Government uses statistical sleight of hand `prove’ Licensing Act cuts crime.
The carefully selected crime statistics released by the Home
Office on 8 February fail to justify the claims being made by the
Government and sections of the alcohol industry that the Licensing Act
2003 succeeded in cutting violent crime during its first month of
operation, beginning on 24 November 2005.
The introduction of the Act coincided with a £2.5 million
Alcohol Misuse Enforcement Campaign designed to cut alcohol related
crime including violent crime, and the new figures cover this period.
However, Tony Blair and Home Office Minister Hazel Blears both claimed
that the figures also vindicated the new Licensing Act.
The figures were presented so misleadingly that not
surprisingly many in the media misunderstood them. The political news
service de Havilland, for example, reported:
The Home Office figures for the last three months of 2005 have
shown an 11% drop in overall levels of violent crime, and a 21% drop in
serious violent crime, compared to the same period in 2004.
The BBC also reported: With more officers on the streets at
night, violent crime went down by 11% overall compared with the same
period in 2004, with a 21% fall in more serious types of offence, the
Both of these statements are incorrect. The new Home Office
figures do not compare 2005 with 2004: rather, they show the variation
between October 2005 and December 2005, and the reason they fail prove
the Licensing Act cut crime is because there are normal seasonal
variations and violent crime usually falls between October and December.
For example, Metropolitan Police figures show an 8% fall in violent
crime from October to December 2003 and a 7% fall from October to
It is possible that the fall in violent crime during this
period was marginally greater in 2005 than in previous years, but that
is by no means certain. Given that most violent crime is not reported to
police, and therefore not recorded, a better measure is probably
attendances at Accident and Emergency Departments. Martin Shalley,
President of the British Society of Emergency Medicine, speaking on BBC
Radio (Five Live Drive, 8 February 2006), stated that the position was
not clear but if anything there may have been an increase in attendances
during the period in question.
If there was indeed a greater reduction in the amount of
violent crime in December 2005 compared with previous years, the most
likely explanation is the Alcohol Misuse Enforcement Campaign.
Certainly, it would be disappointing to discover that a special £2.5
million campaign involving every police force in the country had no
effect whatever. It is very likely that the unusually cold weather also
played a part.
It should be noted that the Government gave repeated
assurances that the impact of the Licensing Act 2003 would be thoroughly
and objectively monitored and, if necessary, changes would be made to
the legislation. A proper assessment of the impact of the Act would
require a period of at least one to two years. If the politically
motivated release of these highly misleading statistics relating to an
exceptional period of a mere five weeks represents the Government’s idea
of thorough and objective monitoring, then these assurances were