ALMOST 1,700 crimes were recorded under new domestic abuse laws in Scotland before the Covid lockdown.

The annual recorded crime report for 2019-20 said 1,681 offences were reported under the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which came into force in April 2019.

Domestic abuse is known to have risen since the lockdown came into full effect in the last week of March.

The report also found sexual crimes fell last year for the first time since 2008-09, from 12,547 to 13,364, but remained at their second highest level since the 1970s. The clear-up rate for sexual offences fell to 56.3 per cent, the lowest rate since 1979.

Barely a quarter of fraud offences were cleared up, 28.3%, against 57.2% in 2010-11. 

The Scottish Government figures found overall crime increased by less than 1% last year to 246,516.

With the report covering only the first full week of the lockdown, the report’s author said the pandemic was “unlikely to have had a significant effect” on the numbers. 

Non-sexual crimes of violence rose 16%, from 8,008 to 9,316m driven by the 1,681 domestic abuse figures.

Crimes of dishonesty fell 3% last year, from 114,506 to 111,409, the lowest level since 1971. Fire-raising and vandalism crimes fell 1% to 47,731.

The Scottish Tories focused on violent crime hitting an eight-year high after five annual rises in a row, blaming “the SNP’s soft-touch justice system”.

Tory MSP Liam Kerr said: “Violent crime has soared under the SNP’s soft-touch justice system, and these new figures show no sign of that changing.

“Victims have been let down repeatedly and our police officers are not receiving the backing and resources they need from the SNP government.

“Instead of focusing on tackling this shocking rise in crime, the SNP is concentrating on pushing through its widely-criticised and deeply-flawed Hate Crime Bill. 

“We have consistently called for the SNP to abandon their soft-touch approach to crime.

“Those calls have been ignored and now we’re seeing the consequences.” 

Scottish Labour highlighted the poor clear-up rate for sexual offences.  

Highlands MSP Rhoda Grant, said: “With the percentage of sex offenders caught by the police at its lowest since 1979 and barely over a half of fraudsters caught, it is clear that the SNP is failing to keep Scotland safe.

“Women and men should feel safe to walk the streets of Scotland, but with so many sexual offences going unpunished it is clear that much more needs to be done.

“The pandemic has already brought a sharp spike in fraud cases: catching barely over a quarter of fraudsters simply is not good enough.

“The people of Scotland, particularly the elderly and vulnerable, deserve to be safe from harm. It is time the SNP got to grips with its duty to keep Scotland safe.”

Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said the 1,681 domestic crimes last year were an ill-omen given the recent rise in the offences during the pandemic. 

He said: “Lockdown has been a very frightening period for people, especially those living with abusive partners. 

“The new Act should give victims confidence that psychological and emotional abuse is a crime, and that this coercive and controlling behaviour can take many forms.

“Experts have warned of a heightened risk of harm during this pandemic so the Scottish Government must ensure that support services have the resources they need to help people without delay.

“The last thing victims need is to get inundated with paperwork to prove they are homeless or to be left to fend for themselves in finding a new place. That is why Scottish Liberal Democrats have also called for new rights so that abusers can be the ones who are moved out of the home, not the victim.

“These are the types of changes that can help give people the confidence they need to escape abusive relationships.”

SNP Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said he was pleased victims of domestic abuse had the confidence in the police and justice system to come forward and report offences.

He also urged MSPs to back proposed powers to remove abusers from victims’ homes.

He said: “Reports under these new laws, which reflect the reality of many domestic abuse victims, account for the rise in overall non-sexual violence recorded by police last year. 

“We must learn from our success in reducing violence on our streets to help keep people safer in their homes, in particular those who are subjected to, or at risk of, domestic abuse.

“That requires not just a government response, but a commitment across families, friends, and colleagues to help tackle the attitudes and behaviours that allow any form of domestic abuse to persist.

“The Parliament will soon be considering our further legislative plans to give police and courts powers to remove domestic abusers from victims’ homes.

“That legislation, if passed by Parliament will lift the burden of action from those already suffering or at risk from abuse by giving greater powers to police to intervene where necessary, in turn giving victims vital breathing space to decide the best future option for them.”