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Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
Drugs fuel soaring street crime
Youths gather on Bristol street
The region has seen a huge increase in street crime
The head of one the country's largest police forces says he fears a crime epidemic fuelled by crack cocaine could be about to arrive in the UK.

Steve Pilkington, Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Police, believes the country is experiencing the same problems faced by America a decade ago.

Mr Pilkington said drugs are directly responsible for soaring crime figures in Bristol - robberies have increased by 77% and burglary and car crime by 30%.

The statistics - from a report to be presented to the Avon and Somerset Police Authority - show that overall crime spiralled by almost 20% in the past year.

Criminal gangs

The report said last summer saw a "major turning point" when crime started to increase sharply following an eight-year fall in the area.

The report highlights the major contributing factor as an increase in "drug-related criminality", fuelled by heroin and cocaine supply by organised crime.

Another element was that the surge in major crime was diverting resources from smaller incidents.

Mr Pilkington said: "There was a serious suggestion that the crack cocaine problem that swept the United States would come to the UK and it didn't really come.

"I have to speculate now as to whether that problem has really reached our shores."

'Great concern'

Mr Pilkington said Bristol was not unique and three out of four police forces across the country were experiencing similar problems.

He also said the government was not doing enough to stop smugglers at the UK's ports and airports.

Chairman of the local police authority, John Christensen, said: "This is a matter of great concern. I do think it has to be blamed on drugs.

"Within central Bristol there is a big problem."

The BBC's Jon Kay
"The police agree that drugs are to blame"

Click here to go to Bristol
See also:

15 Jan 02 | Europe
'Huge rise' in violent crime
18 Dec 01 | UK Politics
UK police numbers leap
03 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Tories attack on police numbers
16 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Sharp rise in violent crime
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