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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2006, 13:01 GMT 14:01 UK
Crime hotspot league 'not whole story'
By Alex Kleiderman
BBC News

The authors of a league table of crime hotspots hope it will enable communities to demand a better performance from their local police force.

The study covered seven different crime categories

But Reform's listing showing wide variations across England and Wales has been accused of being misleading by some of the areas branded the "most dangerous".

And the think tank itself admits the presentation "masks the wide disparity" of crime rates in London.

While police and the Home Office contend such a listing is not an accurate way of measuring crime, Reform says a similar US project has shown detailing data city-by-city can provide a "powerful incentive" on local agencies to improve.

"Better information is a key means to improve the performance of public services," said Reform director Andrew Haldenby.

"For services such as policing, where choice does not apply, it allows local communities to compare the performance of different police units and to demand better performance."

Urban areas

Nottingham was ranked the most dangerous urban area with a population of more than 100,000, with a crime rate per 1,000 people which was four times higher than in places such as Southend and Poole.

It is however as close to a standardised measure as it is possible to get

London was placed 29th out of 55 in the comparison, but if its highly-populated boroughs were counted individually, eight of the country's top 20 crime spots could be found in the city.

Reform's study classed Portsmouth worst for rape and Manchester worst for robberies.

However, police figures show the London boroughs of Hackney and Lambeth had the highest number of rapes in the period surveyed, while the five worst areas for robbery are all in the capital.

London's position in the list is due to the fact that figures from its 10 worst performing areas have been offset by lower crime rates in outlying boroughs such as Sutton and Kingston upon Thames.

'Criminological analysis'

Reform's findings were based on a comparison of seven categories of offences - murder, robbery, rape, burglary, vehicle crime, gun crime and assault.

Vehicle crime: Nottingham
Rape: Portsmouth
Assault: Leicester
Burglary: Stockport
Robbery: Manchester
Gun crime: Bradford
Murder: Nottingham
Source: Reform report

The report gathered statistics from police figures for 2004-2005 using the Freedom of Information Act and took population data from the 2001 Census.

Rape and robbery are regarded as more serious offences by the courts than vehicle crime but high incidences of the latter would impact on a city's placing in the table.

Reform said its seven categories were "popularly associated" with the main types of crime perceived as a threat to property or person by the public.

Taken together they typically represented 34% of all property crime and 69% of all violent crime, it said.

The think tank stressed the listing was not intended to be a criminological analysis.

It did not set out to look at the causes of crime or factor in demographics of each area or whether crime was rising or falling.

"It is however as close to a standardised measure as it is possible to get for the purposes of comparison, even accepting variations in police performance with regard to detection of offences and factors affecting the willingness of the public in different areas of the country to report crime," Reform said.

'Incomparable' data

Reform's study found Nottingham, at 115 crimes per 1,000 people was also more affected than areas of a similar size such as Wolverhampton on 49 per 1,000 and Reading on 43 per 1,000.

Nottinghamshire Police said it was unfair that the city was being compared with areas which have large swathes of countryside and the council said if its suburbs were taken into account, it would be in 15th place.

A West Yorkshire Police spokesman, speaking after Leeds was placed second and Bradford fourth, said the listing was based on data which is "incomplete and incomparable".

The Home Office said two independent reviews of crime statistics were likely to make recommendations regarding the best way to present data in the future.

Social and economic conditions differ between areas and the variations in the Reform league table should not be seen as unexpected, it said.

"Some higher crime areas can have effective mechanisms in place for bearing down on crime and year on year variation in crime would influence rankings," a spokesperson added.

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