The murder rate in England and Wales rose by 11% to 573 homicides in 2015, providing fresh evidence that the long-term decline in violent crime may be over. The annual crime figures published on Thursday also show that knife crime rose by 9% and sexual offences, including rape, increased by 29% to top 100,000 for the first time in 2015. But the Office for National Statistics (ONS) issued a strong warning that tightening of police recording procedures may account for some increases among forces.
But while there is mounting evidence that the decade-long decline in violent crime is over, the latest results from the authoritative Crime Survey for England and Wales show that overall crime continued to fall, by 7%, with an estimated 6.4m offences in 2015. The fall was largely driven by declines in thefts and criminal damage.
The separate police recorded crime figures, which have lost their national statistics status, show a 7% increase in crime in England and Wales in 2015 with 4.4m offences recorded. Most of this increase is due to improved recording by the police, said the ONS.
The police figures include a 27% rise in “violence against the person” – an extra 198,000 attacks – but this was largely driven by increases in the “violence without injury” sub-category, which rose by 38% or 143,000 incidents.
However, the rise in the murder rate, which the statisticians say is less susceptible to changes in recording practices, is one key indicator that Britain is once again becoming a more violent country.
The murder rate in England and Wales has fallen over the past decade from 16 homicides – which include murders and manslaughters – per million population in 2005 to 10 homicides per million population in 2015.
The number of homicides is excluded from the Crime Survey for England and Wales, which asks people about their experience of crime, along with other serious but low-volume crimes including sexual offences and crimes against children, as well as more high-volume fraud and cybercrime.
An official estimate of the scale of online crime will be included in the headline rate in the July set of crime figures for the first time, but estimates already published show it could double the main headline rate of 6.6m offences estimated by the official crime survey.
The ONS statisticians say the 7% fall in incidents estimated by the official crime survey of England and Wales brings crime down to a third below the level in 2010 and two-thirds below its peak level in 1995.
Jeff Farrar, Gwent chief constable and the National Police Chiefs Council’s lead on crime recording, said it was encouraging to see a further reduction of overall crime in the latest crime figures, the lowest since the survey began in 1981.
“A 7% increase in police recorded crime reflects the greater accuracy in crime recording processes and the increased willingness and ease of victims to report incidents to the police. Increases in violence without injury and sexual offences are good examples of the improved confidence the public have to come forward,” he said.
“However, as a service we recognise the challenge of effectively capturing and responding to the changing demands from complex public protection issues, fraud and cybercrime and the breakdown of these figures in future reports will be extremely helpful.”
The Home Office minister, Mike Penning, added: “Every violent crime is a significant concern and we are working with retailers to crack down on underage sales of knives, introducing new laws to ban zombie knives and increasing funding for violence against women and girls’ services to £80m.
“Our new modern crime prevention strategy includes action to tackle the key drivers of crime and will do even more to target a range of offences, including violence and knife crime.”
But Labour’s police spokesman, Jack Dromey, said police numbers had fallen by 18,000 since 2010 while the population had increased by 2.5 million.
He cited new House of Commons library research showing there are fewer police officers in England and Wales than at any point in more than a decade with just one police officer for every 452 people. This ratio has risen by 25% since the 2010 general election when it stood at one officer for every 386 people.