The following BBC headlines cover
the official crime figures (published quarterly)
between 2004 and 2006:
crime figures rise by 12%" (22/7/04)
crime figures show fresh rise" (21/10/04)
crime increases by 6%'" (25/1/05)
crime 'rise' sparks row" (21/4/05)
offences top million mark" (21/7/05)
crime shows 6% increase" (20/10/05)
crime and robbery on rise" (26/1/06)
up 6% but crime stable" (27/4/06)
and MP3s fuel robbery rise" (20/7/06)
(Click on a headline to
go to relevant BBC Online page)
Reasonable people might assume these headlines
reflect the trends highlighted in the official
figures. They might also assume that violent
crime has indeed been rising.
Both assumptions would be mistaken.
The BBC headlines ignore the main trends (falls
or no change in most areas of crime) and instead
"cherry-pick" areas of crime which
appear to have risen (but which on closer inspection
are mostly shown not to have risen).
Violent crime has fallen since 1995
the official figures are clear on this.
Recent "rises" in recorded violent
crime have more to do with changes to recording
practices than to real "rises" (see
Footnote 1). The quarterly Home Office
Statistical Bulletins (which contains the official
crime figures a combination of police
records and the British Crime Survey) make this
clear. (See Footnote
We illustrate, below, the pattern of misleading
"cherry-picking" BBC headlines by
comparing them with highlighted "summary"
or "main points" in the Home Office
"Violent crime figures rise by 12%"
Home Office Statistical
Bulletin (HOSB): "The number
of violent incidents has fallen by 36 per cent
since a peak in 1995". Between 2002/03
and 2003/04, the British Crime Survey (BCS)
found "violent crime to be stable"
(ie no rise).
"There was an increase of 12% in violent
crimes (i.e. violence against the person, sexual
offences and robberies) recorded by the police
since 2002/03 though much of the increase is
likely to be due to the continuing impact of
changes in recording." (See
Footnotes 1 & 2)
"Gun crime figures show fresh rise"
"significant falls in vehicle thefts, all
household crime and all personal crime".
"an increase of 310 [firearms] offences
or three per cent compared to the year ending
June 2003." (The yearly number of fatalities
from firearms fell from 82 to 70 see
"'Violent crime increases by 6%'"
"The risk of being a victim of crime, at
25 per cent, is the lowest recorded by the BCS
since it began in 1981."
number of domestic burglaries and vehicle thefts
recorded by the police fell by 23 per cent and
17 per cent respectively."
was a seven per cent increase in crimes of violence
against the person [...] but these increases
in recorded violence appear to reflect continuing
effects of improved police recording of crime."
"Violent crime 'rise' sparks row"
"statistically significant falls in domestic
burglary, vehicle thefts, all household crime
and all personal crime".
number of crimes recorded by the police fell
by five per cent [...] The figures show a ten
per cent increase in violence against the person
but increases in recorded violence continue
to reflect the improved police recording of
"Violent offences top million mark"
"Overall crime has fallen by seven per
cent according to the BCS. There has also been
a fall of six per cent in the number of crimes
recorded by the police".
risk of being a victim of either burglary or
vehicle-related theft has halved since 1995
and is much reduced for other property crimes."
crime has decreased by 11 per cent according
to BCS interviews in 2004/05 compared with 2003/04."
were 1,184,702 violent crimes recorded by the
police in 2004/05, an increase of seven per
cent since 2003/04."
"The British Crime Survey (BCS) is considered
the more reliable measure of overall violent
crime. Police recorded crime is susceptible
to recording changes, especially non-serious
violent offences which form a large proportion
of overall violent crime."
"Violent crime shows 6% increase"
"The number of domestic burglaries and
vehicle thefts recorded by the police fell by
11 per cent and 8 per cent respectively."
number of crimes recorded by the police fell
by two per cent [...] Within this total there
was a six per cent increase
in violence against the person but increases
in recorded violence continue to reflect the
improved police recording of crime and more
proactive policing of violence problems."
"Violent crime and robbery on rise"
The BCS found "violent crime to be stable
[ie no rise] compared with the previous year".
No "main points" in the January 2006
HOSB mention a rise in violent crime or robbery.
However, the bulletin provides details of changes
in recorded crime which show that while there
were falls in serious violence, violence involving
no injury, sexual offences, burglary, vehicle
theft, other theft and criminal damage, there
were rises in robbery and violence involving
"Robberies up 6% but crime stable"
"The number of crimes recorded by the police
remained stable". Recorded violent crime
"remained broadly stable". There was
a 3% decrease in firearms offences. (Note that
in October 2004, a 3% increase was enough
to generate the headline: "Gun crime
figures show fresh rise").
No "main points" in the April 2006
HOSB mention the 6% rise in robbery, although
it is mentioned briefly in the further detail,
along with a 12% fall in serious violence.
"Phones and MP3s fuel robbery rise"
British Crime Survey (BCS) shows that crime
is stabilising after long periods of reduction.
Police recorded crime shows a one per cent reduction
in the number of crimes".
crime as measured by the BCS has fallen by 43
per cent since a peak in 1995."
were 765 homicides in 2005/06, a decrease of
12 per cent from the previous year. The homicide
figure of 765 includes 52 homicide victims of
the 7 July London bombings."
recorded robbery increased by eight per cent
between 2004/05 and 2005/06. This is still 19
per cent below the 2001/02 peak in robbery."
Complexity & clarity
In the past when we've notified BBC reporters
about misleading crime reports, they've responded
by pointing to the "complexity" of
the crime figures. There are complexities,
but the authors of the official crime bulletins
have gone out of their way to simplify and clarify
with bullet points and clear graphs (such
as the one below). You don't need to be an expert
to understand the crime figures.
in England and Wales, Section 5.3, Home
Office, July 2006 >
All of the BBC News Online headlines from July
2004 to July 2006 (reporting on the quarterly
publication of the official crime figures) cherry-picked
"rises" in crime. Not one mentioned
the consistent and significant falls in crime
highlighted by the official crime bulletins.
In most cases the "rises" reported
in the BBC headlines were not real rises at
all, but statistical anomalies caused by fundamental
changes in crime recording practices. This was
always made clear in the official crime bulletins
usually in the front page "Main
points" section, or the "Summary"
Some of the BBC Online articles do briefly
refer to caveats concerning the violent crime
"rises". But this is always further
down in the text it doesn't mitigate
the impression created by the headlines (and
first paragraphs). Furthermore, the misleading
impression of "rises" in violent crime
is reinforced by a summary of links on some
of the above BBC pages, which reads as follows:
2005: Violent offences up 7%
2004: Violent crime rises 12%
2003: Crime fight 'being lost'
2002: Street robberies soar
2001: Violent crime on the rise
2000: Big rise in violent crime"
BBC News Online for example >