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Crime Of The Century - A Chilling Look At Crime Statistics In The UK


drop in US crime rates. It was the effect of the Brady Bill in cutting ownership of handguns, plus the peaking of the market in crack cocaine, plus a dip in the population of adolescent males, plus a little of this and a little of that. All the percentages added up – until a delegate from Spain stood up to say that they had the same fall in crime numbers in her country and none of those explanations, and then a delegate from Canada said the same, and so on around the globe.


Second, this fall has happened at the same time as every developed country in the world reports more black market drug use. In this country, for example, since 1998, according to the British Crime Survey, there has been “a statistically significant increase” in Class A drug use, particularly of crack cocaine. The Home Office’s own assessment of the number of problematic drug users suggests that they are responsible for more than 50% of crime. How can there be more prolific offenders and yet less crime?


There is one explanation of which we can be certain: the drug users who drive the crime figures are committing a mass of offences which are statistically invisible. Repeated surveys of drug users in custody show that easily their most common property crime is shoplifting (50% of their offences in most surveys); and, beyond that, most drug users fund their habit by selling drugs, whether to friends or strangers – thousands of them in any major city in the time it has taken to read this article. In both cases, this mass of offences are almost entirely invisible to police records (they are recorded only when they are detected); and completely invisible to the British Crime Survey. Parallel to that, drug users commit crimes against each other – the Yardie dealers are constantly ripping each other off, pimps rob cash off each other’s working girls, rival gangs beat each other up. And these victims don’t go to the police or sit down with a form from the British Crime Survey.


It is one of the enduring problems of criminal justice systems that whilst they can change the pattern of crime they struggle to change its scale. The one explanation which applies to all the developed countries who have seen their crime figures fall is that they have shifted their expanding population of black market drug users into committing a surge of invisible offences. It is difficult to prove that that is what has happened – because crime is hidden. But it is fair to say that the great crime fall is at best unproven and at worst a politically useful myth born out of deceitful practices.


Look at how the “fall in crime” is used. The right have claimed it proves that Michael Howard’s program of imprisonment was a success. Liberals spun it in the opposite direction, as supposed evidence that there is no need for any kind of fundamental change in the criminal justice system. The Labour government repeatedly used it to claim credit for bringing down crime since 1997. They not only ignored the impact of invisible crime, they also conveniently overlooked the absence of any observable link between the fall and government policy. So, for example, assuming they were right to say that in reality, burglary and vehicle crime have been falling: it must be significant that the same downward trend shows up independently both in the police figures and in the British Crime Survey. But they chose to date this from the year they came to power when in fact the statistics show that burglary figures have been falling since 1993 and vehicle figures have been falling since


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