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Murder rate and online fraud rises point to changing nature of crime

The first substantial increase in the murder rate for some years – up by 44 to 569 in the year to June in England and Wales – lies buried in a set of statistics that illustrate the changing nature of crime in an increasingly digital world.

Police-recorded crime figures include a 25% rise in “violence against the person” – a 16% rise for those involving injury; increases in public order offences; and an apparent 41% rise in rape and other recorded sexual offences.

The statisticians point to the latest official crime survey of England and Wales estimate of violent incidents remaining unchanged at 1.2 million and say the police figures largely reflect changes in their recording practices rather than a genuine rise in violent crime.

On top of this, the long-term fall in offences such as burglary and car crime since 1995 has continued for a further year, with an overall 8% fall in the official crime survey estimate, excluding online fraud and cybercrime.

The rise in the murder rate, however, which is not prone to changes in recording practices, can be seen as a warning that a turning point has been reached after 20 years in which England and Wales have become safer places to live.

The most startling figure perhaps is the 41% increase in the number of rapes and other sexual offences recorded by the police.

But the Office of National Statistics (ONS) believes that these figures are being driven by increased reporting to the police, and the police handling and recording of those reports. It hints at a recent change of culture in the handling of rape complaints, with officers now talking about “reports of rape” rather than referring to “allegations of rape” and the disbelief that that implied.

The police certainly believe this to be the case. As Jeff Farrar, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said of the 41% rise: “This directly reflects the efforts being made by forces to improve consistency in crime recording. Victims now have increased confidence in reporting sexual offences.” It is borne out by the evidence from the crime survey, which shows the proportion of sexual assault victims unchanged at less than 2%.

But the overall set of crime figures does confirm the changing nature of crime. The results of a field trial on online fraud and cybercrime based on interviewing 2,000 households between May and August produced the estimates of 5.1m online fraud incidents and 2.5m cybercrime offences in the past 12 months.

The ONS says the highest volume of incidents are generally those that involve little or no harm to those on the receiving end: it excludes from its estimates those occasions where the intended victim did not fall for the scam. These included cases where people just ignored a phishing email.

The ONS’s 5.1m online fraud estimate ranged from incidents where small numbers of individuals lost tens of thousands of pounds or more to the 14% of cases where people lost sums of less than £20. In nearly 40% of cases the loss involved was less than £100; the highest losses were in the region of £10,000 to £20,000. Most were fully compensated by the banks or building societies but for 22% – more than 1m incidents – that was not the case.

In the other new category of cybercrime, the field trial showed that the majority – 84% or 2.1m – involved people whose computer or phone was infected with a virus. The remaining 16% related to “unauthorised access to personal information” such as hacking of email or social media accounts. The statisticians say many people have anti-virus software installed and so may be unaware that they are victims of such attacks.

These new forms of crime have been growing in recent years but the decision to produce the first estimates for possible future inclusion in the official crime figures underlines the changing nature of crime.

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