RECORDED crime has risen in Scotland for the first time in 12 years, with sexual crimes at their highest level since records began almost half a century ago.

The latest official statistics also showed the police clear up rates at its lowest level for eight years, with less than half of all crimes solved in 2017-18.

More than 400 cases of "revenge porn" helped push up the sexual crime numbers.

SNP Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said the increase was “disappointing”, but emphasised crime overall was at historically low levels.

Opposition parties said it was evidence of SNP funding cuts hampering Police Scotland’s ability to do its job.

The force is currently pushing for a new £300m IT system to replace its out-dated patchwork of computer databases.

The annual report on Recorded Crime in Scotland found there were 244,504 recorded crimes in 2017-18, the second lowest level since 1974.

The total included 4,163 crimes of handling an offensive weapon, a crime which was only recorded from last year onwards.

Including this crime, the total number of crimes increased by 2 per cent from 2016-17.

However, even if the new weapon crime was omitted, total crime still increased by 1%.

Sexual crimes increased by 13%, from 11,092 in 2016-17 to 12,487 in 2017-18.

This was partly due to 421 offences involving “revenge porn” following new legislation in July last year.

Total sexual crimes were at their highest level since comparable records began in 1971.

Non-sexual violent crime was up 1% to 7,251, the highest level since 2012-13.

Crimes of dishonesty such as theft, shoplifting and housebreaking rose 1% to 114,474 in 2017-18, though this was still the second lowest level seen since 1971.

Fire-raising and vandalism fell 2% to 51,322 in 2017-18, the lowest for 40 years.

The overall police clear up rate fell from 50 to 49.1%, its lowest since 2010-11, excluding the new weapon offences, or to 49.5% including them.

Clear-up rates varied across types of crime, with just a quarter of fire-raising and vandalism cases solved, 37% of dishonesty crimes, 60% of sexual crimes, and 76% of non-sexual violent crimes.

The council with the biggest increase in recorded crime last year was Falkirk, up 15%, followed by East Renfrewshire (14%), Scottish Borders (12%) and Edinburgh (11%).

The biggest falls were in Aberdeen, Western Isles and the Shetland Islands, all down 12%.

Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr said even a 1% rise in overall crime translated into thousands of incidents.

He said: "What’s equally worrying is such a stark failure to solve and detect crimes. The police always do the best they can but the SNP simply have to resource them properly.

“The situation in Scotland now is that, should you commit a crime, you have more chance of not being caught than being brought to justice.

“That’s what happens when you have an SNP government running a soft-touch approach which drips all the way through the justice system.

“Criminals are no longer scared to go to court which will only get worse if the SNP tell criminals they won’t get the jail for sentences of less than 12 months.

“The SNP government should be ensuring the police have the resources they need to do the job, and think very carefully about the messages their policies are sending.”

Labour MSP Daniel Johnson MSP said the data reflected “misguided” cuts to local policing.

He said: “With crime sky-rocketing by double digits in some areas, and more than half of crimes going unsolved, it is clear something is going seriously wrong. It is essential the SNP starts giving brave police officers the resources they need to keep people safe.

“But the answer cannot be just more and better policing – this increase is also down to the SNP’s wider failure to invest in our economy, create jobs and tackle poverty.

“Many crimes are linked to deprivation – and we cannot deliver justice without also tackling social injustice and inequality.

“That is why we need to see a real commitment from the SNP to stop the cuts, not just to policing, but to lifeline services in communities across the country.”

LibDem MSP Liam McArthur added: "Despite the best efforts of hard working officers and staff, the clear-up rate is now at its lowest level since Police Scotland was established.

"The first upturn in recorded crime for years is also cause for concern.

"Officers and staff continue to be let down by a lack of resources, the loss of valuable civilian expertise and reliance on outdated IT systems."

Mr Yousaf highlighted new research showing muggings had halved over the last decade.

Robbery in public places by strangers was down from 2,080 cases in 2008-09 to 860 last year, while robberies involving a blade were down from 1,270 to 550 in the same period.

He said: “Scotland’s streets are now safer and less violent than they were a decade ago.

“This is due in no small part to the pioneering work across the justice system, NHS, schools and other partners to prevent crime at its source.

"It was also this Government which took action to introduce tougher penalties for knife crime.

“While any small rise in crime is disappointing, we remain focused with the police and other partners on keeping crime at historically low levels. That is why we’ve commissioned in-depth research into different aspects of violent crime.

“It is also why we have set up an expert group looking at new action to prevent sexual crime, of which we know increases are being driven by a growth in online crime, greater confidence in reporting and a long-term rise in historical cases.”

Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Taylor, Police Scotland, added: “Total recorded crime is now lower than when Police Scotland came into being five years ago.

“The increase in recorded sexual crime suggests victims feel more confident coming forward to report to us and we want to support and encourage people to continue doing this."