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Sunday, 25 June, 2000, 12:09 GMT 13:09 UK
Violent crime figures 'set to soar'
Sir David Frost (L) and Jack Straw (R)
Drink often to blame, Mr Straw told Breakfast with Frost
A sharp increase in violent crime in England and Wales is to be disclosed in a new set of statistics, it has emerged.

Next month's Home Office crime figures for the 12 months to the end of March are expected to show an average 19% increase in violent crime, including assaults and robberies.

In London robberies, including muggings, are believed to have shot up by 38%.

According to The Sunday Times, which collated statistics from 21 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, the overall increase in recorded offences of all types will be about 3.8%.

If those increases are reflected in the official statistics, they will be a major embarrassment to New Labour, which has pledged to be tough on crime and tough on its causes.

The Home Office said it could not comment on the figures, which have yet to be published officially.

Ann Widdecombe
Ann Widdecombe: Attacked "pathetic" record
But, appearing on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme, Mr Straw acknowledged the trend on violent crime was upwards.

"We have a general problem of drink-related violence in our society, particularly amongst younger men, which we have got to deal with, and it's one of the reasons why the violent crime figures are going up," he said.

"We have also, in some of the main cities, got problems of street crime, and for dealing with that we have put money into those police forces, to give them quite a lot of money, 20m, to be able to target the robbers."

Getting tough

Mr Straw said he also wanted to see tough sentences for those convicted of robbery and urged police forces and local authorities to make greater use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders.

An increase in police officer numbers would also help, said Mr Straw, adding that the government was "putting additional cash into the police to get their numbers to go back after seven years of decline".

Reacting to news of the increases, shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe accused Mr Straw of a "pathetic" performance on combating crime.

"It isn't surprising there are rises in crime when police numbers have fallen sharply, when violent prisoners are being let out before their due release date and when the automatic life sentence is accompanied by low tariffs," said Ms Widdecombe.

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