Rise in drug crime during coronavirus lockdown, figures show

Police Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Drug crime rose by up to 44% during the coronavirus lockdown in England and Wales compared with the same period last year, official figures show.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), drug offences recorded by police rose by 22% in April to 16,570 and 44% in May to 20,687.

This is compared with 13,535 and 14,343 for the respective months in 2019.

The ONS report, published on Wednesday, put this down to "proactive police activity in pursuing these crimes during lockdown".

It said the rises were driven largely by drugs possession offences with "early indications" suggesting this was "particularly evident in London" where the Metropolitan Police had increased the number of drugs-related stop and searches it was carrying out during that time.

Overall police-recorded crime during lockdown was 25% lower in April and 20% lower in May compared with the same period in 2019.

It also fell 5% in March compared with February, the report said.

In particular, reports of theft fell in April and May to “almost half the level recorded” during those months in the previous year.

But reports of crime rose again as lockdown restrictions began to ease, it added.

Billy Gazard, from the ONS Centre for Crime and Justice, said: "There was a significant fall in crime at the height of the coronavirus pandemic across England and Wales."

"This was driven by reductions in theft offences, particularly domestic burglary and theft of personal property."

He added: "As this period coincided with the majority of people spending long periods at home during lockdown, it is not unexpected."

But he said the "exception was police recording of drug offences, which increased through April and May", adding: "This reflects proactive police activity as overall crime levels reduced."

The report gives the first official indication of some police-recorded crime figures since the pandemic took hold in the UK.

But its findings are limited due to the difficulties in gathering statistics posed by the circumstances caused by the pandemic and because some figures are not yet available.

For example, police reports of domestic abuse are recorded quarterly, so official figures indicating the prevalence of this crime during lockdown are yet to be made public.