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Lies, damn lies, and terrorism

In Governmental stupidity, Justice, Politics, Real-World Stats, Statistics on Friday 26th February, 2010 by Guy Tagged: , , , ,

The Research Development and Statistics section of the Home Office regularly publishes extremely interesting reports, even though its website is a dog (last time I tried the mailing list signup didn’t work), and more substantively its independence is hard to gauge (I don’t know if, and if so why, they carry out distinct work from the Office for National Statistics, which is supposedly on a more independent footing than it was before).

I found my own way to be told of updates to its “What’s New” page. The latest report is the lithely titled “Operation of police powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 and subsequent legislation: Arrests, outcomes and stops & searches. Quarterly update to September 2009. Great Britain”, with an accompanying press release which I can’t read, although that is almost certainly my fault.

The most eye-catching figure is that a smidgen (444, to be exact) over 200,000 “stops and searches were made in Great Britain under [Section] 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 in the year ending 30 September 2009” (page 15 of the report and PDF). That is a lot of terrorists stopped! Although a few of them might have been, say, innocent photographers just trying to, erm, take photographs. Interestingly, the rate at which these stopsandsearches took place decreased markedly in just one year, as can be seen clearly in Figure 2 of the report, reproduced here. The South Wales force, for example, managed to cut their number of stopsandsearches from 662 to, erm, 0, and the analogous figures from Hampshire went from 633 to, well, 0! I guess all those terrorists ran away, or maybe the police started to realise they were taking the piss. Now that Section 44 has been declared illegal by the European Court of Human Rights, one would hope they will stop altogether elsewhere, but the Home Office has so far refused to countenance this.

Just to show how ridiculous the number of stopsandsearches is (the vast, vast majority of which — always over 90% — are carried out by the Metropolitan Police), consider how many arrests and convictions follow from these stopsandsearches. According to the report, “For the year ending 30 September 2009 there were 965 arrests resulted from s44 stops
and searches in Great Britain, an arrest rate of 0.5%“. The number of terrorism-related charges, let alone convictions, is not given. I’m going to bet it’s quite small.

Consider the only other figure in the report (how convenient!), Figure 1, also reproduced here. It shows the proportion of charges following a terrorism-related arrest that are actually, you know, terrorism-related. It goes from almost 80% in the second quarter of 2008 to under 20% by the third quarter of 2009.

And don’t forget that’s just the proportion of those charged! Table 1.2, “Outcome of terrorism arrests”, shows that for the two years leading to the 30th of September 2009, there were 379 terrorism arrests [although I’m not sure how this squares with the figure for arrests following Section 44 stopsandsearches given above. I think maybe they are only counting Section 41 arrests and suchlike, looking at Table 1.1], of which 66 (about 17%) led to terrorism-related charges (including those determined to be terrorism-related as “assessed by the ACTCC”, whatever the hell that is), 64 (ditto%) led to non-terrorism related charges, 193 (over 50%) were released without charge, and finally 56 (about 15%) were, ahem, served with “alternative action”, which “includes cautions for non-terrorism offences, transfers to immigration authorities, transfers to the PSNI, summonses and those dealt with under mental health legislation”.

In case you didn’t see the bold bit above, let me repeat it here: over 50% of terrorism-related arrests led nowhere. And this doesn’t include the Section 43 or 44 arrests.

Truly pathetic.

Extra stuff:

The report (viewable here)

Update: Well, lookee here! The Guardian has stumbled on this data too and put it into a spreadsheet. Go get ’em, boy (or girl, if that’s your thing).

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