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Northern Ireland now safest region of UK

Northern Ireland is a safer place to live than ever before, according to new crime figures.

Police statistics released yesterday claim that recorded crime in the province has dropped to its lowest level in 13 years.

Violent crime, burglaries, theft, road deaths, criminal damage and fraud have all dropped to record low levels, the PSNI’s annual crime figures showed.

Police are also clearing more crimes, they said.

Chief Constable Matt Baggott said the statistics reflect the force’s determination to make Northern Ireland safer and to deliver the police service that people have said they want.

But questions have been raised over how accurately police statistics represent the real picture of crime here.

While overall crime levels are at a 13-year low, Victim Support Northern Ireland (VSNI) has offered advice and support to its highest number of victims and witnesses in 30 years.

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The figures are also at odds with the most recent Northern Ireland Crime Survey, which showed 80,000 more crimes than the police statistics suggest.

Dr John Topping, criminology lecturer at the University of Ulster, warned that not all crimes are reported and therefore the police statistics, which are based on recorded offences, cannot be relied upon to build a complete picture of crime levels in Northern Ireland.

“Statistically we are safer, but that is only one half of the story,” he said.

“A lot of people are still not necessarily reporting crime, particularly in loyalist and republican working class areas, where crime is more concentrated.”

He added: “It is a very positive picture and it is good the crime levels are going down, but the figures should be treated with caution — it is not the complete picture.

“However, Northern Ireland is still the safest place to live in the UK.”

VSNI said it is worth bearing in mind that an estimated 50% of crime is unreported, according to the Northern Ireland Crime Survey.

VSNI also said that over the past year it has seen a 32% increase in the number of people being supported compared to last year.

“This is in part due to good working relationships between the PSNI district command units and local VSNI offices, but also to the increasing number of local people willing to volunteer with us,” a VSNI spokeswoman added.

According to the latest police figures, there were 105,040 crimes recorded by the PSNI for the financial year 2010/11 — a decrease of almost 4% from the previous year.

The Chief Constable said that despite the challenges of the security situation, the statistics show that policing is working and that the PSNI has “been embraced by communities.”

“These figures reflect our determination to deliver the service that people tell us they want, addressing local crime and serious harm,” said Mr Baggott.

“Falling crime shows that we have been embraced by communities and we will repay the faith they are showing in us by working to sustain and improve our performance.”

While the majority of crimes here appear to have dropped, there has been an increase in the number of recorded sexual offences, robberies and homophobic attacks.

Mr Baggott added: “We still have much to do — our efforts will be focused on listening to communities, identifying local issues of concern and working together to solve them.

“We will continue our efforts to prevent people becoming victims of crime, and where crimes occur, bringing those responsible to justice.

“The PSNI is working tirelessly towards making Northern Ireland a more secure place for everyone.”

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