CRIME in Salisbury is up an alarming 10 per cent, despite the city's remaining one of the safest places to live.

Violent crime accounts for the majority of the hike, with 430 more incidents of assault, bodily harm and fighting being reported.

In the year ending March 2003, 7,596 crimes were committed in the district, which covers police stations in Amesbury, Alderbury, Tisbury and the city centre.

This is up 694 from last year, bucking the national trend, which showed an overall decrease in crime.

The number of criminals getting caught fell, with detection rates in Salisbury tumbling from 34 per cent to 30, although this is still well above the 24 per cent national average.

The new statistics are the first time all incidents of fighting and common assault have been recorded and they revealed a shocking picture of violence on the streets.

"Luckily, most of this crime is at the lower end of scale, where people have had too much to drink and get in a fight," said Chief Inspector (Operations) John Boland.

"The number of serious assaults has actually fallen quite dramatically.

"But the figures do show areas of concern, particularly around the Brown Street-Winchester Street area near the clubs.

"We were already aware of these issues and are taking action to deal with the problem."

Salisbury's other crime nightmare is vandalism and criminal damage. Just last week, yobs forced the closure of Hampton Park community centre, which suffered repeated attacks.

The arts centre and areas of Bemerton Heath have also been targeted.

Cases of criminal damage have rocketed by 21 per cent, with 1,756 reported cases in a year.

"This is clearly a major issue," added Chief Insp Boland.

"But we have encouraged wider reporting of criminal damage, particularly in areas where we know it is a problem.

"We have several operations under way - there were problems with people vandalising buses in Bemerton Heath, so we stationed plain clothes officers to ride on them.

"We are also working with the youth teams to set up arts projects.

"Young people seem to like to paint - we just don't want them doing graffiti."

Other areas of concern across Wiltshire are a steep increase in the number of sexual offences, which have risen by 46 per cent, and robbery, which is up 20 per cent, compared with an 11 per cent decrease in the national figures.

"It tends to be kids having their mobile phones stolen," said Chief Insp Boland.

"Luckily, serious street robbery is not a major problem in Salisbury."

The number of drug crimes has remained steady, with only one more incident than last year, and the force is pleased that burglary figures have fallen from 477 to 380.

"We are seeing an increase in the number of distraction burglaries but cases of house break-ins are well down," said Chief Insp Boland.

"We have increased our ability to get DNA from the scene of crimes and this is deterring the criminals."

Despite the overall rise, the Salisbury district remains one of the safest parts of Wiltshire, which has the second-lowest crime rate across the country after Surrey.

"We know we do comparatively well here but we must not be complacent," said Chief Insp Boland.

"We have had an increase of more than 700 crimes, and no extra resources to deal with them.

"We need to use these figures to identify particular problems and hot spots, so that we can continue to drive down crime."

The chairman of the Salisbury police Community Consultative Committee, Paul Sample, said: "I am concerned by the increase in violent crime and will be asking why this has happened.

"However, Salisbury is a very safe place to live and work, where people should feel secure in their homes."