Crime down to lowest since records began

Crime in England and Wales was down nine percent in the year ending March 2013 from the previous year, with figures at their lowest since records began in 1981, according to figures released on Thursday.

Crime was down to less than half of its peak level reached in 1995, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said, despite four years of cuts in police numbers.

The fall in recorded crime spanned all the main categories of "victim-based" offences -- as opposed to general crimes against society -- except for theft from the person, which was up nine percent, and sexual offences, which were up one percent.

Criminal damage and arson were down 15 percent and robbery by 13 percent.

Homicides stood at 552 for the year, just one less than the year before.

A total of 8.6 million crimes were recorded against households and adults over the year, plus another 800,000 crimes against children aged 10 to 15 -- half of those violent crimes.

The rise in sex crimes was thought to be partly linked to publicity surrounding sexual assaults by the late TV presenter Jimmy Savile prompting more victims to come forward.

The figures combine police statistics with those from the Crime Survey for England and Wales, in which about 37,500 households provided information on their experience of crime.

Total crime recorded by police was down seven percent.

Another one million offences not officially classified as crimes, such as speeding, were dealt with by the courts during the year.

Figures from the Home Office on Thursday showed that the number of police officers in England and Wales had fallen for a fourth straight year, with government austerity after the financial crisis compelling forces to make deep cuts.

Police numbers were down 3.4 percent, or 4,516, over the year, taking the total to its lowest level since 2002.

The biggest drop was in London's Metropolitan Police, which shed 1,742 officers.

Prime Minister David Cameron said, "I think we should congratulate the police. As a government we have asked them to do more with less resources.

"They have performed, I think, magnificently and I think all the work that has gone into crime prevention has helped as well," he added, on a visit to London's Hammersmith police station.

Figures for fraud appeared to be up 27 percent, with 229,018 offences, but the ONS said this might be down to a change in how offences are recorded.