Letter: Statistics and definitions of racial attacks

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The Independent Online
Sir: In your leading article 'The wrong way to attack racist crime' (23 June), you state: 'With about 140,000 racist attacks in 1992, of which only one in 20 was reported, the image of Britain as largely immune to the epidemics of racial tension in continental Europe is now clearly out of date.'

There are not, fortunately, 140,000 racial attacks in Britain despite this figure being regularly quoted in the media. The 1992 British Crime Survey asked a sample of people from ethnic minorities whether, in their opinion, the crimes of which they had been victims were racially motivated. From their responses an estimated figure of 130,000 racial incidents was derived.

According to the Home Office analysis of this survey, about a quarter of the estimated incidents were assaults (of which most were common assaults rather than more serious woundings) and two-fifths were threats. Vandalism comprised another fifth of the total. Also included are incidents of burglary, theft of and from motor vehicles, other household theft and other personal theft. The media are misusing the British Crime Survey.

This has dangerous consequences. On 21 September at the Liberal Democrat conference a delegate claimed, and was reported uncritically in the media, that 'every four minutes someone in this country is beaten up because of the colour of their skin'. If there were 140,000 racial attacks, his eloquently expressed arithmetic would have been correct.

Racial attacks are appalling. We need to act effectively to stamp them out. To do so we must at least agree about what we are describing.

Yours faithfully,

GERALD HARTUP

Director

The Freedom Association

London, SE1

6 July

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