Violent crime examined
Acres of newsprint have been devoted to violent crime in recent months. But how bad is it, what's behind it and what can we do about it? James Moore investigates
Tony Blair says there's no more important issue than street crime - and earlier this year stunned the nation by claiming that by this September he will have brought the problem under control. It's a tough challenge. The latest crime figures say it all. According to the 2002 recorded crime statistics compiled by 43 forces in England and Wales
Violent crime is up 11 per cent
Robbery is up 28 per cent
Murders are up 4 per cent
Rapes are up 14 per cent.
The government stress that new ways of recording crime have inflated the figures by 5 per cent, but the fact remains that overall crime has increased under their measurements in the year 2001-2002. However, the 2002 British Crime Survey - which asks people for their first-hand experiences of crime - tells a different story. This claims that crime rates have fallen by 2 per cent over the past year, with the chances of being a victim of crime now standing at its lowest since the survey began in 1981.
Violent crime is only a very small proportion of overall crime in the UK but it is the type of crime that people fear most. Cases attract dramatic headlines and shock stories that only fuel the fear of crime even further. For that reason, getting violent crime under control is crucial.
Crime in the city
There are also new types of crime adding urgency to the debate. Car-jackings, for instance, are a new terrifying threat, with 1,200 incidents in one year alone. Meanwhile, mobile phone theft is soaring. An amazing 700,000 were stolen in Britain in the last 12 months - one every minute. In some urban areas, mobile phone thefts account for 40 per cent of violent crime.
Muggers stalk the streets of big cities. More than 40 per cent of street crime happens in London, with 14 of the top 20 robbery 'blackspots' in the capital.
Individual cases of violent crime provide a dramatic demonstration of this statistical backdrop. Just this year in London estate agent Tim Robinson was stabbed to death after parking his car outside his home, a young woman was shot in the head by a mobile phone thief, and another man was killed in a shoot out at a busy London restaurant.
Meanwhile, cases like the Stephen Lawrence and Damilola Taylor murders seem to demonstrate that even when arrests are made for violent crime the police are failing to get convictions.