Gun crime has risen dramatically across the eastern England, new Home Office figures have revealed.
Gun crime has risen dramatically in the East
In 2003 there were 601 gun related crimes across Essex, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.
This is compared with 2002 when there were only 394 gun crimes.
But some police forces have stressed that the 52% increase may be partly due to changing the way in which gun crime statistics are recorded.
The figures show the biggest increases were recorded in Hertfordshire and Northamptonshire where gun crime has doubled.
East Gun crime 2003 (% increase on 2002) Source: Home Office
Essex 148 (+50%)
Hertfordshire 139 (+101%)
Northamptonshire 107 (+95%)
Bedfordshire 86 (+5%)
Cambridgeshire 57 (+12%)
Norfolk 36 (+38%)
Suffolk 28 (+87%)
Bedfordshire showed the smallest increase with only 5% more gun crime than in 2002.
Essex with 148 and Hertfordshire with 139 had the largest number of incidents in 2003.
Suffolk had the least gun crime with only 28 reported incidents.
Northamptonshire Police's Assistant Chief Constable Derek Talbot had earlier said that many offences involved imitation firearms.
The latest figures show all gun incidents, from toy guns being used as imitation firearms to armed robberies and other violent incidents.
Of the 107 recorded firearms incidents in Northamptonshire, 42 were found to be replica or imitation weapons.
"The increase in firearms offences recorded from 55 to 107 is largely as a result of changes in the way these offences have been recorded," said Mr Talbot.
A spokeswoman for Suffolk Police said: "We are fortunate that Suffolk, which is currently the safest county in England, has a very low rate of crime committed with guns both real and replica.
"The 87% increase in real terms means that an additional 13 offences were committed over the last year compared to the year before.
"While any increase in gun crime is disappointing, it is important to keep the true level of the problem in perspective.
"All gun crime is treated very seriously in Suffolk and we would urge anyone who has information about guns being used inappropriately or illegally to contact us."