The true scale of how violent crime has grown under Labour has been disclosed by Whitehall officials.
By Tom Whitehead, Home Affairs Editor
08 Mar 2010
Violent attacks are estimated to be 44 per cent higher than they were in 1998 after research on the way police record them allowed comparisons for the first time.
The study, by the independent House of Commons Library, shows violence against the person increased from 618,417 to 887,942 last year.
It is the first time such a trend in police recorded crime can be made because a change was made in counting rules in 2002 which ministers have always insisted meant figures before that date were not, therefore, comparable.
Instead, they have always used a separate the separate British Crime Survey which suggests violence has dropped by more than 40 per cent since 1998.
The Tories, who requested the new research, said the findings make a mockery of such claims and reinforce the public’s fear that violence is in fact rising.
Statiticians in the Commons Library have used a previous Home Office estimate on the effect of the change in counting rules to estimate the impact on previous figures, had those rules been in place then.
Just last week, Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, said violent crime had dropped by 1.5 million offences under Labour before attempting to blame a growing fear of crime on the Tories for “ramping up” public panic.
One criminologist accused the Government of “scheming and manipulation” who knew it was in their interests to avoid historical comparisons.
The figures will also be a boost for the Conservatives who were accused by the head of the Statistics Authority of damaging public trust with their use of statistics on violent crime.
Sir Michael Scholar, the head of the authority, warned Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, that comparisons of police information on violent attacks between the late 1990s and 2008-9 were “likely to mislead the public” as it omitted Home Office warnings that the figures for periods before 2002 were not comparable.
However, that comparison can now be made and shows recorded crime has continued to rise sharply in the last decade.
The row centres on the implementation of the National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS) in 2002 which aimed to harmonise the way police recorded offences.
Prior to that date, officers had more discretion to decided whether a crime had been committed and the system left the possibility of offences not being recorded.
The change put the onus on recording the basis of whether the victim believed an offence had occurred, which led to an almost immediate increase in crime figures.
The research by the Commons Library uses an estimate by the Home Office that the change is likely to have resulted in a 23 per cent increase in recorded violent crime.
On that basis, it estimates the official figure in 1998/99 of 502,778 would in fact have been 618,417 had the new counting rules been in force.
Recorded violence in 2008/09 was 903,993 but 15,500 offences have been subtracted as they were recorded by the British Transport Police, whose figures were not included in 1998/99, resulting in the 887,942 figure.
It is in stark contrast with the British Crime Survey, which questions more than 40,000 people, which reports violent crime has dropped from 3.5 million to 2.1 million over the same period.
The BCS also does not include certain offence, including murder and other homicides and offences committed by under 16-year-olds.
Mr Grayling said: “This new analysis confirms that the level of violent crime actually reported to police officers in police stations up and down the country is much higher than it was a decade ago.
“This just serves to underline the scale of the challenge the country faces in fixing our broken society.
“Over the past couple of weeks we have seen a series of horrendous violent crimes committed around the country. Whatever the statistical debates it is absolutely clear that we have deep rooted problems that just have to be tackled.”
David Green, criminologist and director of Civitas, said the Government had a reputation for “scheming and manipulation”, adding: “I think the Government knew perfectly well in 2002/03 that it would be very helpful to say ‘sorry we cannot go back beyond this date’ because they did not want a consistent historical series.”
Mr Green, who was a member of a Home Office Crime Statistics Review Group, which in 2006 recommended improvements in the collection of the crime figures, added: “It is very revealing and fits intuitively with what many people feel and what many people have been saying, if anecdotal.
“For people to feel that violent crime is going up and to be told they are suffering from moral panic has always been of some concern.”
In a major speech on crime last week, Mr Brown said: “Crime is falling. Fact. Down by more than a third since 1997. Fact. That’s 6 million fewer crimes each year. Fact. Almost 1 million fewer homes burgled. Fact. Almost 1 and a half million fewer violent crimes. Fact.”
He went on to claim the Conservatives had “cultivated” fears by abusing official statistics and claiming society was broken.
He insisted that crime had come down under Labour but his own Government’s figures show some forms of offences, including violence, were still on the rise.
But figures last November showed that the number of violent attacks committed by strangers had hit its highest level for at least a decade, now standing at the equivalent of 2,896 people every day. Strangers are responsible for half of all violent crime.
Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, said: “Chris Grayling has tried to get cover for his dodgy use of crime statistics and has failed.
“As Sir Michael Scholar, the head of the UK Statistics Authority, states, the British Crime Survey is widely regarded as the most accurate way of recording crime levels,
“This clearly shows a reduction in violent crime of 41 per cent since 1997.”
Published in the Telegraph: