Shock rise in drug crime as offences soar by 21 per cent

Gun crime has risen by four per cent, according to government statistics Drug offences have leapt by 21 per cent in just one year, latest figures showed yesterday, piling more pressure on Gordon Brown to reverse the Government’s “softly-softly” stance on cannabis.

The number of drugs crimes recorded by police has now leapt by more than 60 per cent in the three years since Labour relaxed the law on cannabis possession – downgrading it from Class B to Class C so that most users no longer face arrest. Home Office crime figures also show burglary rising by five per cent year-on-year – reversing a long term fall – and a significant four per cent rise in gun crime.

Overall crime levels were unchanged over the year, according to the figures, while there were slight falls in violent crime and car thefts.

Those successes were marred, however, by the huge rise in drug crime which soared to 55,700 in the three months to September last year – up by more than a fifth on the previous year and equivalent to more than 600 people every day caught dealing or possessing drugs.

Critics claimed the sharp rise was further evidence that former Home Secretary David Blunkett’s decision to relaxing the law on cannabis was a serious blunder. At the time of the controversial reclassification in 2004, the police counted 34,600 drugs offences between July and September, and since then the figure has climbed steadily to the present peak of almost 56,000.

The Home Office argues that the trend is due to police officers being more willing to hand out on-the-spot official cautions to cannabis users, without facing the paperwork and red-tape connected with arresting and prosecuting them. But critics claim that argument no longer explains the continuing trend three years after the law was relaxed.

Gordon Brown is currently weighing up whether to reverse David Blunkett’s move and to toughen the law by restoring cannabis to Class B. Chief police officers, magistrates and a range of medical experts have backed the move, and ministers are now waiting for the latest report from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in the coming weeks.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs will offer its latest report within the next few weeks. Pressure has grown for a change following further evidence of the serious mental health damage which cannabis users are facing as highly potent “skunk” varieties have become more popular – now accounting for
75 per cent of all drugs seized.

In some parts of the country the number of diagnosed mental disorders blamed on cannabis use have risen tenfold over the past decade, and the number of people undergoing treatment for cannabis use has soared to a record 25,000.

Yesterday’s figures also reveal a five per cent year-on-year rise in domestic burglary, as measured by the British Crime Survey, based on household interviews – which ministers claim gives the most accurate picture of crime trends.

Police recorded 67,000 break-ins from July to September – equivalent to
728 per day, or one every two minutes. The increase in BCS figures brings to an end a long-term decline in burglary levels, and will raise fears that increased drug use is driving a resurgence in thefts from homes.

The BCS results showed overall crime levels were stable, as were levels of violent crime and vehicle thefts. Shadow home secretary David Davis said: “These latest official figures show that Labour is failing to combat both violent crime and its causes.

“Violent crime is fuelled by drugs and Labour’s chaotic and confused policy on drugs. “Drugs wreck lives, destroy communities and are a major symptom of our broken society.

“The Government’s complacency shows they are part of the problem, not the solution.” Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: “Violent crime – including, most alarmingly, gun crime – is still far higher than 10 years ago and has to be tackled much more vigorously.

“Police should be devoting more time to stop and searches for knives and guns, and the Government needs to clamp down with a major new effort to stop gun smuggling.

“Nine times more officials are allocated to tackling cigarette smuggling than gun smuggling, which is a crazy set of priorities.” Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: “These latest crime figures contain some excellent results and I am particularly pleased that the risk of being a victim of crime is now at a historically low level.”

Source: Daily Mail 24 Jan 2008

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