Drug Crime Hits New High In Wales

Drug crime in Wales rose 11% over the past year, according to Home Office figures released yesterday.

Overall recorded crime has remained static, but the drug data and a smaller rise of 2% in violent crime has drawn condemnation from opposition parties.

Senior police officers yesterday put the rise in drug crime down to a change in police powers rather than an increase in offending.

Meanwhile, although Wales as a whole remains a safer place to live than England, there are small pockets where violent crime is high. Newport and Merthyr are two of just four areas where the risk of being seriously wounded is three times the Wales and England average, a trend revealed in the Western Mail earlier this year.

Government ministers hailed the overall figures as proof their policies were having an effect, saying the risk of being a victim of crime was at its lowest level for more than 25 years.

The British Crime Survey, separate to the official recorded crime data which was also released yesterday, also suggested crime was down. The BCS asks people about their actual experience of crime, whether it is recorded or not.

The rise in drugs offences comes as North Wales Police chief constable Richard Brunstrom has led controversial calls for all drugs to be legalised. Drug crime in Mr Brunstrom’s own force area remains stable, despite rises elsewhere.

In Wales there were 10,528 drug offences in 2006/07. Gwent Police saw a 34% rise to 1,888 while South Wales was up 16% to 4,051, the Home Office said.

It said the rise in drugs offences “coincided with increases in the police use of powers to issue cannabis warnings”, while Gwent Police stressed the rise was due to greater targeting of offenders.

Detective Chief Superintendent Ray Wise of Gwent Police said, “It’s positive news that there is an increase in drug offences – this reflects the fact that more offences of this nature are being detected and, as a result, offenders being processed through the criminal justice system.”

He added that the overall crime figures were “very pleasing, and the continuing decrease in crime is positive news for the communities of Gwent”.

“I have no doubt that introducing neighbourhood teams across the force has contributed significantly to this decline.”

The BCS also suggested fear of crime was going up, even in areas where the chances of being a victim of crime were relatively small.

According to the survey, the risk of personal crime in Wales is “significantly lower than the national average”.

The BCS suggests that 18% of people have been the victim of at least one crime in Wales, ranging from 21% in the Gwent Police area to 11% in Dyfed- Powys.

But the risk of being a victim of personal crime is much lower, at 7%.

Tony McNulty, the Home Office Minister, said, “Reductions in violence against the person, domestic burglary and criminal damage all point to significant progress.

“In fact, the chances of being a victim of crime are around their lowest level since the survey began in 1981.”

But he added, “The Government is also committed to tackling the fear of crime and these latest statistics remind us that burglary, car crime, violent crime and anti-social behaviour remain concerns for the public.”

David Jones, the MP for Clwyd West and shadow Wales Minister, said, “The figures show the extent to which illegal drug use in this country is increasing under Labour.

“Drug use wrecks lives and destroys families. The increasing prevalence of strong types of cannabis, such as ‘skunk’, is leading to a rise in mental health problems.”

He said the idea of legalising drugs, as put forward by Mr Brunstrom and endorsed by North Wales Police Authority, would “only make matters worse” and result in a “free for all”.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg, a candidate for the party leadership, said, “No doubt ministers will find something in these statistics to crow about.

“However, the truth is that people feel far less safe in their own communities than they should, and certain key offences such as drug-related crime are still going up.”