LONDON (Reuters) - Knife killings have soared to a record high in England and Wales, the Conservatives said on Monday, citing police figures obtained under freedom of information laws.
The data showed there were 277 homicides from knives or sharp instruments in the 12 months to March 2008, a rise of 7 percent on the year before and of more than a third since Labour came to power more than a decade ago.
Conservative home affairs spokesman James Brokenshire, who asked for the figures, said Labour had failed to tackle the underlying causes of crime such as drugs, family breakdown and gang culture.
“Knife crime is a scourge which claims too many lives and ruins countless others,” he said.
“The government’s only response is short term, ad-hoc police operations, the results of which they spin and manipulate any way to try and get a good story.”
Earlier this month Home Secretary Jacqui Smith apologised after releasing knife crime figures for 10 key areas targeted by police which apparently showed a big fall over the summer in the number of stabbings and teenagers carrying weapons.
The head of the UK Statistics Authority, a government watchdog, had criticised the data release as “premature, irregular and selective.”
The data obtained by the Conservatives from all bar one of the police forces in England and Wales are themselves provisional and subject to revision when they are released next year by the Home Office.
Last year’s provisional figure was revised down by around 3 percent after a number of deaths originally recorded as homicides were reclassified by police and courts.
But the Conservatives said that even after such a revision there would still have been 269 fatal stabbings in 2007-8, more than the 258 recorded in the previous 12 months and the highest since comparable records began in 1977.
“We remain concerned about serious violence and in particular knife crime,” a home office spokesman said.
He said violent crime had fallen by a third over the past decade and that the overall number of violent crimes was down by almost 18,000 — a seven percent decrease.
In the government’s 10 “Tackling Knives Action Programme” areas, which include London, West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, he said serious knife crimes against young people had fallen by 17 percent.
editing by Kate Kelland