The Daily Mail: Gun Crime On Rise As Number Of Armed Police Falls

Wednesday, 26 December, 2007

The number of firearms officers working in areas where gun crime is soaring has fallen sharply, figures released last night reveal.

And despite a steep overall rise in firearms-related offences, the total number of weapons-trained officers has dropped.

In gun crime 'hotspots' such as Liverpool and Nottingham there are around 40 per cent fewer armed officers.

The stark contrast between rising gun crime and falling numbers of armed police was highlighted in statistics released by the Home Office in response to Tory parliamentary questions.

The Conservatives warned the drop in firearm officer numbers highlighted the Government's failure to take violent crime seriously. Between 1997 and 2006, the number of authorised firearms officers in England and Wales fell from 6,738 to 6,584, even though there have been increases in overall police numbers.

Yet statistics released by the Home Office show the number of individuals found guilty of possessing weapons rose by 43 per cent from 2001 to 2005.

Over the same period, the number of crimes involving firearms recorded by police rose by 11 per cent, from 10,023 in 2001 to 11,084 in 2005.

The overall drop conceals far greater falls in key areas of cities with some of the country's worst

records on gun crime. On Merseyside, where Liverpool has been ravaged by violence, the number of firearms officers has fallen by 15 per cent, from 147 in 1997 to 129 in 2006.

Yet the same area has recorded a 183 per cent rise in the number of persons found guilty of possessing or distributing prohibited weapons or ammunition between 1997 and

And Merseyside has seen the number of crimes where firearms were used soar by 62 per cent, from 299 in 2002 to 485 in 2006.

A similar picture emerges in Avon and Somerset, where the number of firearms officers has fallen by 29 per 2005. cent, from 165 in 1997 to 117 in 2006, while the firearms crimes soared by 62 per cent, from 131 in 2002 to 167.

And in Northamptonshire, another gun crime 'hotspot', the number of firearms officers has fallen by 39 per cent, from 92 in 1997 to 56 in 2006.

Conservative police spokesman David Ruffley said: 'Poor ministerial planning means police officers are being thrown into gun hotspots without being properly equipped.

'We should be concerned by these figures that suggest it is areas where gun crime is an acute problem that have seen substantial falls in the number of trained professionalscapable of responding to an incident.

'This is yet further evidence that this Government, despite imposing a ban on handguns and pledging to tackle violent crime, has presided over a steady increase in the everyday use of weapons on the streets.'

Violent crime remains one of the most challenging problems facing Gordon Brown. Home Office figures show gun crime in England and Wales has risen by 80 per cent since 1999, while the number of people injured or killed by a gun - available on the black market for as little as £50 - has risen fourfold.