Page last updated at 15:03 GMT, Thursday, 16 July 2009 16:03 UK

Killings are lowest in 20 years

Recorded homicides in the last decade

The number of murders and manslaughters has dropped by 17% to a 20-year low of 648, the annual crime figures for England and Wales show.

There were 136 fewer killings in 2008/9 compared with a year earlier, according to the Home Office figures.

Theft-related crime has risen in the last year, with domestic burglary up by 1% and shoplifting rising by 10%.

But overall crime is down by 5% and violent crime has fallen by 6%, and gun crime has seen a 17% fall.

The number of attempted murders is also down 7%, but attempted murders with knives is up 11%.

Other violent offences were up, however, including a 5% increase in the number of women raped to 12,165.

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Police recorded 284,000 domestic burglaries - the first increase in six years.

The British Crime Survey suggests the risk of being a victim of crime has risen from 22% to 23%.

The survey, which asks a sample of adults what their experiences of crime have been, shows theft from the person - handbag snatches or pickpocketing - has seen a rise of 25%.

But BBC Home Affairs correspondent Andy Tighe said the survey showed overall crime and robbery appeared to be stable.

The annual crime figures are comprised of results from the British Crime Survey and crimes recorded by the police for the 12 months up to March 2009.

Crime reported to British Crime Survey since 1981

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the figures were "encouraging."

"But we are not complacent. As in previous years we see changing patterns of crime and we know that during economic downturns certain crimes face upward pressure, which is why we've already taken action to tackle these head-on.

"Of course statistics are only part of the picture and offer no comfort to victims which is why it is encouraging that confidence at a local level is rising with nearly half of people saying they feel the police and local agencies are dealing with antisocial behaviour and crime in their area."

Andy Tighe
Andy Tighe, BBC home affairs correspondent

For a long time burglary was the poor relation of the crime statistics - falling for years, it was regularly ignored by soundbite-hungry politicians.

Not anymore. Now we are in the midst of a recession, journalists are falling over themselves to find signs of what the Liberal Democrats today are calling "the credit crunch crimewave."

Certainly, this is the first time the annual burglary figures have gone up for several years.

However, while some parts of the UK like Cambridgeshire and North Wales have seen big rises, other areas like Cleveland and Wiltshire had similarly big falls.

Also, unpublished statistics for the first quarter of this year, with the recession in full-swing, will apparently show the burglary rates levelling out.

One complicating factor - as ever - is the extent to which people even bother to report crimes like burglary if they don't think it will make any difference.

Perversely, forces running high-profile targeted operations against burglars may, in the short-run at least, see recorded burglary levels go up as more householders think it's worthwhile contacting them.

The Conservatives said it seemed the government was trying to cover up the extent of knife crime by broadening what crimes are included in the category.

Shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, said: "It looks like the government is trying to cover up the scale of the problem we face with knife crime, little wonder given its policies have failed to get to grips with the challenge.

"Massaging the figures on knife crime twice in two years is just an insult to the families of those who have been tragically murdered in knife attacks and who are campaigning for real action to get knives off our streets."

The Liberal Democrats said the results reflected an unwillingness of people to report crimes to the police.

Shadow home secretary Chris Huhne said: "Two thirds of all crimes are not being reported. This is surely why the police were able to record a 5% drop in crime while the British Crime Survey recorded an extra half a million offences.

"It is deeply disappointing that detection rates have fallen. If we are to continue to combat crime in a recession then we need more police on the beat catching more criminals, not politicians posturing on penalties."

Home Office statistician Dr Chris Kershaw said the fall in killings was "striking" and suggested it could be attributed to improvements in medical science.

"It's certainly very striking and I don't describe it as a blip," he said.

The latest annual crime stats do not go into detailed trends on 10 categories of serious violence.

Figures for these crimes are currently being reviewed after statisticians last year feared that some police forces were miscounting offences related to grevious bodily harm.

Changes in crime 2007/08



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