Sensationalist headlines over a free, and misleading, ad for
Sensationalist headlines cover a free, and misleading, ad for

Unsuprisingly a lot of people have asked me about the story on the BBC website suggesting that SW11 is a ‘burglary hotspot’.

Rather pleasingly I’ve been able to tell them the story is an absolute nonsense. An unfortunate example of a journalist cutting and pasting a press release (this time from and pretending it’s a news story.

In fact, fairly basic research would have revealed that actual crime figures show the list to be a nonsense. If the journalist had just glanced at the  link to Home Office statistics included with the story it would have raised enough alarm bells to dig a little deeper.

I set myself the challenge of finding a few areas that should have appeared on the list.

I’m going to confess that I’m cheating a little here. Crime statistics by postcode aren’t publicly available. So I’m comparing by borough, for which you can easily get statistics from the Home Office’s ‘Statistics on the Internet’ site. My justification and theory is this: crime in Wandsworth is relatively uniform – although Battersea is slightly higher than other areas, it isn’t disproportionately higher – therefore if I can find an area that doesn’t feature on the list with much higher crime, it follows that, even if uniformly spread, it is a hotter spot for burglary than any of the listed hotspots.

The rate of burglary in Wandsworth over the past five years (2004-5 to 2008-9 was 12.1 per 1,000 population). I needed to find somewhere higher.

It wasn’t hard. Personal curiosity pushed me towards my childhood home authority of North East Lincolnshire (which, according to contains all or parts of DN31, DN32, DN33, DN35, DN36, DN37, DN40 and LN3 postcodes). There the five year average was 22.8 burglaries per 1,000 population. Nearly twice the rate of Wandsworth, but none of those postcodes featured in the list.

I then tried to find somewhere leafier. South Buckinghamshire hit the spot for me. With UB postcodes and rather nice sounding places like Stoke Poges and Hedgerley it managed a five-year rate of 16.9 burglaries per 1,000 population. But somehow, it’s not on the list.

And there are plenty of other areas that don’t feature and probably should:

  • Bradford (postcode BD12) has a five year rate of 17.7 burglaries per 1,000 population.
  • Kingston upon Hull (postcodes HU1, HU7 and HU9) has a five year rate of 26.1 burglaries per 1,000 population.
  • Middlesborough (postcodes TS1, TS3, TS5, TS7 and TS8) has a five year rate of 20.7 burglaries per 1,000 population.

That was from a fairly cursory look through, but enough to make it fairly clear that the list is PR puff, rather than a serious attempt at mapping burglary hotspots.

This isn’t to say the story is complete nonsense, Leeds and Nottingham both have very high burglary rates and feature. But the story is really about what people who have applied for insurance through that site have said. There are all sorts of factors that will skew the results; things like internet access, consumer savvy and likelihood to even have insurance will all play a part – and this is as much a ‘study’ of those factors than it is of crime or burglary rates.  Unfortunately the BBC chose the sensationalist headline and story rather than accuracy.

I wouldn’t pretend Wandsworth is a crime-free oasis.  We do have low crime rates, but the recession means the decline in crime seems to have reversed.  But this is a national trend and  Wandsworth remains one of the safest places in London.  There are many areas across London and the country with significantly higher rates of burglary, while Wandsworth residents shouldn’t be complacent – and should take precautions against crime – they do not need to be panicked by stories like this.

What annoys me is not producing the press release (after all, it creates publicity and therefore business for them – though I’ve churlishly not linked their name), but the BBC just re-publishing it as fact with no critical analysis. This is an analysis of insurance application hotspots, not crime hotspots. All it has done is further skew the mismatch between crime rates and fear of crime – made some people feel less safe and, perhaps, lull others into a false sense of security.

Given the BBC’s public service ethos I expect better from the BBC. Sadly, it seems that expectation is misplaced.

For the sake of completeness I’ve included the figures from the Home Office below:

5 year burglary rates

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