West Midlands Police respond to ‘Alarmist’ gun crime story

This morning, 29th July 2010, regular reader and helpful sort Roger Jones@ziksby on twatter – supplied this comment in response to my ‘Shot in the foot‘ post, which was attempting to locate the truth behind an unpleasant, sensationalist and seemingly inaccurate article about levels of gun crime in the Express & Star.

It would seem like the Express & Star article drew the attention of the local police, and Roger received an email from West Midlands Police, quoting a statement by Superintendent Keith Fraser. I quote the email in full below:

Dear Watch Member

I am sending out the following statement on behalf of Superindent Keith Fraser, head of Local Policing for Walsall Police.

“I am writing to reassure our communities in Walsall that a recent Express and Star article gave a misleading and somewhat alarmist impression of gun crime in the borough.

The article: “The most gun-plagued streets across the Black Country, Birmingham and Staffordshire” was based on figures obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request.

It incorrectly stated: “In Walsall, police were called to Lichfield Road in Brownhills eight times between May 2009 and 2010.”

This demonstrates the problem of taking figures out of context and misinterpreting them. In fact, the quoted figure related to a single incident in Lichfield Road in June 2009 when a 14-year-old boy used a CS canister to spray eight pupils at a school.

The youth was arrested and dealt with. While we would not wish to minimise the seriousness of this individual incident, especially to the victims, it hardly justifies Lichfield Road being dubbed one of the “most gun-plagued streets.”

Under Home Office rules, a CS canister is classed as a “firearm”. The rules also dictate that although this was only a single incident, there were eight victims and, therefore, eight recorded crimes,

We can only repeat that taking figures out of context can present a distorted view of the facts and create unnecessary alarm. Having said this, we do recognise that local media play an important role in promoting the safety of the local community, I want to continue to work positively with the media and support the valuable contributiom that they make in this area.

I would also reassure people in Walsall that their local police will continue to work closely with other partner agencies to serve our communities and protect them from harm.”

Superintendent Keith Fraser, Local Policing Walsall.

So, there we have it. Far from being ‘…called to Lichfield Road, Brownhills eight times between May 2009 and May 2010’ police attended one incident involving a CS cannister. While that incident is shocking and unpleasant, it hardly classifies Brownhills as being ‘Gun-plagued’. Indeed, it would seem that the incident took place in Lichfield Road Shire Oak, which is arguably not Brownhills at all, but Walsall Wood.The residents of Lichfield Road, Brownhills must be overjoyed.

I look forward to the Express & Star doing the decent thing and retracting this story, and issuing an apology to the people of Brownhills, who will surely now have to contend with one more piece of misinformation whenever they talk about their town.

One would hope that in future, better research would go into preparing such pieces and that full explanations of statistics be sought, particularly before using them to reinforce contentious, controversial statements. My concern as to how such lax research will combine with the new publicly open datasets remains.

We seem to be heading for interesting times.

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7 Responses to West Midlands Police respond to ‘Alarmist’ gun crime story

  1. Mick_P says:

    Great work Bob and all involved. The slack idiots at the E&S should be booted out to make way for people who are truly interested in real journalism, a good example of which can be found on this blog and others like it (you know who you are, you Midlands stars).

  2. Interesting times ahead, indeed. In the great scheme of things, an invented non-story in a local paper to fill a page may be considered inconsequential when compared to what is going on in the wider world. But the world has changed, especially at a local level.

    The fourth estate, elected representatives and those charged with looking after Laura Norder are now subject to the scrutiny of individuals who have the tenacity to pursue the truth via the blogosphere. This is the real “Big Society”. A few years ago, the inaccurate story would only be retained in people`s heads and in the bin outside the chip shop. Now, the misrepresentation and its rebuttal, exists on the internet for eternity.

    You and your correspondents are to be congratulated for exposing this shoddy piece of “Churnalism” for what it is. Well done.

  3. arkrite says:

    When have the press ever let the truth stand in the way of a good story. The local press have to print something and a scary headlines helps to sell papers. From what I can gather it is not unlike the Darlaston Baths fiasco where from very little smoke a lot of flames in the Tabloids were fanned.
    Keep up the good work Bob.

  4. The Forrener says:

    We shall surely watch our favourite cat-litter sheet for the forthcoming apology (hah!), borne as it is out of the veracity of the vox populi in vouchsafing vengeance ‘gainst the vicissitudes of the villainous verbalisers of Wolverhampton…

    My congratulations, Sir, for spearheading the vigilante movement to verify the veneration of that vital and vibrant former village that is… Brown-hills.

    Yr Obdt Svt,

    The Forrener

  5. Freddy says:

    Good stuff Bob. You’ve gotta love Journos.

    Interesting story about the kid with the CS cannister, where the hell does a kid get hold of one of those!?

  6. Les Heath says:

    It is nice to see that the Police seem to be really taking notice and acting on what the press seem to live on (total BS).
    The press have the art of making mountains out of mole hills. It would be nice to see them focus on more posative news instead of building doom and gloom.

    Keep up the great work Bob

  7. Pingback: Shot down « BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

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