Page last updated at 14:07 GMT, Thursday, 29 May 2008 15:07 UK

Crime's growing perception gap

By Chris Summers
BBC News

The government has unveiled a 3m advertising campaign against knife crime, using graphic images of real injuries inflicted amid growing fears about the problem and a spate of recent deaths of young people.

Teenagers killed in London in 2008
Some 15 teenagers have been killed in London this year alone

"There are three kinds of lies - lies, damned lies and statistics."

Cynics will have Benjamin Disraeli's words in mind when they read the figures presented to the Metropolitan Police Authority's (MPA) annual general meeting (AGM).

According to the statistics, knife crimes fell by 15.5%, from 11,986 to 10,131 between 2006/07 and 2007/08.

Detection rates for knife crime rose from 22.9% to 24.5% and for homicides from 85.8% to 95%.

Yet politics is all about perception and Ken Livingstone was turfed out of the mayor's office recently partly because his opponent, Boris Johnson, tapped into a perception that violent crime was getting worse.

This was further emphasised by an excerpt from the MPA's youth scrutiny process - a survey of young people in London - which found the media were partly to blame by reinforcing negative stereotypes.

The report said: "A balanced portrayal of young people that includes their civic engagement and positive activities in the press is needed to address intergenerational tensions."

A quote from Lewisham Youth Offending Team puts it more succinctly: "If you closed down the Evening Standard tomorrow the fear of crime would plummet."

Peter Woodhams
Peter Woodhams was murdered after a seven-month campaign of violence
Tackling crime can be a surprisingly bureaucratic task.

It is not all about car chases, dawn raids and high profile court cases.

They are the sharp end of crime fighting.

Behind the scenes, there are hours of exhausting and, at times, mind-bendingly tedious bureaucracy.

The MPA - the watchdog to which Scotland Yard is ultimately accountable - has spawned a series of committees, working parties and focus groups.

Every police operation needs to have its official blessing and, more importantly, its agreement on funding.

For example Operation Blunt 2, the Met's latest anti-knife crime initiative, is estimated to be costing 1m.

Where does that money come from?

In a report, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Rose Fitzpatrick writes: "The corporate tasking budget will be augmented by 1m, specifically for this activity to reduce serious youth violence.

"Should the operational response in future be required to exceed existing budgets any request for additional resources will be subject to the normal decision-making processes."

So there you have it.

But behind all the figures and the red tape are real police officers, real criminals and real victims.

Stop and search
The new powers follow a rise in fatal knife attacks in London
One of those was Peter Woodhams, a 22-year-old satellite engineer, who lived with his girlfriend and three-year-old son on a housing estate in Canning Town, east London.

In January 2006 he was slashed across the face by a gang of youths after confronting them when they threw stones at his car.

The police failed to investigate the assault properly and seven months later Mr Woodhams was shot dead by a teenager, Bradley Tucker, outside his home.

Tucker was one of the suspects for the 2006 assault, whose names had been suggested to the Woodhams family.

After a damning report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), two officers were required to resign - but they were later reinstated after an internal review by Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur.

Mr Woodhams's father, Peter, appeared at the MPA's AGM on Thursday and urged them to review the decision to reinstate the officers.

Peter Woodhams senior
For all they say about crime going down and things getting better we do not see a change out on the streets
Peter Woodhams senior
Mr Woodhams told the MPA: "Unfortunately as neither you nor the IPCC will challenge [Assistant Commissioner] Ghaffur's decision we, a bereaved family who not only have to deal with our loss and the catastrophic failings of the Met and in particular these two officers, were then let down again by the Met policing themselves, now we have to bear the responsibility of fighting this."

The commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, apologised to the Woodhams family for the failings of the original investigation, but assured them the Met did not have a culture of "looking after our own" and had instituted new disciplinary procedures, which involved an independent panel.

But outside the meeting Mr Woodhams said Sir Ian and the MPA had only paid "lip service" to their concerns.

He said the police's failure to tackle the anti-social behaviour of the youths who hassled his son was not an "isolated case".

"For all they say about crime going down and things getting better we do not see a change out on the streets," he added.

His comments perfectly captured the growing gap between facts and perception.

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2020 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific