More than 55% of knife and gun crime attacks in the past year were concentrated in inner-city areas of London, Birmingham and Manchester, according to Home Office statistics published yesterday.

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The first set of official statistics on the use of a knife or other sharp instrument, such as a broken bottle, show that there were 22,151 attacks in the past year – close to one in five of all violent attacks.

The issue of knife crime has become a touchstone, with 19 teenagers being stabbed to death in London this year.

The Tory spokesman Dominic Grieve said the scale of knife crime was an indictment of Labour’s failure to tackle crime and its causes. But Home Office criminologists said it was possible to have outbreaks of increasing but concentrated violence, including knife crime, despite an overall decline in violence across the country.

The figures for the year to March on both police recorded crime and the British Crime Survey show violent crime falling by between 8% and 12%.

The annual murder rate was 784, up from 759 the previous year but below the 1,047 recorded six years ago. These figures are not broken down by type of death, so cannot used to determine whether stabbings played a greater or lesser role than usual. In past years they have accounted for about a third of all murders.

The 22,151 total for the number of serious violent offences in which a knife was involved was the first time that such figures were collected, so it is not possible to determine a national trend. This figure excludes the number of offenders found in possession of a knife. The BCS says that 6% of violent incidents involved knife crime, and this was broadly comparable with the 7% the year before. Metropolitan police data for London knife crime show there were 10,220 “knife enabled” crimes in the capital in 2007-08, down by 16% on the previous 12 months.

Gun crime rose by 2%, with the police recording 9,803 firearm offences in which 52 people died as a result of being shot – four fewer than the previous year.

The BCS confirms that alcohol-fuelled violence remains a key factor, with 947,000 violent incidents where the victim believed the attacker was drunk, compared with 383,000 attacks believed to be drug-fuelled.

The home secretary, Jacqui Smith, said the government was determined to ensure further reductions in crime, particularly violence involving guns and knives: “Whilst the BCS shows violence falling by 40% since 1997, with a 12% fall in the last year alone, we know knives are still being used in the most serious incidents.”

But Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said the government still did not survey crimes concerning under-16s, even though this group had seen rapidly increasing hospital admissions for stab wounds.


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