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'Warning lights flashing' over crime, says Britain's most senior police officer

Britain's most senior police officer has said the "warning lights are flashing" over crime after new figures revealed there were nearly 12 million offences in a year.

Scotland Yard chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe urged the Government to ensure a commitment to protect police funding in real terms was met.

His intervention came after official data laid bare the scale of fraud and cyber crime - and showed a jump in violent offences recorded by forces in England and Wales.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner said: "After the last few years when we have reduced crime significantly in London, as you'll have seen from the crime figures today, the warning lights are flashing.

"The number of traditional crimes is rising, including in London, and the scale of online crime and fraud is just becoming apparent."

Earlier this week, London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned it would become "near impossible" to maintain the number of officers on the capital's streets if the force was hit with further funding cuts.

"He's worried. I'm worried," said Sir Bernard, who will retire from the post next month.

His remarks followed the release of figures showing fraud was now the most commonly perpetrated crime - with nearly one in 10 adults falling victim to scams.

The chance of being conned was now double the risk of having a car stolen, the data suggested.

Frauds referred to police increased by 3% year-on-year, while industry numbers showed cases on UK-issued cards rose by nearly two-fifths to 1.9 million.

John Flatley, of the Office for National Statistics (ONS), said the latest figures demonstrated how crime had changed.

He said: "In the past, burglary and theft of vehicles were the high-volume crimes driving trends but their numbers have fallen substantially since then.

"When the CSEW (Crime Survey for England and Wales) started, fraud was not considered a significant threat and the internet had yet to be invented."

There were an estimated 3.6 million fraud and two million computer misuse offences in the year ending in September.

The inclusion of these crimes for the first time gives a headline estimate of 11.8 million incidents covered by the CSEW - although the ONS stressed this total could not yet be compared with previous years.

Stripping out the two categories gives a tally of 6.2 million, which was not a "statistically significant" change compared with the previous year.

The ONS report also revealed that police recorded an annual rise of 22% in violent offences.

This was said to be largely driven by changes in recording processes and the inclusion of additional harassment offences - but there did appear to be "genuine" smaller increases in some categories including homicide and knife crime.

Lucy Hastings, director of charity Victim Support, said criminals were finding new, sophisticated ways to target people and warned cyber crime and fraud could have a "devastating impact".

Katy Worobec, director of Financial Fraud Action UK, said banks stopped £6 in every £10 of attempted fraud in the first half of 2016.

She said: "While the industry invests in new systems to stop the criminals, fraudsters are increasingly targeting people directly."

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chair of the Commons Home Affairs committee, said: "For a long time the Home Office has talked about crime falling.

"But these figures show instead that crime is changing radically - with big increases in online crime that the police are not yet properly equipped to address."

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott accused the Tories of "failure" on crime.

Policing minister Brandon Lewis said: "Police reform is working and crimes traditionally measured by the survey have fallen by a third since 2010 to a record low, with over 370,000 fewer violent crimes a year.

"Crime is changing and the way it is measured needs to change too so that we can continue to protect families and communities from the biggest threats."

He said the Government was taking "world-leading action" to stamp out fraud and cyber crime.

The Chief Inspector of Constabulary for England and Wales, Sir Tom Winsor, told the BBC: "So, the amount of fraud that is taking place now is probably in epidemic proportions. And the police are having to work very, very hard to keep up even with the ones that they know about.

"Police forces' take up of the crimes, which are determined by Action Fraud to be worthy of investigation, in some cases is very low indeed and that is not acceptable.

"It is low because the capability at the police force is in many respects quite skeletal. And that needs to change, and change a great deal."

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