Gun crime reached its highest level in a decade in Hertfordshire last year, new police figures show.

Hertfordshire Constabulary recorded 57 offences involving a firearm in 2018-2019, according to Home Office data.

That's the highest number since 2008-09, and a 68 per cent increase from 2017-18.

The incidents include offences where a firearm has been fired, used as a blunt instrument or as a threat.

Offences with low-powered weapons such as BB guns and pepper spray are included in police figures, alongside shotguns, handguns and rifles. However, with the data excluding crimes involving air weapons, the real number may be higher.

It means there were five firearms offences per 100,000 population in Hertfordshire - below the national average of 11.

Hertfordshire Constabulary says the number of recorded offences involving a firearm has increased due to improvements in the way crime is recorded and proactive operations to detect and remove firearms from streets.

Chief Superintendent Matt Nicholls said: “We acknowledge that certain serious violent crimes have increased nationally, alongside the rise in county lines and other organised criminal gang activity.

“In response to these challenges we set up specialist teams, Operation Relentless, to tackle organised crime groups and Operation Mantis, to tackle county lines drug dealing.

“We have carried out many operations over the last year to disrupt and apprehend those few criminals responsible for much of the violent crime in the county, arresting more than 50 individuals, with those involved being sentenced to more than 110 years in prison.”

Ch Supt added that the county’s police force is continuing to work local councils, schools, charities and other agencies to develop plans to reduce violent crime and educate young people about the risks of becoming involved in gangs and violent crime.

Across England and Wales, 9,787 gun offences were recorded last year – nearly 60 per cent lower than the level recorded at its peak in 2003-04, according to the Office for National Statistics.

This is despite offences rising last year to the highest level nationally since 2010-11.

The Gun Control Network is campaigning for progressively tighter controls on guns in the UK.

Speaking about the national rise, Peter Squires, member of the non-profit organisation, said: "Although gun crime has risen it is still nowhere near as high as it was 15 years ago.

"What police forces were doing between 2005 and 2015 was pushing gun crime down. Priorities have shifted towards knife crime and that's why gun problems pop up in a cyclical way.

"There are more guns in Europe than there ever have been. Gun ownership is rising.

"Evidence shows that a lot of gun crime is gang-related."

Mr Squires added that cuts to resources have impacted the ability of police forces to tackle the issue.

The Office for National statistics said the rise in firearms crimes could be down to improvements in recording by police forces – with recorded stun gun and pepper spray cases seeing the biggest rises nationally.

The most common crime category involving a firearm last year was violence against the person, followed by criminal damage and robbery.

Kit Malthouse, Minister for Crime, Policing and the Fire Service said: “We are taking action to make our streets safer and protect people from violence.

“We are recruiting 20,000 new police officers, giving them more powers to take dangerous weapons off our streets and ensuring serious violent and sexual offenders spend longer behind bars.

"The Offensive Weapons Act introduces new laws which will give police extra powers to seize dangerous weapons."