ROCHFORD district is safe and crime-free, one of the area's senior policemen says.

Newly-released figures suggest the number of offences reported across the district fell sharply last year, with an especially steep reduction in Hockley and Hawkwell.

Just 19 offences were reported in the two villages last May, compared to 40 in May 2006. The figures cover offences such as burglary, car crime and assault.

Across the whole Rochford district, just 143 burglaries were reported between April 2006 to April 2007 - 14 per cent reduction.

Chief Insp John Walker, of Rochford police, said the statistics proved the area was safe and residents had little to fear.

He added: "We don't want to encourage people to leave their doors open, but we want them to feel reassured.

"People watch Crimewatch or programmes such as Police Camera Action and think such crime is all happening in their area.

"What people have to realise is they live in a really nice area and shouldn't have such a fear of crime."

In Hullbridge reported crime rose slightly. Four offences were reported in May 2006 and six in May 2007.

Stephen Garland, community safety officer for Rochford District Council, added: "Fear of crime is very real in this area, particularly in Rayleigh.

"If fear of crime is high, people aren't going to be going out at night to pubs and restaurants.

"We don't want that, because crime isn't there.

"You see groups of ten or 20 people hanging around, but often they do that because they themselves are afraid of trouble.

"Older people don't know that, so everyone is living in fear of each other."