TARGETING sexual crimes is a "priority" for police in Ayrshire, according to the regional force's chief - after new figures revealed a 12.5 per cent increase in the number of such offences recorded.

Police Scotland's quarterly statistics, published last week, showed a worrying rise in the number of rape and attempted rape crimes across the Ayrshire division - up by 42 per cent year-on-year.

The number of indecent or sexual assaults has also risen, from 275 during the final few months of 2020/21, to 319 over the same period in 2021/22.

Domestic abuse incidents totalled 4,394 in the most recent quarter, down from 4,456 in the previous year, with less than half (45.3 per cent) of those incidents being recorded as crime reports.

The total number of sexual crimes in the county has shot up from 732 to 824 - prompting a pledge from the divisional commander of Ayrshire Police to target the issue.

Chief superintendent Faroque Hussain said: “Targeting sexual crime is also a priority for us and, like the national picture which has recorded an overall increase, Ayrshire has recorded 37 more incidents of rape.

"This shows a rise in public confidence in people coming forward to report and I would encourage our communities to continue engaging with us to help shape local policing."

In North Ayrshire specifically, the number of rape and attempted rape crimes recorded by police has risen from 40 to 59, while indecent or sexual assaults have jumped from 97 to 125.

Housebreakings are down by almost a quarter in North Ayrshire, and in the wider county, while drug crimes have fallen dramatically despite an increased detection rate.

The number of common assaults has risen slightly, along with shoplifting offences and fraud reports - with CS Hussain citing the latter as another area of focus for his officers.

He said: “Officers across Ayrshire have been focusing on the priorities that matter to our communities and this latest report underpins their hard work.

“Our bond with our communities is central to our legitimacy and we will continue to engage with them to influence local policing priorities.

“One of those priorities is the increase in fraud which remains a threat across the country.

"Ayrshire has experienced some cruel acts of vulnerable people being exploited by imposters disguising their wicked intent and this is why we are getting preventative messages out to our communities.

"The rise in fraud reaffirms that online policing is increasingly a key part of frontline policing."

Reflecting the national trend, homicides are down in Ayrshire - from five to two - and anti-social behaviour offences have dropped by almost 7,000.

Police Scotland's deputy chief constable, Fiona Taylor, said there was more to do in order to tackle violence.

She said: “A reduction in the number of homicides is welcome but there is more to do in order to tackle violence, including working with our partners to prevent offending.

“Police Scotland takes domestic abuse very seriously and we have specialist officers who work in communities across the country to tackle these offences.

“The comprehensive review we have commissioned into the policing response to public protection will allow us to continue to adapt and respond to shifting demand and vulnerabilities in this space.”