Byline: MATTHEW HICKLEY
THE number of violent criminals escaping justice has soared since Labour came to power, Home Office figures revealed yesterday.
Conviction rates for robbery, serious wounding and rape have plunged below 10 per cent.
But at the same time the number of such crimes has risen dramatically. The figures reveal that more than 100,000 responsible for these offences were not caught or went unpunished last year.
Police chiefs last night blamed the rise in violence on a surge in binge-drinking which they said was putting more and more young people at risk, with boozefuelled assaults now claiming a new victim every 13 seconds around the clock.
The figures added to the mounting pressure on Home Secretary John Reid - and came as a reminder that the ongoing foreign prisoner debacle is just one of several areas of concern over his department's performance.
Last week Mr Reid pledged to 'rebalance the criminal justice system', saying: 'I won't rest until the law and the justice system works for law-abiding people, not criminals.' However, the plummeting conviction rates for serious violent crimes - revealed in an analysis of official crime figures - show just how far Mr Reid's aspiration is from reality.
The number of 'serious woundings' including stabbings recorded by police rose from 12,531 in 1997 to 19,425 last year - an increase of 55 per cent.
But over the 14.8 to 9.7 per cent.
56,600 to 80,800.
same period the conviction rate fell from That means the number of attackers escaping punishment soared by twothirds from 10,676 to 17,540. For robberies, recorded crimes rose 40 per cent from 63,000 to 88,700.
But the proportion leading to conviction or a police caution dropped from 10.2 to 8.9 per cent, and the number of offenders escaping justice rose 43 per cent from The worst figures covered rape, where recorded cases more than doubled from 6,281 in 1997 to 12,869 last year.
Conviction rates dropped from 9.2 per cent to 5.5 per cent, meaning the number of unsolved crimes leaped from 5,703 to more than 12,000.
The Home Office maintains that violent crime has fallen in recent years - based on figures from the British Crime Survey, rather than the increasing number of offences actually recorded by police. However, Leicestershire chief constable Matt Baggot said he believed there had been a real increase in violent crime and that binge-drinking was an underlying cause.
He told the Observer: 'There needs to be a much bigger debate around the portrayal and use of alcohol and how it affects youth lifestyles, and to what extent profit is being put before wellbeing, and of their chances of falling victim to ferocious assaults or serious sexual …