BBC exaggerates driving test identity fraud

 

The BBC ran a headline story (BBC1 10 O'Clock News, BBC News Online, 23/6/07) claiming massive levels of identity fraud in the driving test system. We queried this with the Driving Standards Agency and found that the BBC were reporting flimsy speculation as fact. The BBC corrected their website after we pointed this out – but the damage had already been done by BBC1's misleading broadcast.

Here's our correspondence with the BBC:

Dear Steve [Steve Herrmann, Editor, BBC News Online],

The BBC News page covering driving test identity fraud opens with:

"Tens of thousands of people are paying fraudsters to sit their driving test for them..." http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6231892.stm

There seems to be no factual basis for this figure. It appears to be a speculative guess by a Driving Standards Agency (DSA) spokesperson. You quote Andy Rice of the DSA fraud team as saying: "We're into the tens of thousands." In the Independent on Sunday (24/6/07), however, Rice is quoted as claiming "There are potentially tens of thousands...". Only "potentially".

We've seen no evidence presented by the DSA to support this figure. It appears to be plucked out of the air, yet the BBC has reported it as fact.

Sincerely,
[From Media Hell – sent 24/6/07]

We received the following reply, from Pat Heery (UK Editor, BBC News Interactive), 25/6/07:

Thank you for your e-mail of 24 June about our story on the driving test scam. I have spoken to Andy Rice of the Driving Standards Agency for further clarification and have amended our story in the light of this to say "could potentially be in the tens of thousands figure." Thank you again for your e-mail.

The Driving Standards Agency deserves some blame, as they introduced the "potentially tens of thousands" remark based on a feeble premise. [When we originally queried the figure with them, their Press Officer, Pamela Matthews, replied as follows (25/6/07)]:

Thanks you for your enquiry.

We have had over 1100 investigations since 2004 - these are from figures that we keep. We have had cases where individuals have done 250 tests, so potentially there could be tens of thousands (simple maths). Unfortunately, in the coverage the key word - potentially - was scrapped.

Kind regards,

Pamela Matthews
Press Officer

An "investigation" doesn't necessarily imply a crime. If it did, Britain's prisons would be overflowing with convicted terrorists. And we're not impressed with the "simple maths" that led to a misleading news story being transmitted into the heads of millions of BBC1 viewers.