Having obtained the actual data on which the Telegraph based its claim, made last September, that Foreigners commit ‘fifth of crime in London‘, courtesy of 5cc – who very cleverly put in an FOIA request for the information given to the press – let’s set about doing the numbers properly, if only to give a few people a much needed lesson in statistics.
Let’s start which what the Telegraph actually claimed:
More than one crime in five in London is now committed by a foreign national, raising fresh fears over the impact of immigration.
Around a third of all sex offences and a half of all frauds in the capital are carried out by non-British citizens.
Poles, who have entered Britain in record numbers since they joined the European Union in 2004, committed 2,310 crimes in the first six months of this year to become the most prolific offenders.
Romanians, whose country became part of the EU in January, committed more than 1,000 offences — an eightfold rise on the same period in 2006, according to Metropolitan Police figures for solved crimes.
So, straight away, we have a question to address, because while the Telegraph is making claims about ‘foreigners’ being responsible for ‘one crime in five in London’. ‘a third of all sex offences’ and ‘half of all frauds’ – all references to the number and proportion of offences – it also states that it’s report is based on data covering on ‘solved crimes’, which account for only a proportion of the total amount of recorded crime (about 20-21% in the Met’s case).
So the name of the game here is extrapolation, i.e. if foreign nationals are responsible for a fifth of all solved crimes then them must, by extrapolation, be responsible for the same proportion of all recorded offences, all other things being equal.
And there’s one of the major questions that the Telegraph’s report doesn’t address, are all other things ‘equal’ – because of they’re not then the extrapolation from ‘solved crimes’ to total offence is, at least, likely to be subject to a considerable degree of error and may even be entirely invalid.
I’ll come back to the question of extrapolation in a short while, but first let’s look at the actual data that the Telegraph (or maybe the Daily Mail) had to work with.
First thing’s first – we need to establish a little bit of context by noting the actual number of reported offences for London for the period in question (Jan-Jun 2007), and the figure was, according to the Met, 447,628.
There’s your baseline for the number of offences.
Next, we need to understand how the Telegraph arrived at its ‘fifth of crime’ figure, which it claims to be based on data covering ‘solved crimes’.
Well, the numbers are straightforward enough, because what the Telegraph claims to be the data on ‘solved crimes’ is set out in a very simple summary table, which looks like this:
Now that all seems perfectly straightforward. You’ve got 106678 ‘solved’ crimes, which makes for a 23% ‘clear up’ rate, which is about right for the Met, and 22,793 ‘confirmed’ as having been committed by ‘Non-British’ individuals, which gives a percentage figure of 21.4%, which is, indeed, just over a fifth.
But what, exactly, is a ‘solved crime’?
Well, whatever the Telegraph might think one is, what the actual data covers is confirmed offences for which an arrest has been made.
So the good news is that we are actually dealing with ‘real’ offences here and not just allegations – at the very least, what the police have done in investigated a report of a crime and determined that a crime did, indeed, take place.
The bad news, for the Telegraph, is that its claims about foreign nationals committing a fifth of all crime, etc. are based not on those crimes being ‘solved’ but on someone having been arrested for that crime, and its still very much the case in the British criminal justice system that the mere fact of being arrested is not proof of culpability, even if this is a concept that the MSM seem to struggle with on an almost routine basis.
So there’s a very clear piece of journalistic dishonesty – we’re not actually dealing with ‘solved’ crimes here, what we have instead is data on arrests, and an arrest, on its own, is not proof that the individual in question actually committed the crime for which they’ve been arrested.
And, still with the data, there’s more to come because 5cc didn’t just stick to requesting the same information on arrests that the press obtained last year, he took it a stage further and requested information on the numbers of foreign nationals who were actually charged with an offence after being arrested, which for the same period runs as follows
So, of the 23% of recorded crimes leading to an arrest only 43% resulted in an individual facing actual charges, of which 21% were foreign nationals.
So what we do know is that the ratio of British to Non-British nationals is pretty much consistent between numbers arrested and numbers actually charged with an offence overall, but when you also look at the breakdowns by nationality, things become even more interesting:
|Nationality||Total Arrests||Total Charged||%|
|CHINA (PEOPLE’S REP. OF)||469||277||59.1%|
|Grand Total of highest twenty||15729||6846||43.7%|
The figures given are the twenty nationalities with the highest number of arrests and, as we can see, while the mean charge rate is pretty much on the money when it comes to the data on specific nationalities then there can be a considerable degree of variation between the numbers arrested and the numbers actually charged with offences. Poles, who come top of the list for arrests, are actually 7% less likely to be charged with an offence than the average for both all arrests and 8% less likely to be charged than British citizens, where the average is 44.6% and Italians are likely to face charges on only one arrest in four. Algerians, on the other hand, are charged with an offence in 63.4% of cases leading to an arrest, Chinese in 59.1% cases and Nigerians in 57.1% cases.
Quite why these disparities exist is likely to be complicated and dependent on everything from population demographics to human error – it’s certainly not difficult to consider that at least some of those Poles who were arrested only to be released without charge may be victims of a combination of mistaken identity and public misperception, i.e. situations in which the victim of a crime knows only that the individual responsible was Eastern European and, therefore, assumed that they must be Polish having been prompted in their misperception by the extensive media coverage of migration from EU accession states, much of which concentrates on Polish migrants to the exclusion of considering migration from other states.
The upshot of all this that despite there being a strong correlation between arrests and numbers charged in terms of overall proportions of British and Non-British individuals, the simple fact that only 43% of those arrested are actually charged still takes us further away from establishing as a matter of, if not fact, then at least reasonable extrapolation, that a fifth of all crimes taking place in London are actually committed by foreign nationals.
It also serves to drive home the point, even further, that the Telegraph’s claim that it derived its figures from data on solved crime is a complete and utter sham because in 57% of the cases that the Telegraph claimed were ‘solved’ no charges were preferred against the individual who was arrested, so 57% of those cases most certainly were not ‘solved’ as these could not have resulted in a conviction.
Using figures for arrests rather than for offences, convictions or even individuals charged and appearing in court introduces the possibility of ‘double-counting’ into the picture – working from a witness statement identifying the perpetrator as, say, a Pole, its possible that the police might easily end up arresting two, three, four or more individuals for the same offence before hitting on the right individual, if that individual is ever successfully identified, inflating the figures for arrests even though it was then found that they’d got the wrong individual, who they then released without charge.
Finally, on the data released under FOIA, the notes incorporated on both documents by the Police, go to considerable lengths to underline the difficulties that exist in relying on this data, as follows:
The MPS crime recording system can not be searched to obtain details of someone’s status as a ‘foreign national’, only the nationality they give when the come to the attention of the Police. As a consequence there is no way to distinguish between residents of the UK (regardless of citizenship) and visitors from other countries.
Nationality is not a mandatory field in the MPS crime recording system and as such is not always completed or accused persons do not disclose this information. It is self defined and is a free text box. Nationality data is therefore only comprised of what was available to search.
So we have a couple of other question marks about the data itself. For one thing, nationality is not a mandatory field, nor is it checked against a passport, visa or other immigration documentation before it is recorded. This is reflected, certainly, in the fact that around 1.5% of all those arrested decline to give their nationality – although one would assume that those charged and appearing in court who are thought to be foreign nationals will be checked out fully at some point – but its also possible that, in some cases, the nationality given by the individual on arrest may not be correct. This is not so difficult to pull off as some might think providing that the individual speaks English and does not have to rely on an interpreter – this would give the game away in many cases, as they could not reasonably claim to be a Czech national and then ask for a Polish-speaking interpreter – or speaks another ‘transnational language’ such as Arabic. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility for a Nigerian to claim to be a Ghanian at the point of arrest, or for an Algerian to claim to be a Moroccan or a Syrian to claim to be a Jordanian and unless police offices are familiar with the nuances of how accents can vary it will be nigh on impossible for them to challenge such a claim if false information is given.
It’s also important to note, given that the Telegraph refers specifically to Poles and Romanians in order to make the connection with economic migration from EU accession states, that the police freely admit that their data on nationality takes no account of the individual’s status; those arrest could well be actual migrants but they could, equally be tourists, especially in a city like London where tourism plays a major part in the city’s economy. We don’t know for sure, and neither do the police.
So, in the data alone, there are a significant number of issues which call into question the validity of the Telegraph’s assertions about foreign nationals and their involvement in criminal activity in the UK, even before we get to the question of whether or not one can legitimately extrapolate from figures for arrests and numbers charged to the extent to which foreign nationals are responsible for a certain proportion of actual offences, as the police, in their notes to this data, also freely acknowledge:
Data in this report relates to charged persons recorded on records, and is not a measure of offences.
So, the next question has to be whether or not we can actually legitimately extrapolate from data on arrests to number of offences committed?
Well, all other things being equal, this might be a reasonable thing to do – provided, of course, that you can demonstrate that all these other things are equal, or at least that you’ve factored them in to your calculations and made adjustments to allow for or eliminate potential confounding factors of a kind that could introduce significant errors or even completely invalidate your evidence.
If what we we’re looking at here was an academic research paper on crime and immigration, then its now that we’d be looking in detail to see what confounding factors the researcher(s) had identified and what efforts they’d made to allow for them or eliminate them from their results, but as we’re looking at a newspaper article based on a single FOIA request for raw data and not a properly conducted piece of research then I think we can take it as read that there’s been no attempt made, whatsoever, to establish the validity of extrapolating from data on arrests to levels of actual crime recorded offences.
So what factors should we be trying to take into account?
Well, by far the biggest problems in making assumptions about the numbers of offences committed by foreign nationals using arrest data are the fact that only a little of 20% of recorded offence actually result in an arrest and that the data gives no indications as to the numbers of offences associated with each arrest – all that is recorded for each arrest is the ‘major offence category’, i.e. the most serious offence for which an individual was arrested, which could mean that while one individual was arrested for only one offence, another might have been arrested for several offences of the same type or a string of different offences in different categories, but the latter would still count only as one arrest for one offence.
Now, one thing that we do know for certain is that for many offences, particularly those relating to the theft of property (burglary, thefts from motor vehicles, etc.), a significant majority of offences are actually committed by a relatively small number of habitual offenders – for certain categories of offence a matter of 3-4% of offenders make account for 70-80% of recorded offences.
That alone tells us that before we make any extrapolations from arrest data to offences committed we have to establish that those foreign national who do get involved in criminal activity in the UK exhibit the same patterns of habitual offending behaviour as our own home grown criminals – if they don’t then its perfectly possible that the figures derived from arrest data will bear little or no real relationship to the actual degree to which foreign nationals are responsible for offences committed in the UK, i.e. that the numbers arrested will be out of all proportion with the numbers of offences committed.
Without evidence to demonstrate similarities in habitual offending then one cannot make a valid extrapolation from arrests to offence committed – for the six month period to which the data relates, London had near enough 340,000 reported offences for which no arrests were made and if only 5% of those offences were committed by foreign nationals rather than the projected 20% then the number of offences committed by foreign nationals would fall to only around 10% of the total, not the 20% claimed by the Telegraph.
Equally, there are factors which could push things the other way (or not depending on how they pan out).
Another thing we know is that as individuals get older they become less likely to be involved in criminal activity – crime is a young persons’ business – all of which means that population demographics are also potentially a significant factor. Why, because in most cases the age demographics of migrant communities tend to be heavily skewed towards younger age groups when compared to the age demographics of the UK as a whole.
It is, in the main, younger people who migrate between countries in search of work, and it also, for the most part, single males who are doing most of the migrating and young single males are, statistically speaking, the most likely group to become involved in criminal activity.
What this means is that, when looking at the prevalence of criminal activity amongst migrant communities, especially those entering from EU accession states, what we would expect to see it that those communities will have more individuals involved in criminal activity relative to the size of the community than one would see in the general UK population, not because foreigners are more likely to be criminals than British nationals but because those communities include a higher proportion of young single males, who are most likely to commit offences, and a much lower proportion of families and older people, who are least likely to commit offences, than is the case amongst British nationals living in the UK.
What ACPO have said this week, quite clearly, is that offending rate amongst migrants from EU accession states are broadly in line with the rate of offending in the general population with a ‘senior source’ commenting that:
“Any rise [in crime] has been broadly proportionate to the number of people from those communities coming into this country. People are saying crime is rising because of this influx. Given 1 million people have come in, that doesn’t make sense as crime is significantly down.”
What has not been disclosed is whether ACPO’s assessment is based on raw data or on data adjusted to take into account differences in age demographics – the latter would leave ACPO’s statement as read, however if this is based on raw unadjusted data then this statement would imply that overall, migrants from EU states are actually less likely to get involved in criminal activity than ‘native’ Brits.
Looking at the types of offences included in the figures also throws up another potential confounding factor as amongst the notifiable offences for which arrests have been recorded are those of carrying an offensive weapon, going equipped and possession of drug, all of which are offences in which the use of stop and search powers can play a significant role in the level of arrests.
Looking at the Met’s stop and search data for April to August 2007, what we find is that the use of stop and search powers is skewed towards males (86.5%) and towards the 21-40 age group (56.8%), while the breakdown for ethnicity runs to 53.5% white, 20.8% Asian, 13.2% Black, 5.4% other (includes Chinese, etc.) and the rest unrecorded, based on the police’s use of IC codes – so this is what the police thought was the ethnicity of the individual not what the individual themselves self-identified as. These figures are for all stop and searches, not just those undertaken under anti-terrorism legislation.
So far as the overall ethnic profile of London is concerned, using the same broad categories, its white population runs to 69.6% (including British, Irish and other, which includes EU, US and Old Commonwealth), with 12.9% Asian, 10.8 Black and the rest classified as either ‘other’ or ‘mixed race’, the latter accounting for 3.3% of the population of which most would probably be categorised by the police by sight as either Asian or Black.
And to finish things off properly, 21.8% of London’s inhabitants were born outside the European Union out of 31% of the population born outside the UK – sorry, no data on numbers of foreign born London residents who’ve naturalised as UK citizens as opposed to retaining their birth nationality.
Even if we don’t consider cultural and other factors relating to attitudes to carrying knives and drug use, not to mention the fact that its not at all uncommon for individuals who are new to foreign country to carry weapons about their person simply out of concerns about personal safety in an environment they don’t know at all well, then the mere fact that the police’s use of stop and search powers is skewed towards non-white males aged between 21 and 40 is likely to result in more arrests for these types of offences simply because the demographics of many of the newer migrant communities fit the ‘profile’ for stop and search, even if they are no more likely, in reality, to be carrying weapons or drugs about their person than British nationals.
So, again, we have another confounding factor which could push up the number of arrests of foreign nationals to an extent which has a statistical impact on the data used by the Telegraph to justify its claim that one in five crimes in London are committed by foreigners, not to mention, of course, that 31% of London’s population was born outside the UK anyway and we don’t know exactly how many of those have retained the nationality of their country of origin.
Another form of extrapolation commonly used to try and justify the whole ‘migrant crimewave’ trope is that of citing figures derived from the UK’s prison population, which at least has the virtue – lacking in the Telegraph’s article – of being based on crimes that have actually been solved by way of a conviction.
The most recent figures for this are a total prison population of just over 81,000, 11,000 are foreign nationals, giving a figure of 14% for the UK – and, of course, one would expect that if that were then broken down to show only those convicted for offences committed in the London, the percentage figure for foreign nationals would be more than 14% simply because of London has just about the highest percentage of foreign nationals of any city in the UK.
So can we. perhaps, extrapolate from that to offences?
For one thing, as with figures for arrests and individuals charged, the prison population figures still do not take into account or allow for the number of offences committed by individual prisoners – so working from that you would still have to show similarities in patterns of habitual and repeat offending.
In addition, what would also have to be evidence is whether there are any biased arising out of differences in sentencing practices when dealing with British and Non-British citizens who are convicted of criminal offences – i.e. for a given offence or pattern of offending, is a foreign national any more or less likely to be given a custodial sentence than a British citizen convicted of the same offence(s)who has a similar track record of criminal behaviour.
Even if we steer clear of considering such a question in terms of race relations and questions of prejudice in the legal system, common sense suggests that its likely that foreign nationals will be treated somewhat more harshly by British courts than British citizens, not just in terms of sentencing but also when it comes to applications for bail and commital to remand.
Well, for one thing, judges and magistrates, when considering applications for bail and/or or mulling over whether to impose a custodial sentence or a community punishment, will almost certainly take into account the question of whether the individual in front of them has the capacity to ‘escape’ justice by leaving the country while on bail or without completing the sentence assigned to them by the court, if that sentence is to take place in the community. One would, therefore, with some justification, that many judges and magistrates would consider the mere fact of the individual in front of them is a foreign national as indicating that the risk of them ‘doing a runner’ is likely to be much higher than the risk when dealing with a British citizen, in which they’re more likely to go with a remand order or custodial sentence, which they know the individual cannot get away from.
The other factor that is likely to come into play is nice exemplified by Phillip Johnson’s mealy-mouthed commentary on this issue on the Telegraph’s ‘Three Line Whip’ blog:
This raises an interesting question. Should we not expect crime rates among immigrant workers to be lower than that of the domestic population, indeed close to non-existent?
If people come to this country to work and better themselves, it is hardly a positive message to discover that they commit crime in the same proportion to people who live here already, is it?
Now if only these bloody foreigners were just a bit more virtuous then we wouldn’t even be having this debate.
In truth we have no real reason to expect that foreign nationals coming to the UK to work will be any more or less virtuous or more or less inclined towards criminal activity than we are – they are only human beings, after all.
Nevertheless, I would suspect that views like that of Johnson, the ‘how dare they do that when they’re only guests in our country’ is likely to be fairly widespread, especially amongst the middle and upper middle classes from which most of Britain’s judges and magistrates are drawn.
It’s not difficult to see how, when a foreign national come up for sentencing, how a judge/magistrate may regard their offence as being compounded by their nationality – they’ve not only committed a crime but they’ve also abused the privilege of being permitted to enter and live in the UK, all which may influence some to see them as being more deserving of a custodial sentence than a British citizen convicted of the same offence.
Again, unless one can either account for those possibilities or one can provide evidence which eliminates them a factor then one cannot reliably extrapolate from the number of foreign nationals serving custodial sentences to the extent to which foreign nationals might be responsible for a certain proportion of offences, even if that’s a lesson lost of Johnson, who goes on to state that:
We know for a fact that more foreign nationals are committing crimes here because one eighth of the prison population is made up of overseas offenders.
They are the main cause, indeed, of the population crisis in the jails because the rate of growth among foreign prisoners has been far faster than among the British prison population.
In reality we don’t know anything of the sort for certain other that the number of foreign nationals receiving custodial sentences has increased. Whether that is due to differences in sentencing practices, demographic changes or anything else that could account for the changes in prison population isn’t addressed and without that additional layer of analysis and understanding of which the prison population is changing in this fashion its simple not possible to make such bald assertions.
Taking all that into account, the Telegraph have entirely failed to substantiate any of the claims made in their article about the degree to which foreign nationals are responsible for crime in the UK – for all that there’s any concrete evidence to back up their abuse of statistics they might just have well have pulled a bunch of numbers out of their editor’s arse or resorted to stream of the most abject lies and misrepresentations, much as has the Daily Express and Daily Mail in reporting the content of ACPO’s report.
Instead, the Telegraph responded to ACPO’s assertion that migrants are no more or less likely to be criminals than Brits by indulging in an another flagrant, and completely laughable, bout of statistics abuse:
Crimes committed by Eastern European immigrants have increased by up to 800 per cent in some parts of the country, new figures show.
The findings cast doubts on a report from the Association of Chief Police Officers which said that the surge in immigrants had not fuelled a rise in crime.
The study found that migrant crime had put extra pressure on forces, diverting cash away from other crime fighting duties but had not lead to an increase in crime.
But a survey of eight police forces by The Daily Telegraph using the Freedom of Information Act found and average increase of 300 per cent in crimes committed by migrants from eastern Europe over the past three years.
Kent reported a rise of over 800 per cent.
The Telegraph have helpfully (from my point of view, stupidly from theirs) provided the data to go with their claims, so we can see first hand exactly what they’re up to, all of which you’ll find very familiar:
The Daily Telegraph asked all 43 forces in England and Wales for details of (a) nationalities of suspects accused of crimes in the area in each of the past three years; (b) a list of offences by foreigners by nationality in the area in each of the past three years.
An accusation is not proof that an individual committed a crime – in fact its not even proof that a crime has been committed, but based on past experience of the data previously obtained for London we’ll assume that the eleven police forces that did respond did so in the same fashion as the Met by providing data on arrests – and we’ve already seen, extrapolating from arrests to ‘crimes committed’ is fraught with problems.
Nevertheless, the Telegraph have, as they did last September, gone blithely about making all manner of ridiculous claims, such as:
The biggest increase was felt in Kent where the number of Poles suspected of crimes surged by over 800 per cent since 2004/5.
It’s 838% to be more precise, as the number of Poles ‘suspected’ of committing crimes in Kent rose from 13 in 2004/5 to 37 in 2005/6 and then to 122 in 2006/7.
By way of contrast, there were 146,930 recorded offences in Kent in 2005/6.
Again, we don’t know how many offences are associated with these ‘suspects’ – it could easily be just 122 in which case Poles accounted for 0.025% of crimes in Kent in 2005/6 – in fact it could even be less if police made more than one arrest is relation to a particular offence. We don’t know what kind of offences these, presumably, arrests relate to or how many resulted in charges and/or convictions, or how the Polish population of Kent changed over the three years, although we do know that according to Home Office figures there were 38,000 workers from EU accession states registered as working in the South-East region of whom between 65 and 75% were Poles.
Looking over all the data, the most striking thing is that in every case were are dealing with some very small numbers, and small numbers tend to generate big percentages of a kind which convey a false impression of what’s really happening.
For example, Bedfordshire recorded a ‘whopping’ 2200% increase in the number of ‘suspects’ from Lithuania over this same period, which sounds a bit scary until you realise that all this means in a increase from one arrest in 2004/5 to 23 arrests in 2006/7.
The same force also shows a 100% fall in ‘suspects’ from Hungary over the three years, from 1 in 2004/5 to 0 in 2006/7.
In between, however, there were 9 Hungarian ‘suspects’ in 2005/6, so in the Telegraph’s ‘reality’ there was an 800% increase in ‘Hungarian crime’ between 2004/5 and 5/6 and a 900% drop in crime between 2005/6 and 6/7 – all of which is next to meaningless because of the very small numbers we’re dealing with.
And looking at the same area, a similar situation occurred with Polish migrants with the number of ‘suspects’ in 2004/5 totalling 53, and increase to 202 in 2005/6 and then a fall to 133 in 2006/7. In the ‘peak year’ of 2005/6, the number of recorded crimes in Bedfordshire stood at 59,626.
The truth of the matter is that a ‘migrant crimewave’ exists only in the fevered imaginations of a few right-wing Eurosceptic newspapers like the Telegraph, Daily Mail and Daily Express. Its a false idea that these newspapers have extensively pushed because it suits their respective political agendas – in fact it couldn’t have been better for them because in their eyes its win-win scenario in which they get to air their natural xenophobic instincts and blame the EU for all the ills of the world at the same time.
And its all a crock of shit.
There are certainly some issues that the police wish to see addressed, both in terms of obtaining intelligence from foreign police forces on the involvement of some migrants in organised crime and in terms of resourcing issues, many of which relate to the need for increased use of interpreters, a need which arises not just in cases in which migrants commit crimes but also where they are the victims of crime.
The ACPO report also acknowledges that cultural ‘issues’ have led to increases in particular types of crime, although other type of offences may be less prevalent in migrant communities;
The report says: “While overall this country has accommodated this huge influx with little rise in community tension, in some areas sheer numbers, resentment and misunderstanding, have created problems.” It adds that the immigration from eastern Europe has been different to previous arrivals, because it happened much more quickly. The report says that new migrants may be more likely to commit certain types of offences. Polish people are linked to drink-driving, and problems have arisen in central London with some Romanian children being used by adults to commit petty robberies.
There are also problems with people trafficking and exploitation, but while these may be more likely in some migrant communities, other types of offences are less likely to occur.
All of these things are valid concerns, but that they don’t add up to is the kind of headlines that the Mail and Express, in particular, have been running repeatedly and which make the spurious and unsubstantiated claim that Britain is being ‘swamped’ by foreign criminals.
These newspapers have bullshitted their readers for months, if not years, and having finally been called on it by a source (ACPO) that they find difficult to attack, they’re now resorting to misinformation, dishonest reporting and the wholesale abuse of statistics in a desperate attempt to the keep their self-generated migrant-o-geddon moral panic going – all of which comes as no great surprise when its the Daily Mail and Daily Express you’re dealing with.
Many, however, will view the Telegraph’s involvement in such antics with a great deal of disappointment. It may always have been a newspaper that was Tory to its very core but at least it hand standards and a reputation for quality journalism, a reputation its seemingly increasingly happy to shed in favour in cheap tabloid reporting.