Crime: What the country really thinks

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The Independent Online
FIROZ LALJEE took part in an experimental new opinion survey by Channel 4 and the Independent because, as a father of three daughters all aged under 10, he had grown increasingly worried about the apparent rise in violent crime.

When he was growing up in Nairobi, he says, break-ins and burglaries were common, but child abuse and violent crime much less so. 'After having lived here for 20 years, I find it heartbreaking that we have all these sorts of problems in a civilised society which is materially better off.'

Mr Laljee came to Britain 20 years ago, and now works as finance director of a data communications company in Surrey. He was among 300 ordinary Britons who agreed to join the first randomly-selected sample of people ever to be gathered together in one place. They spent a weekend in Manchester, debating the problem of crime among themselves and with politicians and experts.

Their opinions were surveyed in detail beforehand, and then again at the end of their deliberations, to see how the time to reflect and debate had affected their views. The result - to be published in the Independent this weekend, and in a special Channel 4 programme at 8pm on Sunday - is a survey of opinion that penetrates far deeper than conventional snapshot opinion polls.

Certainly that was Mr Laljee's experience. 'I decided that crime wasn't anything to do with unemployment or poverty. What is important is things like drugs, and getting tough on those issues.'

He had started by thinking that police needed new powers, but came to feel that they needed more resources rather than tougher laws. His biggest frustration came from listening to a convicted credit card fraudster, who remained unreformed by his time spent in jail. 'It would have been nice to hear from someone who had suffered in prison, but who had come out determined to live a different life,' Mr Laljee said.

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