Crime statistics 'were distorted by politics'

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Indy Politics

The Government misled the public over the success of its anti-crime policies by distorting research that contradicted its political aims, according to leading criminologists.

Ministers' obsession with spin means that academic studies which failed to support government policies were being suppressed, said the criminologists, many of whom have worked for the Government.

One former Home Office researcher is so concerned about the distortion of research that he has called for a boycott of Home Office research.

The Home Office spends £20m on research papers each year, which are supposed to offer independent analysis of subjects such as crime and asylum so that appropriate policy can be drawn up in response.

In one paper, the Keele University criminologist Professor Tim Hope revealed that research he carried out into an anti-burglary project showed it would have increased the level of crime by almost two-fifths. This result was "something of an embarrassment" to the Home Office, which never publicly commented on it and did not select the findings for a full report, said Professor Hope. "It was with great sadness and regret that I saw our work ill-used and our faith in Government's use of evidence traduced."

The Home Office commissioned further research on the same anti-burglary scheme - which focused on making homes more secure - and analysed it using different techniques.

"Through various manipulations of the data, the Home Office method does what it can to capitalise on chance, producing much more favourable findings overall," said Professor Hope. "But for individual projects, the method produces considerable distortion."

Dr Reece Walters, a senior lecturer at Stirling University, accuses the Home Office of "rubber-stamping the political priorities of the government of the day" and calls for a boycott of Home Office research. Dr Walters writes: "Its research agenda is motivated by outcomes that are of immediate benefit to existing political demands. It is embedded criminology."Another writer claimed that an influential study which is being used to support millions of pounds of public spending was "flawed". Paul Marchant, a chartered statistician, of Leeds Metropolitan University, criticised a 2002 Home Office report which concluded that better street lighting led to reduced crime.

"My ongoing debate with the authors and the government body involved is that the use of statistical methods in this study lacks sufficient rigour and so the claim is not supported by the data," he said.

The criminologists' papers were published in Criminal Justice Matters, the magazine of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London.

A Home Office spokesman said: "The Home Office has not yet seen these allegations. However, our research is commissioned from leading scholars, as a result of competitive tendering, and is subject to external and independent peer review. Nevertheless, the Home Secretary has been concerned for some time that Home Office statistics about crime have been questioned and challenged."