Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Tories caught out on dodgy crime stats

A very good piece on Radio 4’s Today programme: BBC Home Editor Mark Easton looks into how the Tories are using official statistics on violent crime to apparently show that there’s been a big rise recently.

The snag is that the official sources make crystal clear that the way the figures are compiled changed significantly in 2002, resulting in an artificial increase in the numbers. This “has rendered direct numerical comparisons with pre 2002/03 levels inaccurate” – according to BBC pinko former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith.

The police are also objecting to the scaremongering way the Tories are using these stats:

In Milton Keynes, local [Tory] MP Mark Lancaster's office put out a statement last week claiming that there were 6,015 "violent attacks" in the town last year, reflecting a 236% increase over the past decade.

Milton Keynes sounds like Dodge City. That's a "violent attack" every 90 minutes.
However, according to the Milton Keynes Citizen newspaper, the town's police says that the statistics are "extremely misleading".
Local commander Nikki Ross told the local paper that the figure includes "everything from public order offences, to harassment, to allowing a dog to be out of control in a public place".
"The actual number of people who were victims of serious violence was 81," she said.
The point here is that the phrase "violent attacks" does not equate directly with the crime category "violence against the person". For instance, if someone swears at you in the street and you complain to the police about it, that incident goes down as an act of "violence against the person".

Evan Davis interviewed Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling about all this. Grayling’s defence was: these are the official figures produced by the Home Office, and even though they come with a warning not to use them for comparisons with before 2002, we can still use them for comparisons with before 2002. Except that he didn’t say the middle bit.

Easton’s report and the interview should be available here at some point today (at about 7.32, so 1 hour 32 mins into the programme), but Easton has explained it all in writing here, with another background piece from last week here.


Liam Murray said...

No defence from me other than the observation that honesty & campaigning politicians are rarely best of friends.

Trident said...

Politicians and statistics - a volatile cocktail at the best of times. Perhaps they could use the figures produced by the Government Statistical Service from time to time rather than demonstrating their own inability to count?

Tom Freeman said...

Yeah, the next few months of electioneering are going to be painful. Looking forward to some more poster spoofing, but that's about it.