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More on murder

Peter Rippon | 14:54 UK time, Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Thanks to the dozens of you who contributed to the posts about how we cover crime.

The PM programme logoSome common themes emerged and we can take a lot from what was said. There were pleas for more context in our reporting. We do it, but we will try to do more. The most common criticisms were that we do too many stories purely for their shock value, and that we are guilty of creating panic and an unnecessary fear of crime.

Are we guilty? On Radio Four I am confident we are not. In fact, our instincts can tend to be too conservative. We are comfortable doing stories when there is an issue attached but when it is just a powerful human story we sometimes shy away.

There was a heated debate in the PM office as the Soham story unfolded. Some felt we should not cover it because when it first broke there were no apparent issues involved. It was just an awful compelling story. However, we were right to tell it in the constrained and sober way we did. We were right to report the Tom Ap Rhys Price murder for the same reasons. To ignore a story when it has become such a major part of the national conversation risks us appearing out of touch and irrelevant.

One of the other consequences of your comments was that I was invited to an internal BBC editors' forum on crime. Our home editor Mark Easton had some interesting thoughts on crime statistics that are food for thought for those wanting us to use them to give more context to reporting. He says:

    "We must be very wary of crime statistics. The numbers do not tell us whether crime is going up or down. In fact, they massively underestimate the level of criminal behaviour in this country.

    "Most crime, much of it very serious, never gets reported to the police. It never gets identified by adult victims responding to the British Crime Survey. In the year 2000, police in England and Wales recorded approximately five million suspected crimes. Analysis by the Home Office suggested there were actually 60 million crimes committed that year. A report by Lord Birt for Downing Street looking at the same year concluded the figure was closer to 130 million crimes.

    "Recorded crime figures reflect the crimes the criminal justice system has the capacity to process and chooses to focus upon."


  • 1.
  • At 09:04 AM on 06 Dec 2006,
  • Sam wrote:

I am always very dubious about statistics, maybe not so much with crime as i assume it is actually a reflection of the amount of crime there is.

But any kind of statistic created by a sample of say a thousand people suggesting that is the norm for the country annoys me. Becuase how can it reflect anything? Statisics based on samples are pointless.

  • 2.
  • At 11:56 AM on 06 Dec 2006,
  • PeeVeeAh wrote:

"More on murder" a splashy and sensational leader if ever there was!

Case proven?

"suspected crimes", "suggested..."

....two very woolly subjectives used by Mark Easton in the pseudo analysis, perhaps?

Putting all crimes into one bucket of tabloid consciousness is hardly a way of getting to the important fewer! The statistic that really came across this morning was the one on 'News24 - about 'life' sentencing averaging a 50% reduction in detention times since the 1970s Now THAT is worrying! I don't think that the sensationalists are very cognisant of the Pareto principle - it's amazing how apt that bit of number-crunching wisdom nearly fits all sizes!

  • 3.
  • At 12:28 PM on 06 Dec 2006,
  • Peter wrote:

The BBC are normally pretty good at providing level headed coverage, but they do slip up - such as when this story was run during the amnesty. Though it gives historical figures at the very bottom, the headline seems to aim for shock value.
As the article later points out, 19 of the attacks during the amnesty were fatal - a level more or less inline or below the numbers previously recorded.
This could have been phrased in many ways - 'knife crime not rising' being a headline obviously biased in the other direction.
My point is that if someone saw just the headline or read the article without think critically, then they can come away with an overly negative impression.
It's excellent the BBC are concerned with this - it shows them in a far better light than many of their rivals.

  • 4.
  • At 02:00 PM on 06 Dec 2006,
  • Nick Reynolds wrote:

How was the figure of 130 million crimes arrived at by Downing Street? What sort of crime?

"We must be very wary of crime statistics. The numbers do not tell us whether crime is going up or down. In fact, they massively underestimate the level of criminal behaviour in this country."

So? They've probably been historically massively underestimated, that doesn't mean it's not a good indication of crime levels. (Or at least the best we have).

  • 6.
  • At 04:33 PM on 07 Dec 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

As a first step it is not a bad idea to define a “crime” before drawing up statistics.

Murder and manslaughter are clear enough and the perpetrators usually deserve all they get.

Speeding through village, town or city streets is much more of a crime than the behaviour that attracts Community Orders for “YOBS”: except, of course, for the millions who think that their driving is immaculate.
Then there is the incarceration in prison cells of thousands of the mentally ill and the feeble minded. Is this a crime for which we are all responsible, but do not wish to pay the cost of avoiding?

  • 7.
  • At 11:38 PM on 07 Dec 2006,
  • Dave democrat wrote:

Dear Sir...
No matter how good and relevant your article on the reporting of crime, I have to comment on one aspect. Recorded crime figures never actually reflect the true state of society. I am afraid that there is too much government, ie home office, involvement to allow the true sad state of society to be reported. The government would like us to believe that we are living in a morally stronger society than the last government left us, we would then be grateful, feel that our tax money was well spent, and think that our moral judgement had been left in safe hands. How can this be when if 17 cars get broken into in your street it is classed as a continuing offence and one crime report submitted, yet if you drive through four speed camera's in one journey in excess of the speed limit they are seperate offences generating £240.00 and a ban. Reduce all charges of ABH to a mere common assault and from a recordable crime to non recordable. Hey presto, lies, damn lies and statistics.

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