How many foreign criminals were there in London?

Last month, the Express tried to scare the crap out of everybody with the headline 'Every 4 minutes a migrant is arrested in Britain'. As ever, the figure was a bit rubbish. This time it involved using data from less than half of the police forces in Britain, including the Metropolitan Police, and extrapolating from there. I looked at the figures in 'Every 4 minutes, an Express hack pulls a figure out their bum'.

One of the rubbish things about the figures is that the number for London didn't tally with similar ones the Daily Mail tried to scare its readers with last year in 'Foreigners commit 20 per cent of crime in London, say police' and 'A fifth of crimes committed by immigrants'. I submitted my own FOI request to the Met Police to find out which paper's figures were right, because my life is so rock and roll. I'm doing that devil horns thing with my fingers right now.

I aksed the Met for two things, figures for the number of foreign nationals charged for crimes by month in 2007, and a copy of whatever had been sent to the Daily Mail last August.* In 'Foreigners commit 20 per cent of crime...' the Mail says:
During the period there were 22,793 crimes in the capital for which a foreign national has been charged.
There are two claims there - that a certain number of people have been charged with crimes in London, and that these people were foreign nationals.

Let's look at the foreign nationals claim first. Just like Nikki Sixx would. And that bloke out of the Who that no-one knows who he is. Rawwwwwkinrollllll!


The covering email from the Met makes extra effort to draw my attention to this note in the figures that appeared in the Mail:
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.
So, straight from the off we know that the figures don't measure foreign nationals. Well done, the Mail. That's 50% rubbish in that sentence.

Next, the Mail says that 22,793 foreigners have been charged for crimes in the first half of 2007. That takes the Mail's claims up to 100% rubbish. The The Mail's figures count the number of people accused of a crime - that means people who have been arrested or had proceedings taken out against them. The number of people who listed themselves as non-British who were charged with a crime in the first half of 2006 is 9,818.

Just in case you missed the bit where the article claims this is the number of people charged, it says it again after its big, scary graphic:
The new statistics cover the number arrested and charged for "notifiable offences" - those which are more serious - and show a total of 106,678 crimes.
Not true. The total number of people charged for the whole of 2007 is less than that, let alone the first six months.

A month after that, James Slack tried to scare readers with exactly the same figures on the back of Chief Constable Julie Spence's call for extra funding. 'A fifth of crime committed by immigrants' is the nonsense headline on this one. It doesn't make the same claims about charges, but it does say:
Foreign nationals are now responsible for more than one in five crimes committed in London, police figures revealed yesterday.
Remember, the people in Slack's stats aren't necessarily foreign nationals. So that's one part of this claim that's rubbish. The second part is that they're responsible for more than one in five crimes committed in London.

He's using the same 22,793 stats from before. According to the Met police, there were 447,628 crimes committed in London in the first half of 2007. That would make foreigners responsible for 1 in 20 crimes committed in London, not 1 in 5. Foreigners are accused of just 5% of crimes committed in London. Using the number of people who specify that they're non-British who were charged with crimes in the first half of 2007 - 9,818 - foreigners would be responsible for 1 in 50 crimes in London.

But using figures like that would be just as dishonest as the Daily Mail. We don't know how many foreign nationals were responsible for how many crimes committed in London because it isn't measured, and as the Met points out in its covering email:
Please also be aware that it [the bit of an arrest form that asks for nationality] is not a mandatory field, it is self-defined and as such there is no way of checking that the data is actually accurate, e.g. if someone provides their nationality as Jamaican we have no way of checking whether this is actually the case.
Even if we specify we're talking about people who don't enter 'British' on the form when they're arrested, neither set of figures would show how many crimes they're responsible for. Nobody is arrested for nearly three quarters of crime in London, so we have absolutely no clue as to who is responsible for them. To say X number of foreign nationals are responsible for X amount of crime is rubbish.

The Express is more accurate in that it doesn't say these people are responsible for crime, but it misleadingly calls them migrants and foreign nationals. We don't know who's a migrant or foreign national and who isn't. Plus the extrapolation from the half of the forces who gave information is really fanciful. The total number of arrests of 'migrants' from 26 police forces 2006 in the Express is 79,308 - but we can be reasonably certain that at least half of those are from London, since people who specify a non-British nationality account for way over a quarter of 79,308 for just the first six months of 2007. In the first six months of 2007, there were more British people arrested in London than there were for the entire number of 'non-British' people arrested across 26 police forces (including London) in the whole of 2006.

There. I've gone over some old ground, but we now know that any figure that claims to be about the number of foreign nationals arrested is rubbish, and that the Mail is likely to claim people have been charged who haven't.

Rock on!

*The Met didn't have a record of sending anything to the Mail, since people don't have to specify where they're from when they make a request. They sent me identical figures they'd sent to an individual in August, which are likely to be the ones they sent to the paper.


Mark Wadsworth said...

That article rocks! You could have made it a bit shorter though. Can one guesstimate the true figures from the scant info available?

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Hey. Thanks for saying it rocks - although it can't rock that much if it's too long.

Anyway - I don't have any idea of the true figures from this, since there's no way of telling how many of the accused people are actually foreign, or how many of the crimes committed that never had anyone accused of them were committed by foreign nationals.