These stories are usually a bit like foreign worker scare stories. They're about as reliably accurate as a pissed-up gibbon throwing darts at a board sellotaped to a bucking bronco's arse, but they'll do for something scary. I've explained why a few times over the years.
There's a new one in the Mail, originally published last night. Jack Doyle brings us 'Migrant crime wave revealed: Foreign arrests have almost doubled in just THREE years', which as well as having a nice random shout in the middle of the headline, shows us something we don't normally see with these stories: a comparison with earlier data.
But I am incredibly, incredibly suspicious. Even more than I would normally be for figures in the Mail. We're not just talking about the usual reasons either (no link to primary source so we don't know the same things are being measured, don't know if the recording method has changed, haven't been given figures for the surrounding years so son't know which is the anomalous figure, etc) but I suspect an epic howler.
Back in '08, I looked at a Mail story from 2007 that shouted about these sorts of figures, telling us a fifth of crimes in London were committed by 'foreign citizens'. That wasn't true, but the upshot was that 22,793 people who didn't say 'British' as their nationality when they came to the attention of the police (including everyone who didn't say anything) were accused of crimes between January 1 and June 30 2007.
This latest Mail story, which has been churned in the Express and Telegraph, includes a swish table graphic in the middle of the page. It tells us that the Metropolitan Police reported a total of 24,364 arrests of 'foreign nationals' in the whole of 2008. That's very close to the figure for six months of 2007.
One of two or three things may be going on here with the Met's figures.
- 2008 saw an unusual dip, where the number of people declaring themselves as something other than 'British' to the police mysteriously halved before returning to normal in 2010.
- The 2010 figures measure something different to the 2007 and 2008 figures. I submitted my own FoI request when I looked at the earlier Mail story from 2007. I did this because I am rock and roll. It showed a total of 20,415 people not recorded as British were charged with crimes in the whole of 2007. This makes up just under half the number of those accused, the figure the paper reported. 2010 figures may be of people accused and 2008 of people charged.
- Jack Doyle has somehow compared figures for the whole of 2010 with six months' worth from 2008.
Can Cambridgeshire really have arrested only 27 foreign nationals in 2006 and 4,803 in 2010, or has something else happened like a change in the way these things are measured, or a heavier focus on making sure the 'nationality' box is filled? Are they definitely measuring the same things? Would this explanation apply across other forces? Are they all measuring the same things or do we have a mishmash of different things here?
A similar scare story in the Express in 2008 managed to get results from 26 forces for the whole of 2006. The current one only manages 19. Were all 19 included in the older Express article, or are some of them new? Why are (at least) 7 missing? Have they been discouraged because of the way their figures were used before?
Somehow, the total arrests/accused/whatever has gone from 79,308 across 26 forces in 2006 (from the Express) to 51,899 across 19 in 2008 and 91,234 in 2010. Around half the Mail's alleged rise between 2008 and 2010 is taken by the Met - whose rise looks decidedly fishy.
I'm going to get some FoI requests fired off this evening, but I'm not likely to get any answers for weeks. Until then, I'll be incredibly sceptical of what the Mail is claiming here. Especially since the Met explicitly drew my attention to this in response to my FoI request about a Mail article claiming these people were foreign nationals:
The MPS crime recording system only records the nationality given when the person comes 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.
The emphasis there is the Met's. What caveats might be missing from the newest 19 FoI requests the Mail got answers from? We won't know unless we see the primary sources, but boy, do they stink of fish.