It's true because I saw it on the telly

Richard Garside
Monday, 19 May 2014

Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader, gets his facts on immigation and crime from the ITV drama documentary 'Fraud Squad'.

We know this because he uses an episode broadcast in April 2012 in his full-page 'open letter' advert in today's Daily Telegraph, to back up the claim that '92% of all ATM crime in London is committed by Romanians'.

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We also know that Mr Farage reads The Times. A story published by the newspaper in October last year, under the headline 'Romanians use cheap flights for crime spree', appears to be behind another claim in today's advert: '7% of all crime across the 28 EU members states was caused by 240 Romanian gangs'.

Both claims share a number of things in common. But let's mention just two of them: they are based on plenty of innuendo but no hard evidence; they are also completely spurious.

What of the third, and most provocative claim in today's advert:

'28,000 Romanians were arrested in the last five years in the Metropolitan Police area alone'.

The source of these claims is a Freedom of Information request, published in February 2013.

A near 40 page document, it lists the stated nationality of those arrested by the Metropolitan police between April 2008 and December 2012. Among the nationalities listed are 'East Germany' (which ceased to exist in 1990), the Belgian Congo (which ceased to exist in 1960) and 'Indochina', which has never existed as a country at all.

This is not, to put it mildly, a particularly robust dataset. It certainly should not be used to make sweeping and inflammatory claims about the nationals of another country.

Crime data produced by the police had their status as a reliable dataset removed by the UK Statistics Authority back in January 2014, following credible allegations that they were being fiddled. Mr Farage is one of the few politicians in the UK who appears still to think that they offer a reliable measure of crime incidents.

The data quoted also refer to arrests by the police. Numerous people are arrested every day. They include Mr Farage's colleague Tony Hooke, a UKIP councillor in Hampshire arrested today on charges of assault.

The majority of those arrested are never charged with any offence. So it is simpleminded to rely on the arrest of those claiming to be Romanian as a measure of criminality.

This is particularly important to bear in mind with migrant groups and individuals, who are disproportionately the focus of police activity. This dataset might tell us some interesting things about who the police chose to arrest. It tells us nothing of value in relation to law-breaking activity.

This all goes to illustrate an important truth: it is possible to get a respected broadsheet newspaper to publish any old racist claptrap.

As long, that is, as you are prepared to pay for the privilege.