Television Review

LAST WEEK, in the wake of his resignation from the Opposition front bench, Michael Howard was on the radio saying that he may have rubbed people up the wrong way, but he would rather go down in history as a Home Secretary who got things done than as a nice guy. In particular, he was very proud of the rapid fall in recorded crime during his time in office.

One effect of last night's Dispatches (C4) was to suggest that history might not share his rosy view of that achievement. Nick Davies offered evidence that, under pressure to improve crime statistics, police forces have been not so much massaging the figures as giving them topless relief. Among other things, clear-up rates have been improved by bribing criminals already convicted for one offence to confess to large numbers of other crimes - one offender interviewed by Davies claimed to have helped the police to write off 70 car thefts that he had nothing to do with; in return, he got time alone with his girlfriend. To make things look even better, the police have gone to the lengths of inventing crimes and then claiming to have solved them. And there is "cuffing" - not what you do to criminals when you catch them, but slipping crimes up your cuffs: a stolen purse is recorded as lost property, a broken car window is blamed on gravel thrown up by passing traffic, a foiled break-in is shrugged off as minor damage, and none of it is added to the crime statistics.

Davies's main exhibit here was an 18-month investigation by Bedfordshire police into the activities of the Nottinghamshire constabulary. In one year, their report claimed, 9,000 actual crimes were logged as "minor incidents"; meanwhile, 89 robberies in Nottingham, listed as cleared up, were simply "fictitious"; so were a thousand cases of shoplifting. Notts police claimed a clear-up rate of 98.3 per cent for rape, which Bedfordshire police said was impossible; and apparently one division claimed to have solved twice as many sexual assaults as had actually been reported, which I suppose gave them a clear-up rate of 200 per cent. That must push the averages up a bit.

Whether this sort of fiddling is endemic and systematic is another matter. A couple of senior policemen thought it probably was, but the evidence was largely anecdotal, and Davies does have a tendency to sensationalise. In his book, Dark Heart, an exploration of England's new criminal underclass, he recalls with horror how a four-year-old girl dressed up in a nurse's cape thought she was supposed to be Batman. Actually, I think that's a fairly normal reaction for a four-year-old - how often do you see nurses wearing capes these days? But even taken with a pinch of salt, the programme was disturbing, and not only for former ministers wondering if they shouldn't have tried being a little nicer after all.

Horizon (BBC2) was labelled "New Asteroid Danger", but turned out to be largely about the same old asteroid danger - huge Doomsday comets and meteorites, of the sort that wiped out the dinosaurs (incidentally, that same comet, when interviewed by Notts police, asked for 11 other mass extinctions to be taken into consideration). The new part was the discovery that smaller- scale, but locally devastating impacts happen much more frequently than anybody had realised. Until quite lately, the Tunguska impact, which flattened part of Siberia in the early years of this century, was thought to have been the only recent major incident; but it looks as if there were comparable events in the Empty Quarter of Arabia in 1863, and in a remote corner of Brazil in 1930. Now the calculation is that we can expect a fairly big one once a century, and a couple of slightly smaller ones every 50 years. Interesting and mildly frightening stuff, but like a comet, consisting of a few solid bits surrounded by a lot of gas.

More gas in Every Woman Knows a Secret, ITV's new drama. Siobhan Redmond plays a woman who has an affair with the younger man (Paul Bettany) responsible for her son's death in a car crash. Once you know that, you know the whole first episode and may as well skip to next week. The most interesting thing about it is that this week's cast includes both a Jolyon and a Rupam. You can see the casting directors kicking themselves for not having found a Sholto or a Thaddeus. Mind you, there are still two episodes to go, so fingers crossed, eh?

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