Damaging facts that distort true picture

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The Independent Online
Mugging is the crime city dwellers fear most. Although relatively rare, it is rising in London and it keeps citizens shut indoors at night for fear.

Assuming Sir Paul Condon's figures are right, and that in some areas of London, eight out of ten robberies are committed by young black men, it is entirely correct that the matter should be discussed, in public, without evading uncomfortable facts.

But it is also true that even a reliable fact can be released in a way that does unnecessary damage. Sir Paul's decision to draw attention to the matter in a series of letters setting up a conference, which was bound to find its way into the press, was not a very shrewd way to proceed.

Unfortunately, the very word "mugger" has become a damaging black stereotype, despite the fact that more than 80 per cent of those in prison for this crime are white. It is young white men who commit this crime in just as great numbers in other cities.

Sir Paul said that a small number of young men, perhaps 40, are responsible for most of these attacks. But he has by implication, and however unintentionally, risked smearing the whole young black community. Failure to police estates because of a history of disastrous relations means some young blacks may get away with more crime, while those black people who have to live in these areas are three times more likely to be mugged.

When the community leaders attend Sir Paul's conference, they will no doubt make some of these points. Some will also add that he should join them in calling upon the Prime Minister to do more about young black unemployment.

Above all, Sir Paul should exercise caution in framing the operation the Met appears to have in mind to tackle street robbery. A bungled crackdown would do even more damage than a bungled opening up of the debate.