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In the UK and other western countries, governments are congratulating themselves on falling crime figures. But do the statistics tell the whole story?
In July 2013, the UK's Office for National Statistics announced that there had been a seven per cent decrease in the number of crimes reported to the police in England and Wales.
An even bigger fall in crime – nine per cent – was recorded by the Crime Survey of England and Wales, which asks a representative sample of households whether they have been victims of crime.
UK Home Secretary Theresa May was cock-a-hoop, saying that a decision by the Government to cut police funding ? and, therefore, the number of police officers in England and Wales ? had been vindicated.
England and Wales were safer than they had been for decades, she declared.
But is the Government measuring the right things? Should it content itself with looking only at the number of crimes which have been committed? Or should we all be looking at the magnitude of crime; the impact that crimes, regardless of their number, are having on society?
Shortly after the crime statistics were announced, a less re-assuring set of figures were published by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism which showed that the the police were becoming slower to respond to 999 calls, with the reduction in police numbers being blamed.
Some forces were taking 15 per cent longer to respond and one had increased its target for responding from 10 minutes to 15 minutes – a 30 per cent increase.
In a case of domestic abuse, how much more damage can an abuser do to their victim in the extra five minutes which it now takes that force to respond? How much more work by way of treating the victim is caused to the hospital accident and emergency unit to which are admitted and which, like other units throughout the country, is probably already desperately over-stretched? Could the extra work caused by the abuse victim lead to loss of life of another, waiting patient?
None of this is being measured.
Shop owners could lose their livelihoods
Smuggling might be considered a victimless crime but tell that to corner shop owners around the country and their families who reckon they could lose their livelihoods because of it.
The Tobacco Retailers' Alliance which is a trade association representing about 26,000 independent shops, says that one in six corner shops is under the threat of closure from the combined effects of cross-border shopping and tobacco smuggling, up from one in eight in the previous year.
A survey of its members also showed that 40 per cent of them had considered reducing staff because of the problem.
The Alliance's spokeswoman, Debbie Corris, who is herself a shopkeeper, said: "These results show that tobacco smuggling is not only a threat to the livelihoods of independent retailers but one that continues to worsen. The high level of tax on tobacco means that a smuggler selling at half the price I charge will make more money selling his tobacco here than almost anywhere else in the EU."
But neither shop owners or staff will ever appear in the figures as victims of crime even if they lose their jobs and businesses as a result of smugglers.
And at a time when high streets have seen shop closure after shop closure as a result of austerity, they can ill-afford any further outlets putting up the shutters lest these streets are deserted by shoppers and get taken over by anti-social elements, with all the social costs that brings (a fate which overtook a recently closed police station).
Revenue to the Government is lost as well, of course. And with, according to a BBC story, 520 children becoming new smokers every day, there is vast young market that the smugglers might choose to exploit, unhindered by any Government rules aimed at curbing smoking. If, indeed, they are not already doing so.
Smuggling, therefore, can be a high-magnitude crime.
Figures fail to catch new types of crime
An increasing number of criminologists are casting doubt on the value of conventional crime figures.
One of them is Prof Marian FitzGerald, who told the UK's Guardian newspaper that the figures fail to capture new types of property crime, such as online fraud, because these are seldom reported.
Her views were echoed by two professors from Teesside University, Simon Winlow and Steve Hall, who told the UK's Observer newspaper that a new approach to recording crime was needed.
Said Prof Hall: "It is ridiculous for criminologists to argue that, because we are seeing statistical falls in crime, the world is becoming a nicer place and that our society is becoming more civilised and humane.
"Criminal markets are changing in way that are leaving traditional policing methods trailing in the dust."
Fraud is, indeed, bucking the crime-number trend, with a 27 per cent increase recorded by the police in England and Wales.
And while a burglar might escape from a family home with a couple of thousand pounds worth of stolen goods – probably insured – a fraudster can cause complete financial ruin with no hope of compensation.
A few days after the latest crime figures were announced with a flourish, the UK's Daily Mail newspaper published a story about three con men who had been operating a so-called 'boilerhouse scam', persuading people to buy shares in companies which didn't exist.
Said the paper: "Marriages broke up, professionals were forced to go back to work after losing all their savings and one distraught man killed himself after being cheated out of £200,000."
The trio, it explained, cheated 2,300 people out of £83 million.
These were crimes, clearly, of enormous magnitude.
Just three among countless fraudsters
And these criminals were just three among countless fraudsters operating at all levels. Here are just a few headlines gathered from newspapers around the UK recently.
Fraud trio are locked up after conning frail and elderly customers – from the Teesside Gazette
Con artists impersonating police officers in new scam – from the Harborough Mail
25 per cent of adults at risk of new 'vishing' phone con which tricks victims into giving details to fraudsters who claim to be their bank – from the Daily Mail
Fraudster who preyed on debt victims faces jail – from Devon 24
Cumbria police warn public to be aware of computer fraud – from the Westmoreland Gazette
Fraudster jailed after conning Take That fans into paying for Wembley gig tickets which didn't exist in £65,000 travel agency scam - the Daily Mail
Sutton Coldfield travel conman Alan Steel jailed for taking £140,000 from OAPs – from the Birmingham Mail
Frail Wallington pensioner stung in sewer pipe scam – from This Is Local London
Warnings of scam where con artists pretend to be from the fraud protection unit – from the Manchester Evening News
Beware the courier scam – an express way to lose your money – from The Guardian
A leading police officer, Manchester Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy has admitted that rising fraud represented a problem for his force at a time of falling budgets.
You're probably too smart to be caught out by fraudsters like these. Even so, if you're a UK resident, you may well be a victim of fraud even if you don't realise it.
According to the Association of British Insurers insurance fraud now adds, on average, an extra £50 a year to the annual insurance bill for every UK policy holder.
But you'll never appear in those official figures which confidently show the number of victims going down.