Knife crime soars to record in England and Wales but homicides fall

FILE PHOTO: A Metropolitan Police representative arranges knives for photographers after a news conference at New Scotland Yard in central London

By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) - Knife crime rose 8% to a record in England and Wales last year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said on Thursday, as major cities like London try to tackle a surge in stabbings.

However, the number of homicides where a knife or sharp instrument was involved dropped, reflecting an overall fall in the number of homicides, the first annual fall since March 2014.

The number of offences involving knives and sharp instruments rose to 43,516 in the year to March 2019, the ONS said, the highest level since records began in 2011.

Last month, four people were murdered in a 28-hour period in London, including a heavily pregnant woman who was stabbed to death.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has been criticised by U.S. President Donald Trump for his record on knife crime, said the government needed to reverse police cuts and invest to tackle poverty.

"We're doing everything we can with the powers we have in London, but as these figures show, this is a national problem that requires national solutions," Khan said, noting that the increase in knife crime in London was slowing, with fewer homicides than the year before.

London had the highest knife-crime rate in the year to March 2019, ONS statistics showed, with 168 offences per 100,000 of population, up 1% on the previous year.

But parts of Wales, North Yorkshire and East Anglia saw much bigger percentage increases in knife crime of over 25 percent, even if the overall knife crime rate in those regions remained lower than London.

The knife-crime data excluded Greater Manchester Police figures as they were not comparable with previous figures.

Nearly 90% of knife crime offences were assault or robbery, with rape, sexual assault, attempted murder and homicide accounting for just 3% of offences combined.

The number of homicides using a knife fell 9% in the year to March 2019, including figures from Manchester.

Overall, the number of homicides fell 4% over the year, which the ONS said was partly due to militant attacks in 2017 and the "notably high number" of homicides recorded by London's Metropolitan Police the previous year.

Britain suffered four attacks in 2017 that killed 36 people, the deadliest spate since the London "7/7" bombings of July 2005.

(Editing by Stephen Addison)