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How Britain Cooks The Books

How Britain Cooks The Books

Originally appeared in America’s 1st Freedom, January 2014.

President Obama—one of the most vehemently anti-gun presidents in our nation’s history—has never missed an opportunity to praise other countries that have enacted harsh, restrictive gun laws. Clearly, he would have the American people believe that such laws have led directly to lower violent crime in those countries. 

In the Sept. 22, 2013, issue of USA Today, an article titled “Obama calls for ‘transformation’ of nation’s gun laws” described the memorial service the president gave in our nation’s capital for victims of the Sept. 16 murders at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard. David Barrett, home affairs correspondent for the Telegraph … stated, “One detective, who declined to be named, said, ‘Name any crime, and I’ll tell you how it can be fiddled.’”

The article illustrated Obama’s eagerness to exploit tragedy in order to promote his own political agenda—firearm prohibition. Yet in his enthusiastic praise of the United Kingdom and its gun laws, Obama tells only part of the story. What he dare not tell is how laws that remove firearms from the hands of peaceable civilians do not make a safer world. 

For some historical context, let’s take a quick look back. On March 13, 1996, a mass murderer killed 16 children and their teacher at a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland. This resulted in a handgun ban throughout the U.K. 

“It was one of the most shocking things that has ever happened in this country, and it united the country in a feeling that we had to do something,” Gill Marshall-Andrews, of the Gun Control Network, stated at the time. “And I don’t think that it would have been possible to make the kind of progress that we have made without that tragedy.” 

But is the U.K.’s “progress”—the implementation of a handgun ban—really the kind of change Obama wishes to import to this side of the pond? 

Because of massive finagling of crime statistics by the Home Office, by frontline police officers, by their superiors and by the British justice system, the level of violence in the U.K. subsequent to the Firearms Act of 1997 has been rendered difficult to decipher. We can, however, make educated guesses from what has leaked into the newspapers and other media, and even from some information provided by the Home Office. 

On July 16, 2001, the BBC News reported, “A new study suggests the use of handguns in crime rose by 40 percent in the two years after the weapons were banned. ... the report suggests that despite the restrictions on ownership, the use of handguns in crime is rising.” 

Other reports about increasing violent crime began appearing across the U.K. media and elsewhere. In recent years, however, some sources have indicated a decrease in crime statistics. 

Is this decrease an accurate finding? Or is it more of an “artifact,” resulting from the U.K.’s response to pacify its subjects through cooking the numbers to make them more “acceptable”? 

Note that there are two primary sources of crime statistics in the U.K. The first is from police data. These figures are especially unreliable because they deal only with crime that the police record. And these are the statistics that are highly vulnerable to manipulation. While manipulation of data for self-serving purposes might be a common practice, the extent to which some U.K. law-enforcement officials have taken it reaches new heights. 

The second source is the British Crime Survey, which also has its own set of accuracy problems. For the purpose of this article, we will deal with the first category, police data.While manipulation of data for self-serving purposes might be a common practice, the extent to which some U.K. law-enforcement officials have taken it reaches new heights. 

The fiddling of crime statistics—and the pressure to downgrade crime—goes way back. In their 1996 book Guns & Violence: The Debate Before Lord Cullen, Richard Munday and Jan Stevenson showed how the true British homicide rate has been camouflaged. They pointed out that, as a result of the 1967 Criminal Law Act, each homicide case is “tracked through the courts and the figures pruned annually to cull out those in which the courts found the death to be the result of accident or self-defense, or [the perpetrator was] convicted on a lesser charge.” For instance, a murderer could be convicted of “causing grievous bodily harm with intent,” and such a case would then be removed from the homicide crime statistics. This could result in homicide rates being lowered by as much as 25 percent. 

Each year, millions of crimes committed in the U.K. are not even reported to the police. And the crimes that are reported don’t always get recorded. In fact, there are many techniques employed by the police to fiddle with the figures and mask the truth. This deception, known as “gaming,” is used by the police to satisfy the “targets”—or performance goals—that their superiors have set for them. According to “Crime of the Century—A Chilling Look at Crime Statistics in the U.K.,” published online in March 2011 by thinbluelineuk.blogspot.com, a site dedicated to analyzing U.K. policing and crime: “The alarming reality is that ‘gaming’ (as confirmed by frontline officers) is endemic and widespread throughout the police forces of England and Wales.”

In an article titled “Police Force ‘Tricks’ To Fiddle Figures,” which ran in the Dec. 5, 2009, issue of the Telegraph, Dr. Rodger Patrick, a retired detective chief inspector, provided greater elaboration of the gaming techniques that are used by police to give a more flattering picture of their performance. Patrick, who researched the subject for his doctoral degree, stated, “The academics call this ‘gaming,’ but police officers would call it fiddling the figures, massaging the books or, the current favorite term, ‘good housekeeping.’ It is a bit like the police activities that we all thought stopped in the 1970s.”

Patrick identified four specific techniques used:

  1. “Cuffing”—In which officers make crimes disappear from official figures by either recording them as a “false report” or downgrading their seriousness. For example, a robbery in which a mobile phone is stolen with violence or threats of violence is recorded as “theft from the person,” which is not classed as a violent crime.
  2. “Stitching”—From “stitching up,” whereby offenders are charged with a crime when there is insufficient evidence. Police know that prosecutors will never proceed with the case but the crime appears in police records to have been “solved.”
  3. “Skewing”—When police activity is directed at easier-to-solve crimes to boost detection rates, at the expense of more serious offences such as sex crimes or child abuse.
  4. “Nodding”—Where clear-up rates are boosted by persuading convicted offenders to admit to crimes they have not committed, in exchange for inducements such as a lower sentence.

David Barrett, home affairs correspondent for the Telegraph and author of the above article, stated, “One detective, who declined to be named, said, ‘Name any crime, and I’ll tell you how it can be fiddled.’”

An article in the Jan. 25, 2013, issue of The Independent titled “Blowing the whistle: The inside story of how targets make policing worse,” stated: “You will find very, very few recorded attempted burglaries because they all get recorded as criminal damage. … A reduction in burglary is a massive thing and if they can keep figures for burglary and attempted burglary low, that effectively increases public confidence. …”

According to the May 12, 2013, issue of the Telegraph, Steve Williams, chairman of the Police Federation, stated: “Crime figures are being kept artificially low because of pressure from chief constables.” 

Williams continues: 

Pressure is being brought to bear  on frontline officers on the way they  are recording crime, and I am very concerned about the current situation. … Crimes are downgraded in seriousness or the numbers are hidden. For example, if 10 caravans are broken into overnight with 10 different victims, it will sometimes be recorded as just one crime. … If there is a crime where there is little or no evidence, and little chance of police detecting it, then that will be screened out at a very early stage so it does not appear in the stats.Although there have been numerous attempts to remove performance targets from police objectives, it seems that they are still in effect. 

To muddy the picture even more, the U.K. has expanded its category of “no-crime.” From the Home Office Web page titled “‘No crimes’ data 2012 to 2013,” it elaborated: “Police forces record some crimes which are subsequently ‘no crimed’ where it is judged by the police that no crime actually took place. … Crime reports that are ‘no crimed’ are removed from police crime data and thus from the police recorded crime statistics.”

It should be noted that the Home Office cautioned, “Great care is needed in interpreting ‘no crime’ data. …” 

The practice of “no-criming” in the U.K. is especially troublesome with regard to situations in which rape is potentially involved. On Sept. 9, 2011, the BBC News article “Rape Crime Figure Differences Revealed” reported, “new figures show wide disparities in the way that police forces in England and Wales record allegations of rape. Data supplied shows the proportion of rapes dismissed by the police as ‘no crime’ varies between 2 percent and 30 percent.” 

The article quoted Lisa Longstaff, a spokesperson of Women Against Rape, as stating, “The whole practice of ‘no criming’ … [sends] out a terrible message, and the higher the no crime figure is in each area, the worse the message it sends out.” The BBC News characterized her statement about the rape figures as “insulting to victims.” The news item concluded: “This pre-determines police attitudes to allegations at the outset. If they know they are going to be criticized for recording a crime in good faith that is later not prosecuted, then there is a mind-set. ... there is no incentive to record.”

Further, The Independent reported on Feb. 28, 2012: “Hundreds of cases of rape reported to the police were struck from the tally of sex offences last year because police classified them as ‘no-crimes.’ … in one unnamed force, only four in 10 decisions to downgrade a rape to ‘no-crime’ were correct in 2011.”

Professor Liz Kelly, co-chair of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “It is deeply troubling that the rate of ‘no-criming’ reported cases is four times higher than for other similar violent offences. Forces need to revolutionize their approach to rape, starting with the principle of believing the complainant and supporting them through the process.”

According to an article titled “Restoring Public Trust in Crime Statistics” (2009):

Crime statistics are not trusted by the public. … In October 2008, the home secretary admitted that there had been undercounting of some of the most serious violent crimes in 18 police forces. The error was discovered when at least 18 out of 43 forces in England and Wales were asked to re-examine their figures. ... When the figures were recounted using the correct classification, the official total showed an increase in serious violent crime of 22 percent.

An additional means of hiding crime was pointed out by Ann T. Hathaway, a U.K. crime blogger and researcher who helped publicize the writings of “Inspector Gadget,” a now-retired U.K. police officer who used his website to expose abuse of police practices: U.K. gun laws: a “gold standard,” or just plain “fool’s gold”? Based on official statistics, it’s impossible to know. 

On Jan. 29, 2009, [the heretofore anonymous] Gadget reported that the police in his precinct were to clean up ‘any outstanding crime reports.’ Sounds constructive, but go to the next sentence: They must not, under any circumstances, get out on the street and find any more crime. Not until the next financial year anyway. … Now attach the idea of bonuses [for cutting crime figures] to this. The fakery becomes cash fraud. [According to the BBC News on Jan. 24, 2009, “Chief constables can receive bonuses worth up to 15 percent of their salary, deputy chiefs up to 12.5 percent and assistant chiefs 10 percent. These bonuses are dependent on the individual performance of the chief officers and how they lead  their forces towards achieving national  and local objectives.”] 

The identity and description of Inspector Gadget can be found in the online “Inspector Gadget Blog,” published on Jan. 5, 2013. Gadget’s demise is reported on thinbluelineuk.blogspot.com, in a March 15, 2013, post entitled “Inspector Gadget: Officer Down”: 

In a sad indictment of modern policing, one of the best-known anonymous police bloggers has quit writing after seven years of sharing an officer’s-eye view of the world of policing. This country’s police were once the envy of the world; now they struggle to retain the confidence of their own people and have long since lost the support and confidence of the British public. Weighed down by political correctness, burdensome targets, excessive paperwork, non-core police activity and incessant government tinkering, fewer officers than ever are seen on the streets.

Although there have been numerous attempts to remove performance targets from police objectives, it seems that they are still in effect. In July 2008, then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith tried, and in June 2010, Home Secretary Theresa May tried again. In March 2011, however, thinbluelineuk.com’s report “Crime of the Century” noted that, “The fact that over 30 of the 43 forces have retained performance targets scrapped by Theresa May is an indication of size and nature of the problem.”

Despite all the double-talk, there is one apparent truth: There is so much deception and chicanery in cooking the statistics, an accurate accounting of crime in the U.K. is impossible to determine from official statistics—and accuracy of any sort is a secondary consideration to simple expediency. 

On Dec. 14, 1999, the Gun Control Network’s Marshall-Andrews had bragged during a parliamentary session, “The tighter the gun laws you have, the safer the society and probably the less illegal weaponry you have at the same time. It must be said that our gun laws are regarded internationally as the gold standard —post 1997. Other countries are extremely envious, if you like, of the situation we have.”

It must never have entered Marshall-Andrews mind how utterly foolish she and her words would ultimately appear to her own country’s subjects, and to the rest of the free world, when, in 2013, the Telegraph conducted a reader poll. 

On May 24, 2013, readers were asked to vote on a bill to present to the House of Commons. The final results were published in the June 28 edition. Of six suggested bills, repeal of the U.K.’s handgun ban topped the list: 88 percent of respondents (22,897 out of 25,913) wanted the ban repealed. 

Perhaps Marshall-Andrews would want to revise her statement to reflect a greater degree of accuracy, were that 1999 parliamentary session to be held today. 

U.K. gun laws: a “gold standard,” or just plain “fool’s gold”? Based on official statistics, it’s impossible to know. What we do know is it is irresponsible for an American president to push these laws as a solution for America’s violence problem when years of cooking crime statistics in the U.K. have rendered any comparisons virtually meaningless.

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