Reclaim Our Streets: TIMES OF VIOLENCE; Attacks and Sex Offences Up in Blow to Blair's Clampdown on Crime My Major Challenge at Home Office Is Crimes of Violence CHARLES CLARKE YESTERDAY
Byline: BOB ROBERTS, Deputy Political Editor
VIOLENT offences are on the increase - dealing a bodyblow to Tony Blair's campaign to be tough on crime.
As law-and-order promises to be a key election battleground, the latest three-monthly figures from police revealed that acts of violence rose to 306,200 - a six per cent jump.
Sexual offences leapt 22 per cent and assaults causing injury increased 12 per cent.
Robbery fell 18 per cent and burglary by 23 per cent, according to official figures from the 43 police forces in England and Wales.
Crime overall was six per cent down in July-September 2004, compared with the same period in 2003.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke said some of the rise in violent crime was due to increased reporting of incidents and improved recording of statistics by police.
He added: "Violent crime is still the biggest challenge. While I am Home Secretary, it will be my major, number one priority to drive down violent crime."
Mr Clarke said about half of all offences were linked to drink. He warned: "We are building a massive problem for the future if we do not hammer alcohol-related crime."
Firearms offences in the year to September 2004 rose five per cent to 10,670.
Much of this came from use of imitation weapons, which can bought legally. Handguns were used in 5,144 crimes over 12 months, a seven per cent drop.
The homicide rate fell for the first time since 1996. The 858 in the 12 months to last April represented an annual drop of two per cent if the "exceptional" case of Harold Shipman was removed from previous figures. Opposition politicians said Labour was losing the fight against crime. …