The number of homicides recorded by police has fallen to its lowest since 1983, according to new figures - so what's behind the steady decline?

Police at a crime scene (getty)

A total of 550 murders, manslaughters and infanticides were recorded in 2011/12 across England and Wales - that's a drop of 14% since the previous year, with a sharp fall in London.

John Flatley, the head of crime figures at the Office of National Statistics, said there had been no surge in crime as a result of the recession, although he had no clear reason for this year's fall.

However criminologists have attributed the declining murder rate to a number of factors, from changes in policing tactics, to advances in medical science. Detectives say that an improvement in medical services and response times means that doctors and paramedics arrive at the scene faster, and better equipped. That means they're able to save a higher proportion of victims of violent crime, who don't then become part of the murder statistics.

However Mr Flatley said he believed there was a more likely reason. "More than two thirds of homicides are committed by partners, ex-partners or other family members, and that's what's driving the overall change." Successive governments have ploughed more resources into tackling domestic violence, which may be having some impact.

Police also report improvements in crime prevention, while some argue that the increase in life sentences since the 2003 Criminal Justice Act has seen fewer potential re-offenders back out on the streets.

The figures, which also show a national drop in total recorded crime, including a seven per cent fall in violent crime, appear to fly in the face of conventional wisdom which suggests that crime tends to go up during tough economic times. However there has been an increase in most thefts, including pickpocketing, bicycle theft and shoplifting.

The policing minister, Nick Herbert, said the figures showed the police had managed to drive down the number of offences despite budget cuts: "They give the lie to the spurious claim that there is a simple link between overall police numbers and the crime rate."

Deputy Chief Constable Douglas Paxton, from the Association of Chief Police Officers, also paid tribute to his officers and staff, who, he said, "have faced the challenge of major efficiencies while continuing to tackle crime in our communities."

Britian's declining homicide rate reflects a similar picture across Europe and North America. Indeed, a study by America's Centre for Disease Control earlier this year found for the first time in 45 years murder was no longer among the top causes of death.

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