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Ministers rapped over crime figures
Ministers and statisticians have been "too passive" in the face of concerns over the quality of police-recorded statistics, a group of MPs have said.
The Home Office, Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) watchdog have "repeatedly missed opportunities" to ensure the quality of police-recorded crime figures, the Public Administration Select Committee said.
The damning comments come after serious concerns were raised over the integrity of crime figures, sparked by claims made by former Metropolitan Police officer James Patrick last year.
Mr Patrick, who has since resigned, told MPs that massaging crime figures to hit performance targets had become ''an engrained part of policing culture''.
His comments combined with further evidence submitted to Parliament ultimately led to the UKSA stripping police-recorded crime figures of their gold-standard status.
In its report into crime figures, the Committee said: " We conclude that the Home Office, ONS and UKSA have been far too passive in the face of concerns raised about police-recorded crime, they have repeatedly missed opportunities to ensure the integrity and quality of police-recorded crime data."
A review of crime statistics by the UKSA and ONS in 2011 failed to expose the unreliability of recording practices within police forces, the Committee said.
"It is deplorable that ONS can have overseen the production of crime statistics, which were a set of National Statistics, with what appears to have been very limited knowledge of the 'quality assurance' steps that the data went through before being sent to the ONS," the report added. " Overall, the ONS has been too passive in carrying out their duties in relation to crime statistics. This cannot continue."
The Committee recommend t he Home Office does more to discourage use of targets and takes responsibility and accepts accountability for the quality of police-recorded crime statistics.
The group of MPs have also called on policing watchdog Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) to investigate the treatment of Mr Patrick.
Mr Patrick was put under investigation after writing about changes to the police service in a blog, on Twitter and later in a book, The Rest Is Silence.
Scotland Yard downgraded his disciplinary proceedings from gross misconduct to misconduct, meaning he would not have faced the sack.
However, he decided to resign, blaming his treatment by the Metropolitan Police in the wake of "making disclosures in good faith and in the public interest".
Bernard Jenkin MP, chair of the Committee, said: "The most depressing part of this inquiry is the way that the Metropolitan Police appear to have treated my constituent, Pc James Patrick.
"He says he has been forced to resign from the Metropolitan.
"Acting as a whistleblower, he tried to highlight serious concerns about the validity of crime statistics, and the target culture.
"Most police forces are still in denial about the damage targets cause, both to data integrity and to standards of behaviour.
"We are indebted to Pc Patrick for his courage in speaking out, in fulfilment of his duty to the highest standards of public service, despite intense pressures to the contrary."
Crime prevention minister Norman Baker said: " It is vital that recorded crime statistics are as robust as they can possibly be - and the coalition government has a strong record on reinforcing their independence and accountability.
"One of the first things we did when we came into office was to transfer responsibility for crime statistics to the independent Office for National Statistics.
"We asked HMIC last June to carry out an audit of the quality of crime recording in every police force and look forward to receiving the interim report from this authoritative investigation later this month.
"The Home Secretary has also written to chief constables emphasising that the police must ensure that crimes are recorded accurately and honestly.
"Police recorded crime has fallen by more than 10% since June 2010.
"The independent Crime Survey for England and Wales, which is based on a survey of 35,000 households rather than police figures, also shows that crime has fallen by more than 10% over the same period, and to the lowest level since the survey began in 1981.
"So the evidence is clear - police reform is working and crime is falling.
"I thank the committee for their report and will respond to its recommendations in due course."
A Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) spokesman said: " The Commissioner has made it very clear that he wants crime statistics which we can all rely upon, not least because we are committed to cutting crime and need to know how successful we are in achieving this. We have already put in place measures to deal with the under-recording of sexual offences.
"We look forward to the publishing of the code of ethics, but our officers have always been expected to uphold the highest standards of professional behaviour.
"The MPS has developed its own core values - integrity, professionalism, courage and compassion. When the code is published, we will adopt it and integrate it alongside our values throughout the organisation.
"Pc Patrick has initiated employment tribunal proceedings. It would therefore be inappropriate to comment further on this matter at this stage."