A major new study has confirmed historic falls in Scottish crime.

Official police figures have already shown offending down at levels last seen in the early 1970s.

Now the biggest and most authoritative poll of its kind is also showing dramatic drops in public perceptions of crime.

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The Scottish Crime and Justice Survey, published yesterday, found one in six Scots said they had been a victim of crime in 2012-13. This includes those who did not report the matter to the police.

That compares with a figure of nearly one in five in 2008-09 and, according to Scottish Government experts, translates into a decrease of 22% over the four years.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "This survey confirms what we already know. Crime is falling, the risk of being a victim of crime is falling and more people are feeling safer in their communities."

Official recorded crime - ­essentially a measure of police activity - dropped by 27% in the four years, slightly faster than the calculations based on the survey.

However, the survey suggests that crime - as perceived by those who say they are victims - is far higher than that reported to the police, especially for violent crime.

Police crime statistics are ­notoriously difficult to compare with those from other jurisdictions because crime categories do not match.

However, the survey figures are comparable to those in England and Wales and show Scotland is safer than other parts of the UK.

The victimisation rate - the share of those surveyed who said they had been victims of a crime - was 16.9% in Scotland and 18.7% in England and Wales.

Mr MacAskill added: "The chance of being a victim of crime continues to be in lower in Scotland than in England and Wales, and violent crime in Scotland has fallen by one-quarter since 2008-09. It is also reassuring to see confidence in the police and the criminal justice system continues to improve.

"The crime and justice survey considers how people in our communities perceive crime and how safe they feel in their homes."

"These statistical trends are consistent with recorded crime statistics, which show crime in Scotland is at its lowest level in almost 40 years."

The Justice Secretary stressed his party commitment to maintaining police numbers at 1000 above their 2007 level.

Falling crime has long emerged as a common trend across Europe, but the new survey provides wider indications that the public is happy with their security.

Fully 72% of adults said they felt safe walking alone in their local area after dark in 2012/13, representing what government officials said was "a statistically significant" change of six percentage points from 66% in 2008/09.

The Crime and Justice Survey used to be an annual exercise and is a key measure of public perception that guides policy-makers. It has now been cut back to every two years. A total of 12,000 people are surveyed.

Perceptions of vulnerability were significantly greater than instances of crime reported. The number of respondents who believed they were likely to have their homes broken into was six times greater than the number who reported being the victim of such crime.

The survey gave mixed messages to Mr MacAskill on how well justice works. Two-thirds agreed community sentencing was effective but just 43% were confident the justice system dealt with cases promptly and efficiently and only 32% believed courts gave punishments that fitted the crime.