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Monday, 15 January, 2001, 11:18 GMT
Tories launch crime broadside
Police helmets
Tories say police numbers have dropped nearly 3,000
The Conservatives have launched a fresh assault on Labour's law and order record ahead of new figures expected to show a rise in violent crime.

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said that despite tough-sounding election promises "the thin blue line has got thinner and thinner".

Home Office figures to be released on Tuesday are forecast to show a growing problem with violent robberies and violence against the person.

So much for 'tough on crime'. Under Labour, the thin blue line has got thinner and thinner

Ann Widdecombe
Newspaper reports - based on advance figures provided by 32 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales - said that while overall crime will have fallen by around 1%, violent crime will have increased by 7%.

The Home Office will not comment on the figures ahead of publication.

But last week Home Secretary Jack Straw sought to pre-empt release of the statistics with the launch of a high-profile anti-street crime initiative.

The focus was on mobile phone thefts, largely blamed by ministers and police for the rise in reported violent crime.

Distraction claim

Tories called the initiative a "gimmick" designed to distract attention from the fall in police numbers under Tony Blair's government.

Returning to the attack on Monday, Miss Widdecombe said: "We have heard an awful lot of hot air from Tony Blair about law and order over the last four years and it is about time they stopped talking about it and started doing something about it.

"Labour was going to be tough on crime ... but the trouble is that people just don't trust Labour on law and order.

Ann Widdecombe
Miss Widdecombe accused Labour of "squandering" falling crime figures
"They have heard all the promises and paid more taxes - so where are the police officers?"

She said there were nearly 3,000 fewer officers than in 1997, public confidence in the police had fallen to its lowest level in years and Labour had let almost 30,000 convicted criminals out of prison early.

Even worse, she continued, many areas in the countryside had seen crime rising for the first time in years while violent street crime was "soaring" in urban areas.

At the same time an acute shortage of frontline resources meant a declining police presence on the streets.

"Labour inherited crime figures which had fallen by year on year for four years by more than 7%," the shadow home secretary added.

"In two short years that legacy was squandered, and crime rocketed by 190,000 offences between April 1999 and March 2000.

"So much for tough on crime. Under Labour, the thin blue line has got thinner and thinner."

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See also:

12 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Labour pledge failure defended
10 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Jack talks tough but voters want Bobby
08 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Straw pledges record police numbers
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