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Data fears overshadow fall in crime

A fall in crime has been overshadowed by continuing uncertainty over the reliability of data recorded by the police.

Police recorded 3.7 million offences in the year to September, a decrease of 3% compared with the previous year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

However, police-recorded crime figures were last week stripped of an official "gold standard" mark by the statistics watchdog amid mounting concern they were being "fiddled" by police.

Kent Police recorded an 8% rise in offences in the same period after an overhaul of recording practices, the only regional force to show an increase, suggesting a similar pattern may occur across other forces in England and Wales if more rigorous checks are adopted.

These are the first batch of crime statistics to be published since the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) removed the National Statistics designation - effectively an official seal of approval - from all crime data recorded by the police.

National policing lead on crime statistics, Chief Constable Jeff Farrar, said " Accurate crime statistics are not only essential in holding police accountable for the work they do in the ongoing fight against crime, but also vital in ensuring that police officers and staff are deployed to the right place at the right time.

"It is disappointing that the UK Statistics Authority has decided to remove the National Statistics designation from police recorded crime statistics as this has come at a time when the service is working to make crime statistics more transparent, more accountable and assure the public of the figures' integrity.

"However, the police service, supported by HMIC, the Home Office, the Office of National Statistics, the College of Policing and the Crime Statistics Advisory Committee will continue to work hard in order to achieve accuracy and consistency in recorded crime in order to see the National Statistics designation restored. "

The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), which has retained its National Statistics designation, revealed a 10% drop in c rime against households and adults in England and Wales in the year to September.

There were about eight million incidents in the period, according to the survey, the lowest level since the survey started in 1981.

This is also around 20% lower than the 2007/08 survey and is now less than half its peak level in 1995, representing 11.1 million fewer crimes.

Falls in household crime, theft from the person and violent crime were driving the overall reduction, the ONS said.

Violent crime fell 13%, while overall household crime dropped 10%. Within overall household crime, bicycle theft decreased by 15% - the lowest level reported since 2004/05.

Within police-recorded crime, there were decreases across most of the major categories.

However, statisticians warned there were signs of increasing pressures in some offences, including a 4% rise in shoplifting and a 7% increase in theft from the person.

Sexual offences recorded by the police increased by 17%, which the ONS again put down to the so-called "Yewtree effect", whereby a greater number of victims have come forward to report historical sexual offences to the police in the wake of high-profile cases of alleged offending by celebrities.

A fall in police-recorded crime was seen across most force areas, with the exception of Cumbria, Gwent, Humberside and Merseyside which showed no change, and Northumbria, City of London, and British Transport Police, which showed a 1% increase.

An 8% rise in recorded crime by Kent Police comes after the force introduced more rigorous auditing of its data in the wake of a damning report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), which found Kent Police had been under-recording around one in ten crimes.

Kent police and crime commissioner (PCC) Ann Barnes commissioned the report after five Kent Police detectives were arrested on suspicion of persuading suspects to admit to other crimes they had not committed in order to improve the unit's performance figures.

After consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service, none of the five officers arrested will face criminal charges. They are, however, still subject to an internal disciplinary procedure. Four officers remain suspended from duty, and one has returned on restricted duties.

HMIC is currently conducting an inquiry into crime-data integrity across all forces and will report back later this year.

Tony Lloyd, chairman of the Association of PCCs and Greater Manchester PCC, said: " Police and crime commissioners are not complacent about public confidence in crime statistics."

He added: "Police and crime commissioners are working closely with chief constables to ensure better consistency and scrutiny of crime recording at a local level."

The UKSA stripped police-recorded crime of an official stamp of quality amid serious concerns over the integrity of crime figures, which were sparked by claims made by serving Metropolitan Police officer Pc James Patrick last month.

Mr Patrick told MPs on the Public Administration Select Committee that massaging crime figures to hit performance targets had become ''an engrained part of policing culture''.

HMIC assessments of data-recording practices and high-profile concerns raised before MPs are among other accumulating evidence that suggests the underlying data on crimes recorded by the police ''may not be reliable''.

In January last year, the ONS raised its own concerns that police records had appeared to ''overstate the true rate at which crime has been falling'' by failing to take into account hundreds of thousands of offences.

Crime prevention minister Norman Baker said: " England and Wales are safer than they have been for decades with crime now at its lowest level since the survey began in 1981.

"The Government has made clear that recorded crime statistics must be as robust as possible and we have a strong record on reinforcing their independence and accountability.

"We asked HMIC in June to carry out an audit of the quality of crime recording in every police force. And earlier this month, the Home Secretary wrote to chief constables emphasising that the police must ensure that crimes are recorded accurately and honestly."

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