How to make readers frightened of foreigners with misleading stats

After ramping up the fearmongering about how many babies have been born to dirty foreigners, the Mail continues in its quest to bring you the shocking truth make up scary looking shit to make you frightened of foreigners with 'One out of every five killers is an immigrant'. If you encounter anyone with a funny accent, run for your life!

This story is pretty much identical in every way to 'Foreigners carry out one in every five killings in Britain, police figures reveal from April 2008, which I covered in 'The Daily Express: for when a James Slack scare story isn't misleading enough'.

There are two big differences:

1. The Express isn't involved this time yet.

2. The total number of 'foreign' 'killers' in the newer article actually represents an almost 18% drop - from 96 to 79.

The article is an exercise in pure fearmongering. Although it does withdraw its headline claim in the opening sentence with an 'Up to a fifth of killers...', the article goes on to make the most misleading claim in the second sentence:
Foreign immigrants make up only around a tenth of the UK population, meaning they are statistically twice as likely as native Britons to be charged with or found guilty of an illegal killing.
See, the paper only has data from 'around half' (read that as 'less than a half' - since the paper would certainly crowed about having data from over half) of the police forces in England and Wales. These include the Met, which arrests more people, and more people who count theirselves as from overseas, than any other police force. If the paper really wanted to be accurate, it would compare the results for the number of people accused of these crimes with the number of immigrants in the same area. The paper is cheating here.

There's a clue as to how much a bit later, where the paper reveals:
The highest figures were in London where in the year to April 2009, 93 of the 233 people accused or convicted of murder and manslaughter were either non-British or from unknown backgrounds.
Eh? There were 79 killings with a 'foreign' person accused overall, but 93 in London? How does that work?

Because the paper has, in customary weaselly fashion, added people who didn't reveal their nationality in the London area to their figures, but these do reveal that a very good proportion of the total will be from London.

This is an incredibly common taboild fearmongering technique. Of course, the papers pulled off the identical scam back in April 2008, but did something incredibly similar with rape stats in April this year, which I looked at in 'Nick Fagge, quality journalist'. The idea is simple - contact every police force with an FOI request about the number of 'foreigners' who commit crime in the area. Only half will respond, and those will most likely include the highest number of foreign nationals in the area. The Metropolitan Police alone will account for a very good number of these. In this article, the paper unwittingly reveals that it has figures from only 19 of more than 40 police forces in England and Wales in this sentence:
But some forces - including Cheshire, Humberside, Hampshire, and Merseyside - recorded no cases with foreign killers. The figures may be an underestimate as 11 out 30 forces which responded claimed they did not record nationalities of either killers or murder victims, and others had gaps in the information.
Some of those who did answer, didn't count any foreigners accused of crime. The paper admits to four, but there could be more.

To add to all that is the fact that some of these people might not be foreign at all and you 're left with an incredibly flimsy story that has only seen the light of day because it can make us frightened of foreigners.

How long before this one will appear on the BNP site?

To follow this up, I'll be submitting an FOI request to the Metropolitan Police so we'll be able to see how many of the 79 people in this article are in that area. I really wouldn't be surprised if the Met counted for 71 out of the 79, since the only other forces the article mentions have 5 and 3 'foreigners' accused of homicide in the area.

(I've published a version of this over at MailWatch).


MacGuffin said...

Excellent stuff, as always. I really couldn't face taking this one apart so glad you already had! Have added a link from my blog.

One question though - what is meant by their phrase 'illegal killing'?

allnottinghambasearebelongtous said...

I actually managed to get a comment published on the Mail website on this.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Which comment was yours?!

MacGuffin said...

It is up on the BNP site now...

Do the Police figures differentiate between 'accused of' and 'convicted'? The Mail doesn't, and includes both as if they're one and the same...

Akela said...

Ah so it was Mr Slack that this was lifted from. When I read the story I was convinced that I'd read the same old load of toss somewhere before but couldn't put my finger on where.

Lies, dam lies and statistics and all that.

Five Chinese Crackers said...


When I did an FOI of my own to reproduce some Mail stats last year, there was no distinction between the two. I think the CPS would be the people to ask nationality of those convicted, but I'm not sure.

If the Mail have used the word 'convicted' anywhere, it's probably wrong.

@Akela - It was indeed Slack who did this before. Must be reliable then.

Incidentally, Slack doesn't have his prints over any of the immigration scaremongering this summer. Could be because he's been kept away because of his ineptitude - or he could just be on holiday and we'll get a deluge of scaremongering cobblers when he gets back.


Oriel boy said...

Yeah as MacGuffin points out, the Mail doesn't differentiate between "accused" and "convicted" and so doesn't believe in innocent until proven guilty.

Although you've overwhelmingly debunked the Mail's figures, let's assume they're correct for a sec. I'm not sure I can think of a good reason why a particular group of society, that the nation's most popular rags regularly denigrate, would be disproportionately accused of murder, can you?

These types of tabloid stories are essentially self-enforcing myths, no? People read how terrible immigrants are, and therefore get more suspicious around them, thus giving the tabloids more "reason" to tell them how terrible they are.