CRIME across County Dur-ham has fallen 3.2 per cent in the face of a national increase in offences, according to Government figures.

There were 48,796 offences reported to the county's police in the year from April 1999 to March of this year - compared with 50,413 offences between 1998 and 1999.

The force says that crime has halved over the last seven years and that house burglaries have fallen to a new low.

Break-ins fell by 12 per cent to 4,044. The number of thefts of vehicles and thefts from vehicles fell from 10,056 to 9,126.

Some crimes, however, are still increasing. Violent crime rose by around ten per cent from 5,370 to 5,884 offences, although more than 90 per cent were detected.

Assistant Chief Constable Ron Hogg said the rise was due to the force tackling 'yobbish' behaviour by drunken troublemakers late at night.

He said that the number of serious violent incidents was largely unchanged but added that the force was constantly looking at ways of curbing them.

He added that nearly three quarters of the increase could be accounted for by a leap in the number of people arrested for minor incidents of disorder, common assault or assault on police.

Until two years ago these offences were not included in Home Office figures.

The force's pro-active stance on domestic and racial violence had helped to push up these figures.

Mr Hogg said: "There has been a slight rise in the number of sexual offences, from 243 to 251, but that suggests an increasing confidence on the part of victims to step forward and report attacks, firm in the knowledge that nine out of ten assailants will be caught and prosecuted.''

Robberies also rose from 172 to 236 but these were believed to involve teenagers stealing small amounts of cash or property from their peers.

Mr Hogg said: "I hope the latest figures will reassure the public that our tactics in recent years, which include putting more bobbies on the streets and targeting persistent offenders, are working.

"But there is no question of sitting back on our laurels and there will be no let up in our determination to pursue lawbreakers.''