Police keep crime secret

7:30am Monday 8th September 2008

By Matt Wilkinson

You are only told about three crimes for every 1,000 the police are called about, the Oxford Mail can reveal.

A four-week study this summer showed police released information or appealed for witnesses 22 times when they were called 6,636 times about crime - 0.3 per cent.

The investigation by the Oxford Mail, using the Freedom of Information Act, showed there were reports of 49 robberies, 41 sexual offences, 310 burglaries and 452 violent incidents.

But when the Oxford Mail asked for details, Thames Valley Police refused to give any further information.

Last night residents and victims of crime called for more openness, saying people should be told what is happening on their streets.

Thames Valley Chief Constable Sara Thornton and her deputy Alex Marshall refused to speak to the Oxford Mail about why only a fraction of crimes were revealed to the public.

But Chief Supt Brendan O'Dowda, the Oxfordshire police commander, defended the force's policy, saying it also gave information to neighbourhood action, parish and other groups, community meetings and policing boards. He added some victims did not want their crimes released.

He said: "This very low figure does not represent the real interface and consultation we have with the public.

"From September crime statistics for individual neighbourhoods will start to appear on our website and work is in hand to produce local crime maps at a neighbourhood level. The hope is, that by providing people with more information they can form their own opinions about crime in their area.

"I would like to balance making appeals for witnesses through the media with instilling an unnecessary fear of crime within our community - publicising reams of low-level crime would serve very little purpose."

The list of crimes obtained by the Oxford Mail showed every report made in Oxfordshire between July 1 and July 28 by date, town and crime category.

During the same period, Thames Valley Police's website made appeals for two attempted robberies, one rogue trader incident, three thefts, four burglaries, six assaults and a rape.

Between July 15 and July 24, the only crime the general public was told about was an appeal for witnesses after a teenager's foot was run over by a car in Oxford.

Not all of these calls will be recorded as a crime by police. On average there were 2,005 crimes recorded in Oxfordshire in 2007-08 according to police statistics - still equating to just over one crime in 100 being made public.

David Troth, 45, of Deer Walk in Blackbird Leys, contacted the Oxford Mail after nine robberies in Gillians Park between July 9 and August 10.

It took police five days after the final incident to make a public appeal.

He said: "Young kids were getting mugged and after a couple you would have thought they would make it public. But they didn't and it happened to another five or six young ones. The information is there to help the public and the public can help the police."

Jimmy Hayes, 68, of Windale Avenue, Blackbird Leys, suffered four burglaries in as many years and had his fence vandalised dozens of times.

He said: "People should know what has been happening in their area. In my case I think it would help."

Two years ago, pensioner Phil Cuddity, 71, found a knife in Bury Knowle Park, but police would not let him hand it in.

He said: "They should tell us everything. It doesn't matter how big or small."

Oxfordshire's MPs have raised concern about the small number of crimes in the county the public is told about.

Oxford East MP Andrew Smith said he hoped police would review their strategy, and called for a meeting with senior officers in light of the investigation.

He added: "We all have a shared responsibility as a community to combat crime, and if the public is to do all it can to help, it needs to know where and when information is needed."

Oxford West and Abingdon MP Dr Evan Harris said: "While the police may claim that there is a balance to be struck between publicity, raising fears and diluting the message, the very low proportion of crimes that are formally publicised - whether to seek help or to warn the public - suggests that the police need to look carefully at current practice."

Wantage MP Ed Vaizey said: "With new technology, police should be thinking about imaginative ways of getting the public involved in helping the fight against crime - and that would include as much transparency as possible about which type of crime is happening and where."

John Howell, Henley MP, said: "We need to strike a balance between instilling a fear of crime against reporting crimes for which people can take action."

North Oxfordshire MP Tony Baldry and Witney MP David Cameron were unavailable for comment.

Crimes you were told about: July 1: Attempted robbery in Oxford.

Rogue trader reported in Oxford.

Theft of generator in Oxford.

July 3: Burglary and theft of car in Banbury. A 20-year-old man charged on July 7.

Street robbery in Oxford.

July 4: A 17-year-old boy assaulted in Wantage.

July 5: A 17-year-old attacked in Chipping Norton.

Two men injured in brawl in Abingdon.

Assault on a man in Wantage.

July 6: Theft from a car in Chipping Norton.

Street robbery in Oxford.

July 8: Robbery from a woman in Banbury.

A 22-year-old man charged with two thefts from cars.

July 10: Burglary at Carterton Mobile Home Park.

July 11: Rape on a 14-year-old girl in Oxford.

Jewellers raid in Oxford.

Burglary at Carterton Mobile Home Park.

July 12: Attempted robbery in Abingdon.

July 14: Purse stolen in Wantage.

July 20: Teenager injured when car drives over his foot in Oxford.

July 24: Car stolen in Witney.

July 25: Jewellery stolen in Witney.

July 26: Assault in Bicester.

July 27: Teenage gang attacks 14-year-old girl in Oxford.

Other things you were told: July 1: A missing boy from Fritwell.

July 2: Missing boy returns home.

A family tribute to Jonathan Diliberto killed on the A338 East Hanney a week before.

Road safety check in Witney.

Two out of four licensed premises fail alcohol age tests.

Cyclist killed in the A4130 near Bix.

July 4: Woman killed in Goring car crash.

July 7: Neighbourhood policing update for Marston and Northway, Carterton, Chipping Norton, Eynsham and Witney.

Missing man William Michael O'Neill.

July 8: Police bravery awards.

July 9: Police commendation for five-year-old boy.

Neighbourhood policing update for Summertown, Faringdon West and Rural Abingdon.

July 10: A 22-year-old woman is hit by a car in Oxford.

Neighbourhood policing update for Wheatley and Chalgrove, Faringdon East and Abingdon.

Police bravery awards.

Man's body found in Oxford.

July 11: Body identified as William Michael O'Neill.

Family tribute to cyclist Anthony Maynard killed near Bix.

July 12: Fatal car crash on the M40.

Missing man from Woodstock.

July 14: Three men charged with July 6 street robbery.

E-fit released of July 1 Botley Road robber.

Drink-drive campaign figures.

Woodstock missing man found.

Invitation to school play on distraction burglaries.

July 15: Date of police meeting announced.

July 16: Repeat invitation to school play on distraction burglaries.

Police awards.

Four men jailed for indecent images of children.

Neighbourhood policing update for Kidlington, Rural Bicester, Didcot and Henley.

Road checks in Wroxton.

July 17: Announcement police horses will patrol in Didcot.

July 18: Invitation to M40 fatal crash press conference.

Stolen metal found in Botley.

July 19: Deddington missing girl found.

July 20: Cowley missing man found.

July 21: Second invitation to M40 fatal crash press conference.

Family tribute to M40 crash victim.

July 22: Fatal crash on A420 near Faringdon.

Stolen bike recovered in Oxford.

July 25: Oxford woman missing then found.

Fatal crash on A424 near Fifield.

July 26: Fatal crash on Oxford's eastern bypass.

July 28: Family tribute to Laura Bradley A424 crash victim.

Deddington missing man found.

In total police released information on 22 crimes, including two attempted robberies, one rogue trader incident, three thefts, four burglaries, six assaults and a rape.

They published details on 10 missing people, five police operations such as road checks, six fatal road crashes and 15 neighbourhood updates.

There were also four on police awards, two charges, one court sentence, an e-fit, two retrievals of stolen property, a road incident, two tributes, four media invites and a body found.

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