Civitas Civitas

DO THE OFFICIAL CRIME FIGURES TELL THE FULL STORY?

David G. Green and Ben Cackett

2004/05: Crimes Omitted from the British Crime Survey

Crimes with child victims

When comparing the BCS and recorded crime the following adjustments were made by the Home Office in 2004/05 to allow for the exclusion of under 16s. The calculations are contained in a separate document obtainable from the Home Office, 'Comparing BCS and police counts of crime'. The Home Office assumed that 12% of woundings were against under 16s, and reduced the recorded crime total by 55,774. Robbery was reduced by 21%, or 17,276 offences. Theft from the person was reduced by 7% or 9,111 offences. And assault was reduced by 21% or 54,229 offences. In total 136,390 recorded crimes were carried out against under 16s, but excluded for the purpose of comparison with the BCS figures.

We can get a little closer to the true figure by using BCS estimates of the crimes not reported to the police and, if reported, not recorded. The Home Office has produced a 'best estimate' of the proportion of crimes recorded by the police.

Best Estimate of Crimes Against Victims aged 11-15,
excluded from the BCS
  Home Office estimate of recorded crimes with victims aged 11-15 Best estimate of % of real crimes recorded by the police Best estimate of actual crimes against victims aged 11-15
Woundings 55,774 36% 154,927
Robbery 17,276 26% 66,446
Theft from the person 9,111 20% 45,555
Assault 54,229 24% 225,954
Total 136,390   492,882

Source: Crime in England and Wales 2004/2005, Table 3.01.


In other words, when the Government claims that the BCS provides the most reliable picture of crime, it is missing out 492,882 offences against children under 16. It is also missing out offences against shops, offices and manufacturers. How many crimes against these victims are excluded?

Crimes against shops and offices

We can make similar calculations to those for the under 16s. The Home Office estimated that in 2004/05, 50% of vandalism (which includes arson and criminal damage to buildings) was against commercial premises, that is 607,356 offences. Similarly 11% of thefts from motor vehicles, were against commercial victims, 51,229 offences; 7% of thefts of motor vehicles, 14,703 offences; 7% of attempted thefts of motor vehicles, 5,678 offences; 11% of attempted thefts from motor vehicles, 8,927 offences; and 6% of vehicle interference and tampering, 4,869 offences. Altogether this produces a total of 692,762 recorded offences, excluded for the purpose of comparison with the British Crime Survey.

Best Estimate of Crimes Against Commercial Victims,
Excluded from the BCS
  Home Office estimate of recorded crimes against commercial victims Best estimate of % of real crimes recorded by the police Best estimate of actual crimes against commercial victims
Vandalism 607,356 24% 2,530,650
Theft from motor vehicle 51,229 34% 150,673
Theft of motor vehicles 14,703 87% 16,900
Attempted theft of motor vehicle 5,678 47% 12,080
Attempted theft from motor vehicle 8,927 47% 18,993
Vehicle interference and tampering 4,869 47% 10,359
Total 692,762   2,739,655

Source: Crime in England and Wales 2004/05, Table 3.01.


These figures make no allowance for theft from commercial premises. In The Economic and Social Costs of Crime, published by the Home Office in 2000, the authors estimated the real number of thefts from shops by multiplying the number of recorded offences by 100. Why did they choose 100? The figure was based on a study by Professor Farrington of Cambridge University who has estimated that the multiplier should be between 100 and 1,000. The Home Office opted for the lowest figure in the range, 100, which produced an estimate of nearly 31 million instances of shoplifting. The report acknowledges that this figure may be on the low side and suggests another formula, also based on the work of Professor Farrington. He has estimated that for every criminal cautioned for or convicted of shoplifting, about 150 offences have actually been carried out. The Home Office further assumes that each offender in the official figures has been convicted for two acts of shoplifting. In 1998 120,000 individuals were cautioned for or convicted of theft from a shop. Using the Farrington formula the Home Office estimated that the total number of offences was 36 million. (The calculation is 120,000 x 2 x 150 = 36 million. See p. 16, note 17 of The Economic and Social Costs of Crime.)

Professor Farrington's estimate is based on a detailed study of shoplifting, but to multiply recorded crime by 100 may strike many observers as rather arbitrary. Another indicator that could be used is the Commercial Victimisation Survey (CVS) carried out by the Home Office in 1994 and 2002. The survey found 14,648,000 thefts by retailers' customers or unknown persons (but not counting employees or 'outsiders') in 2002 (see Figure 2.1, p.7). In 2001/02 only 306,596 acts of shoplifting were recorded by the police.

If we assume that shoplifting in 2004/05 was similar to the amount revealed by the CVS in 2002, then it means that the amount of shoplifting not counted by the BCS in 2004/05 was about 14.6 million offences, perhaps more.

On the most cautious of assumptions, there were 492,882 offences against people under 16 and, on similarly cautious assumptions, there were 2,739,655 offences against commercial victims, not including shoplifting. However, if shoplifting is included, based on the 2002 CVS, and again making only the most cautious of assumptions, another 14,648,000 offences should be added, producing a grand total of 17,880,537 offences.

But this too would be an under-estimate, because the 2002 CVS found a total of 20,844,000 crimes against retailers (including shoplifting) and another 552,000 against manufacturers, some 21,396,000 in total. That is, still leaving out many offences recorded by the police (including drug offences and sexual offences), and assuming a similar rate of crime against commercial victims in 2002 as in 2004/05, we should add 21.9 million offences (492,882 + 21,396,000 = 21,888,882) to the 10.8 million reported by the BCS for 2004/05, a total of 32.7 million.


Note: Civitas wishes to record its thanks to the Home Office for checking and confirming the accuracy of the comparisons between the BCS and recorded crime in 2001/02. The same method was used by Civitas to calculate the 2002/03, 2003/04 and 2004/05 figures, but they have not been checked by the Home Office.