Britain is in the grip of a sudden surge in violent crime, Scotland Yard warned yesterday, amid criticism of senior officers.
Following years of decline in gun and knife crime, the Metropolitan Police reported a leap in recorded offences in the capital, with gun crime rising by 42 per cent year on year and knife crime up by 24 per cent.
Sex offences, robberies and assaults also increased.
The force said the pattern was being repeated around the country and referred to “significant reductions in resources” in its official explanation of the figures.
It also blamed “increased demand” on its officers caused by issues including “child protection and mental health”.
The warning from the force came just days after the Met’s new commissioner, Cressida Dick, started her job. The figures were pro-actively released by Scotland Yard and will be seen as an attempt by Ms Dick to press the Government over budget cuts.
But critics pointed out that in recent years the Met and other forces have together wasted tens of millions of pounds on high-profile pursuits of celebrities, journalists and politicians that went nowhere, and said resourcing must not be used as an “excuse”.
Meanwhile, an official report published by HM Inspector of Constabulary yesterday said the Met’s approach to dealing with serious and organised crime was “not as effective as it could be”.
Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt, the Met officer responsible for territorial policing, said: “We are concerned about the rise of gun crime and rise of knife crime offences committed by young people and the changing nature of the offenders.
“Young people carrying knives are doing so for a variety of reasons including status, criminality and self-protection, but only around a quarter are affiliated with gangs.
“There is a phenomenon of people feeling that you need to carry a knife to be safe. There is a lot greater sense that ‘I need this to protect myself’. The problem comes when you then get a confrontation.”
Colin Sutton, a retired detective chief inspector who solved some of the Met’s most notorious cases, said a decision to reduce “stop and search”, as well as mis-spent resources, was the real reason for the crime wave. He said: “The priorities seem to have gone a little bit awry in recent years. Things that do not impact the lives of the majority of people have been given too much emphasis.”
Last year Scotland Yard closed down its £15 million Operation Elveden inquiry into journalistic sources which ended with every journalist who was tried being cleared of wrongdoing. The force also spent £25 million on its phone hacking probe and £2.5 million investigating an alleged Westminster paedophile ring before it was forced to apologise and accept that the allegations were baseless.
In January, the then Commissioner of the Met, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, said the “warning lights are flashing” after official figures showed that violent crime was on the increase nationally.
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that knife crime was up by 11 per cent to more than 30,000 and gun crime had risen by 7 per cent to more than 5,400 recorded incidents. Overall, crime was up by 8 per cent to 4.7 million, according to the ONS, driven largely by a 22 per cent increase in violence against the person.
David Winnick MP, a Labour member of the Commons Home Affairs select committee, said: “It is a very serious concern that knife crime is undoubtedly increasing and the victims in so many instances are very young, often in their teens. Under-funding of the police is a problem... but nevertheless that mustn’t be some kind of excuse for not dealing with this increased plague of knife crime.”