Crime Statistics a Minefield; Many of the Most Common Offences Are Being Committed by Young People

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Byline: MARIO BASINI

AMONG the most consistent aspects of the debate over crime in England and Wales is the tendency for people to exaggerate the threat of theft and assault which faces them.

Survey after survey has reported the fact that our worries and concerns about crime far outstrip the reality.

So the one thing the debate needs above all else is a clear and unequivocal statement of the facts.

Yesterday the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, promised us the broadest and clearest picture yet of the crime statistics by publishing police levels of recorded crime with the results of the latest British Crime Survey.

Far from producing David Blunkett's promised clarity, the method has merely increased our confusion. It throws more uncertainty over a subject already shrouded in fear and doubt.

To begin with, the police statistics and those produced by the British Crime Survey do not compare like with like. The survey is based on a sample of people taken in house-holds across England and Wales, so it is subject to sampling error. And because of the smallness of the sample used in previous surveys its compilers warn us that it is only accurate over five years.

They go on to warn us that extreme care is needed in comparing the survey with the police figures since frequently they are not comparing identical categories of crime.

So what are we to make of the fact that while the survey shows us that crime in England and Wales has dropped by 22pc since 1997, recorded crime tells us robberies rose by a startling 28pc last year alone?

What adds to the confusion is the admission that levels of recorded offences are themselves inaccurate because of changes in the methods of recording crime. So while the police statistics register a 7pc increase in crime last year, estimates suggest the true figure is only 2pc.

What is clear from yesterday's figures is that in Wales crime has reached worryingly high levels in crucial areas. The rise in recorded robberies in Wales is less than the massive 38pc average for England and Wales but it is still a significant 16pc. …