Knife crime rises to record levels but as few as a fifth of offenders are caught

Charles Hymas
Police recorded 40,829 offences involving knives or sharp instruments in 2018, up six per cent on the year before - PA

Knife crime has risen to record levels in England and Wales but as few as a fifth of offenders are being charged, official figures have revealed.

The number of knife offences rose by six per cent last year to 40,829, equivalent to more than 110 a day and the highest level since records began in 2008/09.

Homicides were also up by 6.1 per cent to 732, equivalent to more than two a day and their highest level for a decade. Four in ten of these killings involved a knife or sharp instrument.

However, the number of offenders prosecuted for knife possession has plummeted with just four in 10 (40.4 per cent) of such crimes resulting in a charge. That is down from over six in 10 in 2015/16.

In Greater Manchester, the rate has halved in four years with just 22.3 per cent of blade possession offences resulting in a charge, down from 44 per cent just four years ago. Sussex, British Transport Police and South Yorkshire are all below 30 per cent.

This week Ian Hopkins, the force’s chief constable, admitted at least four in ten of all crimes were not being fully investigated because of a lack of resources.

Simon Kempton, operational policing lead for the Police Federation, said shortages of officers meant police were less likely to get to a crime scene or report of knife possession within the critical “golden hour” when the chances of solving it were highest.

“Particularly during peak hours, night time, we are less able to get enough people to these places as we would like, so end up losing witnesses, physical or forensic evidence,” he said.

The continued rise in knife crime comes as police chiefs have given an extra £100 million by the Government to mount a surge to reverse the trend in seven of the worst hit areas including Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire.

Theresa May and Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, held a Downing Street summit earlier to launch plans for a “public health” approach to the crisis with a legal duty on doctors, teachers and police to report children at risk of being drawn into knife crime.

Yesterday Mr Javid said he was "very concerned" about the "huge rise" in serious violence including knife crime, adding: "I wish there was one single thing that could be done that would bring it down dramatically.But there's not one thing, I think we need action on many fronts."

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) data showed three quarters of the police forces in England and Wales - 31 out of 43 - saw a rise in knife crime in the year to December 2018.

The biggest rise was in Merseyside where knife offences increased by 35 per cent to 1,231 followed by Dyfed-Powys (28 per cent), South Wales (23 per cent), Derbyshire (22 per cent), North Wales and North Yorkshire (21 per cent each), and West Yorkshire, Kent and Gwent all on 20 per cent.

Knife or sharp instrument offences tended to be concentrated in metropolitan areas with 33 per cent of all such crimes in England and Wales accounted for by London’s 14,660 offences, a rate of 167 per 100,000 of the population.

It was followed by Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, and West Midlands (with 129 ,118 and 111 offences per 100,000 population respectively). This compares with an average of  76 offences per 100,000 population in England and Wales.

One positive sign was a slowing in the rate of increase, from 13 per cent to nine per cent in the latest quarter. In London, where there have been big increases in police stop and searches, there was just a one per cent rise in the latest quarter, down from 15 per cent and eight per cent in previous quarters.

Violent crime in England and Wales was, however, up by 19.1 per cent from 1.35 million offences to 1.6m, its highest rate for more than a decade.

Robberies recorded by police were up by 11.3 per cent to 82,600, the highest level since 2008, while overall police recorded crime increased by seven per cent to 5.8m offences, its highest since 2004.

Fewer criminals are, however, being caught, with only 7.8 per cent of offences leading to charges, down from 9.1 per cent in 2017.

Minister of State for Policing and the Fire Service, Nick Hurd, said: “Today’s statistics show that your chance of being a victim of crime remains low, and the Metropolitan Police’s more recent figures suggest that action to tackle violent crime is having an impact.

“Yet too many people are still falling victim to serious violence, which is why we will continue our urgent and unprecedented action to reverse this terrible trend. 

“We have given police forces additional powers and have this year put more than £1billion extra into policing, including council tax and £100million specifically for those areas worst affected by violent crime.

“But law enforcement alone is not the answer which is why our Serious Violence Strategy puts a greater focus on prevention, including by consulting on a proposed new duty to underpin a public health approach to serious violence and investing over £220million in projects to steer young people away from crime.”

Yvette Cooper MP, chairwoman of the Commons home affairs select committee, said: “Knife crime is now at record levels and this is a very disturbing increase in violent crime at the same time as the number of arrests is continuing to fall.

“The police are completely overstretched and crime prevention work is far too limited. The Home Office and government response on knife crime and other rising crimes is still far too weak and just doesn’t match the scale of the problem.”

Alex Mayes, a spokesman for Victim Support, said: “It’s deeply concerning to see homicides continue to rise and we know from working with those bereaved by murder and manslaughter through our national homicide service just how devastating the impact is on family and friends, witnesses to the crime and the wider community.”