while his deputy, Alun Michael, said: "We are determined to learn the right lessons from the report and reverse this trend."

But a spokeswoman for the Home Office played down the research's implications.

"We have been aware of the comparisons for a while. We believe the study is limited because it compares only two sets of figures," she said.

The figures used by the US Justice Department come from police, courts and prison service data, backed up with surveys of victims.

[ image:  ]
They were compared by British criminologist Professor David Farrington of Cambridge University and his US counterpart Patrick Langan.

Crime has fallen in recent years in the United States, and large cities such as New York have credited some of the change to "zero tolerance" policing methods.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has pledged to use the strategy which aims to clamp down on serious crime by tackling even the most minor offence.

But in recent years, crime in Britain has increasing rapidly. Robbery became 81% more common between 1981 and 1995.

Assaults and burglary both doubled over the same period, while they fell markedly in the United States.

Another factor in America's success in reducing its formerly escalating crime levels may by tough sentencing policies. The so-called "three strikes and you're out" policy means criminals convicted of a third felony receive an automatic life sentence, irrespective of the seriousness of the actual charge before the court.

The Justice Department report also found more offenders were convicted in the US and served harsher sentences.

Murder terms were on average three years longer, while those convicted of assault can expect to serve two years more than they would in England, figures which may account for the US's falling murder rate.

In 1981, an American's chance of becoming a murder victim was nine times higher than a Briton's - a figure which has now fallen two six times more likely.

The government, which blames the crime rate on the previous Conservative administration, releases the latest crime statistics for England and Wales in the coming week.

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