Uk police
Statistics show that homicides in the UK have gone up for the first time in a decadeGetty

Police sources say that the diversion of crime-fighting resources to tackling historic sex abuse cases and newspaper phone hacking allegations may have contributed to the highest murder rate in England and Wales in a decade.

The Office for National Statistics has described as "peculiar" a 14% increase in murders and manslaughters in the UK last year, with the total for 2015 at 574, or 11 a week.

But the Daily Telegraph reported that the re-deployment of detectives in London, where a fifth of the additional murders took place, as well as growing violence among migrants, including organised gangs, may have been factors for this spike.

It said that a shortage of detectives in the capital may be fuelling the crime wave, with Scotland Yard now having 800 unfilled detective posts, according to latest figures obtained by the paper.

It also described how hundreds of experienced murder squad officers have been diverted to other roles, including historic sex abuse inquiries; the disappearance of Madeleine McCann; and phone hacking and payments to public officials.

Ken Marsh, the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, told the paper: "We have had experienced detectives taken off murder squads, where they might be looking at gang-related crimes, and put into teams dealing with historic sex allegations, for example.

"We need a specific look at the impact this has had on the murder rate."

Murders in the South East

Murders in the capital jumped from 99 to 113, while in the rest of the South East totals rose from 11 to 18 in Kent, seven to 16 in Thames Valley, seven to 15 in Surrey, five to 13 in Sussex and 13 to 21 in Essex.

The ONS said overall crime recorded by the police rose by six per cent in the year to September, including a 27% jump in violence against the person. This amounted to an extra 185,666 violent offences, bringing the annual total to more than 885,000 in England and Wales.

Mike Penning, the police minister, said: "The Government has made reducing violence, including knife crime, a priority and continues to work closely with the police and other organisations to tackle the drivers of these crimes."

A Home Office spokesman said: "Homicide is at historically low levels, and is a third lower than ten years ago. The ONS has said the number of homicides recorded by the police is relatively low and fluctuates.

"Therefore, percentage changes based on small numbers should be interpreted with caution," The Telegraph reported the spokesman as saying.

However The Independent reported that the figures reinforced fears over levels of gang activity in London and major cities, as it focused on how almost one-quarter of the rise in knife crime offences was recorded in the capital.

Andy Simon, a former detective who leads an organisation which mediates between gangs in London, told the Independent: "The youngsters are more likely to carry knives and to resort more quickly to violence."

More about UK police