Apology for premature knife crime figures

LONDON (Reuters) - Home Secretary Jaqui Smith apologised on Monday for prematurely releasing “selective” figures on knife crime, a move that was criticised by the authority that oversees official statistics.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith attends a news conference in Watford August 18, 2008. REUTERS/ Eddie Keogh

Last week, the government announced that a police crackdown on knife crime in 10 “hotspots” across England had led to big falls in stabbings and the number of teenagers carrying weapons over the summer.

But the following day, the head of the UK Statistics Authority said “officials or advisers” in Downing Street had prematurely released information about hospital admissions despite protests from the statisticians involved.

Michael Scholar said the release was “premature, irregular and selective.”

“These statistics were not due for publication for some time, and had not therefore been through the regular process of checking and quality assurance,” he said in a letter to a senior Downing Street official.

“I hope you will agree that the publication of prematurely released and unchecked statistics is corrosive of public trust in official statistics, and incompatible with the high standards which we are all seeking to establish.”

Smith apologised, but said it had only involved a single, specific figure and people were more interested in the fact there had been a reduction in teenage knife offences.

“I am sorry that I think we were too quick off the mark with the publication of one number in relation to the progress that had been made with tackling knife crime,” Smith told MPs.

Opposition parties had condemned ministers for the publicising the statistics, with Conservative leader David Cameron calling it “an appalling way to behave” and demanding Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologise.

Conservative shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said the government was guilty of a “gross and deliberate breach of its own rules.”

Britain has suffered a wave of knife crime this year, with more than 25 teenagers killed in violent attacks in London alone. The government has been keen to show that it is getting on top of the problem by cracking down on knife-related crime.

Reporting by Michael Holden