Crime Statistics Should be Free of Spin

Home Office ministers should be removed from any involvement in official crime statistics to restore public confidence in their accuracy, Whitehall’s statistics watchdog said yesterday. The Statistics Commission said it did not believe public trust could be restored while ministers, their advisers and senior officials were directly involved in both publishing crime figures and setting out the official response to them.

The Home Office rejected allegations of ministerial interference in the preparation of the crime figures last night, saying that in line with Whitehall protocols “ministers do not even see the bulletins until 72 hours ahead of publication”.

But this admission that ministers have three days to prepare their response fuelled opposition MPs’ claims that the crime figures were being “spun” and that “tough on crime” policy statements were timed to coincide with their publication.

The Home Office publishes two sets of crime figures for England and Wales: the British Crime Survey and offences recorded by the police. The BCS has shown a sustained 44% fall in crime since 1995, but opinion polls show that the public simply do not believe this.

The Statistics Commission’s final report, published yesterday, says:

· Responsibility for compiling and publishing crime statistics should be kept at arms length from Home Office ministers.

· The BCS, which involved interviews with 40,000 people a year, should be moved from the Home Office to the Office of National Statistics.

· A new definition of “violent crime” is needed to distinguish between crimes that involve violence in the commonly accepted sense and those such as bigamy, illegal abortion, possessing offensive weapons and death by dangerous driving that are currently recorded in the same category.

· High-quality crime data is needed for smaller areas because, despite recent advances, most neighbourhood figures on crime and antisocial behaviour are too broad to be meaningful to residents and frontline workers.

The commission fails to back demands that a weighted crime index be set up to give greater emphasis to more serious crime. The commission’s review says more research is needed on how such an index would work. The Home Office said it would study the recommendations and consider them alongside the conclusions of its own review established by Charles Clarke when he was home secretary and due to report later this year. But David Davis, shadow home secretary, welcomed the recommendations. “For too long the government have used bogus, inappropriate and spun statistics to try to hide their failure on crime,” he said.