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Reply to BBC on crime reporting
Posted by Brian D on October 1 2007, 16:59 » Uploaded 01/10/07 17:15  

I forgot to include my reply to the BBC's Keith Breene in our recent page on BBC crime reporting. It doesn't add much, but the stats are worth repeating (the prior correspondence is shown below):

Dear Keith,

Thanks for your reply. My concern was that the report was chosen as the headline story for that day. Giving a story headline status implies that it's major news. This can lead to a "shock-horror" impression. I appreciate that the report itself was free from hyperbole. That said, I do have a problem with your line: "the fact that so many are coming to the attention of the police is causing concern".

Such statements need context. If the figure had fallen since 1997 (or 1957, 1907, etc) one perhaps wouldn't use the phrases "so many" or "causing concern". The figure of 3,000 is largely meaningless by itself - it needs to be compared with other times and other countries.

Here are some figures which put the recent hysteria into perspective. One might ask why these trends didn't make the headlines:

Total homicides, children age 1-5 (1995): 19
Total homicides, children age 1-5 (2005/06): 11

Total homicides, children age 5-16 (1995): 44
Total homicides, children age 5-16 (2005/06): 20

(Figures for England and Wales. Source: Home Office Statistical Bulletin 02/07 - Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2005/2006)

Brian Dean
[Sent 4/9/07]


I had earlier [4/9/07] received this reply from Keith Breene:

Dear Mr Dean

Thank you for your email regarding my report on child crime. I appreciate your concern and would like to address the points you raise.

I feel I avoided what you call the "shock horror" approach with my report. I was very clear that compared to the overall number of crimes recorded in the same period the number in which the suspect was under 10 represented a tiny fraction.

I was also careful to avoid any sense that the problem was getting worse. This was a snapshot of the situation and as such there was no claim that the number of crimes involving young children was going up or down.

I also think it is fair to say there is currently concern regarding young people as both perpetrators and victims of crime. Again I made no comparisons to the past and was simply stating the situation now.

I hope this addresses your concerns.

Yours sincerely

Keith Breene

Intitial email (2/9/07) to the BBC's Keith Breene:

Dear Keith,

In your report on crimes committed by children (BBC News 24, 2/9/07), you say: " a time when several high profile cases have involved children as both victim and perpetrator, the fact that so many are coming to the attention of the police is causing concern."

"So many"? Compared to what? It's notable that the BBC report mentions no figures from the past, so we're given no idea of trends. The figure mentioned by the BBC (3,000 crimes) included "criminal damage". Children have committed "criminal damage" (eg breaking windows, graffiti, etc) for centuries. As for the more shocking crimes, they remain extremely rare.

Given a historic context, I see no real "news" here, let alone a headline story. The figures are of academic interest, but they don't seem to warrant the BBC's headline "shock-horror" treatment. In 1898, newspapers in England warned of the menace of "hooligans" and of a "dramatic increase in disorderly behaviour". The Times reported "organised terrorism in the streets". In every decade of the 20th century there were similar media panics. In the 1800s, hordes of teens and pre-teens ran wild in American city streets, dodging authorities, "gnawing away at the foundations of society", as a commentator put it.

Brian Dean


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