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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Minister 'suggests fraud doesn't count' after Boris falsely claims crime is down

Minister 'suggests fraud doesn't count' after Boris falsely claims crime is down

The Business Secretary has claimed that Boris Johnson was not counting fraud when he wrongly told Parliament that crime had fallen under his premiership.

The Government is under investigation by the UK Statistics Authority following complaints about the Prime Minister’s comments – with crime rates actually rising since before the pandemic.

But Kwasi Kwarteng was accused of ‘doubling down on a blatant lie’ as he sprung to Mr Johnson’s defence on the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme.

Mr Kwarteng appeared to suggest that fraud was a lesser crime – which Labour claimed was ‘shamefully out of touch’ with victims.

He also drew a distinction with ‘physical crimes’ while avoiding the question of whether what Mr Johnson told to Commons was untrue.

But the Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures also showed police recorded the highest number of rapes and sexual offences in a 12-month period, while separate Home Office data detailed how the proportion of suspects being taken to court has fallen to a new record low and remains the lowest for rape cases.

Mr Kwarteng suggested the PM was referring to ‘personal injury and crime in relation to individuals’ when he told MPs ‘we have been cutting crime by 14%’.

It followed a Home Office press release which said latest data showed ‘crime continues to fall under this Government’, quoting Home Secretary Priti Patel as saying it demonstrated the Government’s approach ‘is working’.

But despite a fall in most crimes during Covid lockdowns, the ONS says crimes are in fact now reaching or exceeding pre-pandemic levels – with rises in some offences like fraud offsetting reductions seen elsewhere.

In a letter to Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman who raised the issue, UK Statistics Authority boss Sir David Norgrove said the Government had presented crime figures in a ‘misleading way’.

Yet Mr Kwarteng, who also suggested the PM’s Jimmy Savile slur was ‘perfectly reasonable’, claimed he did not know ‘what the evidence is’ for the PM’s comments not being true.

He told the programme: ‘I think fraud is really, really important, but people are talking particularly about burglaries, about personal injury, about physical crimes, and I think in that context we’re seeing lower crimes, I think the Prime Minister was right.

Mr Kwarteng drew a distinction between fraud and burglaries and physical crimes

‘He was referring to personal injury and crime in relation to individuals.

‘The point the Prime Minister was making is that crime that people experience in their day-to-day lives… in terms of burglary, in terms of physical injury, has gone down and that’s absolutely right.’

Following the interview, the Labour chairman of the Commons Committee on Standards, Chris Bryant, tweeted: ‘I can understand why Tories don’t want people to think fraud counts as crime.’

It comes after the minister who was responsible for tackling fraud, Lord Agnew, dramatically quit the Government over the ‘schoolboy’ handling of fraudulent Covid-19 business loans.

In the letter to Mr Carmichael, Sir David said: ‘The Home Office news release presented the latest figures in a misleading way.

‘Likewise, the Prime Minister referred to a 14% reduction in crime, which is the change between the year ending September 2019 and the year ending September 2021. This figure also excludes fraud and computer misuse, though the Prime Minister did not make that clear.

‘If fraud and computer misuse are counted in total crime as they should be, total crime in fact increased by 14% between the year ending September 2019 and the year ending September 2021.’

The watchdog can intervene if it considers a politician or Government department has misused or misrepresented figures and has not adhered to a code of practice.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: ‘Suggesting that fraud is a lesser crime not experienced by people in their day-to-day lives is shamefully out of touch and disrespectful to victims across the country, scammed by dangerous criminals and losing hard-earned life savings.

‘Yet again the Conservatives are downgrading or ignoring criminal fraud – just as Rishi Sunak did when writing off £4.3bn of public money.

‘Lord Agnew himself said it best – the Government has “little interest in the consequences of fraud to our society”.

Mr Carmichael added: ‘The failure of Conservative ministers to stand up to Boris Johnson’s dishonesty and lack of decency is doing huge damage to public trust.

‘Instead of apologising for misleading the public over rising crime, Kwasi Kwarteng doubled down on this blatant lie.

‘This is an insult to every victim of fraud crime.

‘Given the Prime Minister is being investigated by the police about alleged crimes committed in Downing Street, it’s perhaps not surprising he and his ministers are lying about crime falling across the country.’


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