National lockdowns sparked by the coronavirus pandemic drove a drop in crime across England and Wales in 2020 including a 9% fall in knife crime, figures show.
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), published on Thursday, revealed there were 5.6 million crimes recorded by police in England and Wales in the 12 months, a fall of 8% compared with the 6.1 million the previous year.
The ONS said the annual drop was mainly driven by “substantial falls” of 15% between April and June as the first lockdown restrictions were introduced.
While police-recorded crimes increased again from July to September as restrictions were gradually eased, they fell again in the last three months of the year as lockdown measures were reimposed, it added.
There was a 9% drop in the number of offences involving knives or sharp instruments in 2020 compared with 2019, driven by sharp falls during lockdown periods, the ONS said.
The figures show that knife-enabled crime fell by 20% during the first lockdown – from 12,431 in January to March to 9,901 in April to June – and 13% when lockdown measures were introduced again at the end of the year, from 12,642 in July to September to 11,041 in October to December.
Sophie Sanders, of the ONS Centre for Crime and Justice, said: “There were fluctuations in the level of crime experienced in England and Wales throughout 2020.
“Although a small proportion of these fluctuations will be the result of seasonal effects on crime trends, the majority can be attributed to the introduction and subsequent easing of national lockdown restrictions throughout the year.
“Most crime types have seen recorded offences fall year-on-year. The notable exceptions are drug offences, because of proactive police activity in crime hotspots during the first lockdown, while violence against the person also saw a small increase.”
Diana Fawcett, chief executive of the charity Victim Support, warned that a fall in reported crime did not mean crime or its impact had gone away.
She said: “Nor does it necessarily reflect the true extent of crime as national lockdowns have limited the opportunities for victims to report crimes, particularly for domestic abuse and sexual offences.
“We are also seriously concerned that the increase in court delays that has been exacerbated by the pandemic may be putting victims off engaging with the justice process altogether.
“We’ve seen a continued rise of people accessing our services as a result of domestic abuse, hate crime and fraud throughout the pandemic and we’re anticipating further increases as lockdown restrictions begin to ease.”
While thefts, robberies, knife crimes, sexual offences and homicides fell there was a rise in domestic abuse, drug offences and violence against the person, the ONS figures show.
Homicides fell by 12% compared with 2019, although the ONS said this was affected by the discovery of 39 bodies in a lorry in Grays, Essex, in October 2019. Excluding this incident homicides fell 6%.
Drug offences rose by 15% and there was a 7% increase in the number of domestic abuse-related offences recorded by police in 2020, the ONS said.
But the increase in drug crime was driven by a large rise in April to June 2020, “reflecting proactive police activity in crime hotspots”.
Theft offences fell by 26% in 2020, with a 25% drop in robberies, 7% in sexual offences and 11% in criminal damage and arson, but there was a slight rise in violence against the person at 2%, the ONS said.
The data showed that theft from the person fell 42%, shoplifting by 29%, burglary 24% and vehicle offences 21%.
The ONS said: “Theft offences are driving the reduction in the overall police-recorded crime for the latest year.
“This fall was most likely the result of national lockdown restrictions, with fewer shops being open and people spending more time in their homes.”
There was also a 68% increase in “remote banking” fraud to 73,640 incidents, which the ONS said reflected the greater number of people regularly using internet, telephone and mobile banking, and the “attempts by fraudsters to take advantage of this”.