How police fiddle their crime figures and cheat the public

The Guardian, March 18 1999

The crime game has nothing to do with policing in the way in which the public normally understand it. It has little to do with reality at all. It is a devious means of pretending to win the war against crime, which happens to be fatally flawed by the fact that it allows criminals to escape unpunished and the victims of crime to be cheated of justice.

Like any other game, this one has its own private language – ‘cuffing’, ‘nodding’, ‘secondaries’ (they are very big), ‘TICs’, ‘DNFPA’ and ‘write-offs’. For years, it has been played by police up and down the country without any public spectators. When a veteran detective in Nottinghamshire, Detective Superintendent Peter Coles, blew the whistle on his own senior command, investigators from Bedfordshire found that the Notts officers had been playing a blinder. Now the game is out in the open.

The play falls into two halves. In the first half, the object is to cheat the system for recording crime so that for all official purposes – and especially for the purpose of public statements – the force can boast that fewer offences are being committed on its patch. The main tactic in this part of the game is known to police officers all over the country as “cuffing” – because the crimes disappear up the cuff of the policeman’s sleeve.

In Nottinghamshire, police officers, working under intense pressure to deliver the figures which their senior command demanded, cuffed with diligence and imagination. They set up ‘alternative recording systems’, the police equivalent of a dodgy businessman’s little black book. On the surface, they appeared quite innocent, simply records of minor damage, vehicle interference and domestic violence. Since they had been created in 1993 on the explicit instructions of the then Assistant Chief Constable, they used them quite openly. The effect on the victims of crime was devastating.

A householder would contact police to report that someone had tried to break into his home, there were jemmy marks around his back door. According to the Home Office counting rules, that was an attempted burglary, a crime which needed to be recorded and then detected. But according to the rules of the crime game, that was merely minor damage costing less than £20 to repair, not a crime at all for the purpose of official statistics. The householder went home faithfully believing that the forces of law and order were now on his side. The police cuffed him into an alternative recording system – and forgot him.

Similarly, the motorist who found that someone had tried to break into his car was smuggled out of the records as a case of ‘vehicle interference’ – not a notifiable offence. It was the same with those who told police that they had suffered thefts of handbags or wallets or giro cheques in the post. Unless there was clear evidence of a thief at work, the crime was recorded as lost property – and the Notts police scored a valuable point in the game. The wife who was battered by her husband might have thought she was the victim of a crime, but, unless she insisted on a prosecution she, too, ended up in the alternative records.

Three of the nine divisions in Notts used an even more subtle system. Officially, they were supposed to assign each offence its own Crime Number and log it in the force computer. Which was bad for the figures. These three divisions cuffed crimes by adding a letter – T or I or N – to the Crime Number so that they could record them without their showing up in the computerised figures. The Beds officers found one internal memo from a detective inspector, who had evidently decided that his division had recorded so many real crime numbers in one period that, in the interests of his senior command, he had to put a cap on them. He wrote: “No crime numbers should be issued – unless T – until authorised.” It didn’t matter how many offences were committed out on the streets of the division, the total amount of crime recorded would stay the same.

The conclusion of the report produced by the Chief Constable of Bedfordshire was clear and damning. Notts crime-recording policy, he said, “was designed to have the effect of artificially reducing recorded crime to a more politically acceptable level”. Notts boasted that in 1996, they had cut recorded crime by 7,788. That boast is in tatters following the discovery of Beds detectives that during that year, Notts officers had recorded a total of 9,175 incidents in their alternative systems and that “the vast majority of entries were crimes and should have been recorded as such.”

When Detective Superintendent Peter Coles blew the whistle in the autumn of 1996, the senior command finally suspended the policy of alternative records, which had been in place for three years, and agreed to appoint three detectives to review it. They concluded honestly, though euphemistically, that the policy  “may encourage incidents of a criminal nature not to be recorded as crimes.” They recommended that the practice should end. In the original draft of their report, they also called for an internal audit of the force’s crime reports to determine their quality and objectivity. This recommendation was removed before the final draft was published. The senior command then spent many months considering a series of changes which would have left the malpractice in place, before finally introducing a new and clean policy in April 1998.

In private, police officers from many different forces will talk about cuffing as a routine fact of working life. In public, only a few have the courage to do so. One of those few is Richard Wells, former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who became chief constable of South Yorkshire in 1990 and soon discovered malpractice: “There were Spanish practices going on which were uncomfortable for everyone.” He said, for example, that if a thief had gone down a street at night, stealing from every car he saw, officers would record the first theft and “lose the others on the back of the sheet.” He told his officers to change their ways. “I thought ‘How can we tap the Neil Hamiltons and Jonathan Aitkens on the shoulder if we can’t look in the mirror at ourselves?’”

When the new Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw took office, he ordered a change in counting rules which makes some of this misrecording more difficult. Some police were cuffing Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm by logging it as ‘common assault’, a minor offence which did not have to be recorded as a crime. In the same way, attempted car theft was being logged as ‘vehicle interference’, also a ‘non-notifiable’ offence. The new rules, which came into effect last April, plug the loopholes by making all these offences ‘notifiable’. As a result, Home Office officials say, recorded crime in England and Wales is likely to rise by as much as 20%.

In 1992, as the Home Office introduced ‘performance indicators’ to measure the success of police, cuffing took off. To loud applause from Conservative Home Secretaries, the number of crimes that have been recorded nationally has fallen steadily since 1993. Last year, official police records showed a record drop of 9% as 441,400 fewer offences were recorded by officers. The true picture – uncorrupted by cuffing – is simply not known. What is clear is that much, if not all, of the applause has been undeserved. And tens of thousands of crime victims have been cheated of police attention.

In the second half of the game, the object is to provide the senior command with figures which will allow them to tell the public that they have detected ever more of this crime. Here, there are several tactics which again are familiar to police officers up and down the country. The key objective is to find criminals who will play the game with them. They may be found under arrest in police stations or serving sentences in prison. In either case, they will tend to be young and malleable. Sometimes very young.

With those who are being questioned in police stations, the game requires that officers should subvert the legitimate process of persuading suspects to admit ‘TICs’ – past offences which can be ‘taken into consideration’ by the court. It’s easily done: reassure the suspect that the court will not use the TICs to increase his punishment, offer him bail or a good word in court, and then produce a list of several dozen offences for him to ‘write off’. The great thing about this part of the game is that the criminal does not need to have committed the offences; indeed, in some cases, the offences need not have been committed by anyone at all, they can be fictitious. The criminal is happy enough to admit them, because there is no risk of punishment and the promise of a small reward. And the game is so easy to play, that even if the criminal starts to become difficult, officers can simply pitchfork false TICs in his name straight into the computer, without his consent or even knowledge. It’s all fine – just so long as it clocks up the figures for detections.

In Notts, the Beds inquiry reported that officers using TICs were involved in “a deliberate manipulation of facts to maximise detection figures”. For example, Beds came across the case of the two adult shoplifters who admitted that they had often stolen from shops in the past. However, they stipulated that for various practical reasons, they had never done so on Thursday or Sunday. Officers persuaded them to write off 150 offences as TICs – 28 of which occurred on the very days when they said they did not commit crime. The falsehood did not matter. Then there was the man who agreed to write off 37 burglaries – five of which were committed against people who insisted that they had never been burgled and five more of which occurred when this man was in prison for other offences. The beauty of the game is that the computer cannot tell truth from fiction – and it is the computer that counts. The Beds investigators were clear that this was not a case of one or two bad apples: “It was apparent that the various practices were not confined to one or two divisions but were force-wide.”

Beds found that the Central division, in Nottingham, wanted to claim that criminals had TIC’d a series of robberies that had never been reported by their victims. When they examined Central’s files, they found that 91% of them broke the rules. “The TICs can only be described as fictitious,” they concluded. Perhaps worst of all, Beds found that Notts officers were so desperate to deliver the figures, that they had been using children to play the game.

They had arrested a ten-year-old boy for stealing sweets from a shop in the city centre – and persuaded him to write off 71 offences of shoplifting. Beds found that the details of all 71 offences had been produced by the police and not by the boy and, furthermore, that the officer responsible “believed this was in accordance with force policy.” This was not an entirely unreasonable view: five months earlier, other officers had done the same thing, persuading an eleven-year-old girl to write off 80 offences of shoplifting, all of whose details were supplied by police without any evidence. One hundred and fifty one points in two simple manoeuvres.

In the face of Peter Coles’ complaint and protest from other senior officers, Notts Police agreed to conduct an audit of detections that had been claimed by their Mansfield division. The auditors found that nearly half of the TICs – 48% of them – failed to stand up to scrutiny; 95% of the shoplifting which had been TIC’d in Mansfield had never been reported by its victims. Similarly, they had used TICs to write off 27 sexual assaults, 12 thefts from vehicles and 157 burglaries – not one of which had ever been reported to police. But all of the ‘detections’ went into the computer. The auditors found numerous examples where detectives had told the computer that a suspect had asked for a list of offences to be taken into consideration, even though the record of the interview showed that the suspect had, in fact, denied having anything to do with them. The truth had been turned on its head. Officers did this not only with minor offences but also, for example, with sex attacks.

According to the computer, one man who was being questioned in Mansfield about a sex attack had admitted his crime and asked for six other sexual offences to be taken into consideration by the court. These offences really had taken place. However, the auditors found that the records of this man’s interviews showed that he had explicitly denied being involved in any of the six other attacks. He had not signed the supposed admissions. Nor had they been sent to court with him. Officers had simply shoveled the ‘detections’ into the force computer – with the result that the real attacker or attackers would not be sought. The most vulnerable kind of victim had been cheated.

The Bedfordshire inquiry found that in a single year, 1996, Notts officers claimed to have detected nearly 3,000 crimes by persuading suspects in custody to ask the court to ‘take into consideration’ crimes which had never previously been reported. This amounted to 7.3% of the total crimes which the force claimed it had detected that year.

The game is played with prisoners in much the same way. The Home Office and HM Inspector of Constabulary allow detectives to visit prisoners within strict guidelines – which are ignored in the crime game. The visiting officers are supposed to gather intelligence and information which may reassure victims; in fact, they use them to write off crimes. They are supposed to tell prisoners that they may be prosecuted for their admissions; in the game, they guarantee them that they will not be charged. The visits are supposed to happen at the request of the prisoner; in fact, they are often prompted by police in search of a good score. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, they are supposed to take place in the prison; the Beds inquiry found that 98% of the prisoners whose files they examined had been taken out for the day. And that is the key.

On a promise that he will not be charged, the prisoner enjoys a day out of his cell. The officers take him ‘nodding’: they drive round residential areas; the detectives point out houses which have been burgled; the prisoner nods; and the detectives ticks off an admission. In addition to his day of liberty, the prisoner can expect other rewards. A very senior detective in the east Midlands told us that prisoners in Glen Parva, near Leicester, had worked out an unofficial tariff – five crimes written off was worth a bag of fish and chips, ten was worth 60 cigarettes. At the top end, a big write-off was worth a visit home or an hour alone with his girlfriend. As with TICs, the game allows for fictional offences to be chucked in with real ones – just so long as they are all ‘detected’. For the prisoner – guaranteed that he will suffer no punishment – it makes no difference. He carries on nodding regardless of whether he actually was involved in the crimes to which he is confessing.

Detectives are supposed to question the prisoner to make sure he can give them details of the crime he claims to have committed. Beds found repeated evidence that the reverse was happening – detectives were supplying prisoners with details of offences from their crime sheets. In one case, for example, a woman who lived at No 79 had reported a burglary at the house next door, No 81. Driving and nodding, the detectives had accidentally persuaded the prisoner to admit burgling No 79. In others, the prisoner’s admission reproduced verbatim the words recorded on the crime sheet. The Beds inquiry noted how prisoners who had nothing to confess in their cells experienced “a remarkable recovery of memory” once they were rewarded with a day out of jail.

In 1997, the governor of Glen Parva prison became so alarmed by the number of young prisoners being taken out nodding by detectives from Notts, Leicestershire and Derbyshire that he clamped down. His concern was fueled by the fact that one of the prisoners had returned and tested positive for cannabis, while half a dozen others had not returned at all, having escaped from police cars.

Police who play this game know very well that it allows guilty criminals to go free: those who sign genuine write-offs to their own offences are invariably given a guarantee that they will not be punished; those who sign fictional write offs are allowing the real criminals to escape justice. It doesn’t matter – just as long as there are more malleable young men to write off the next wave of crime. Police know, too, that if the wrong offender has written off thefts or burglaries, there is no chance at all of the victims ever recovering their property. It doesn’t matter – the game is about figures, not victims. Finally, they know that some of the young villains are not as malleable as others and will deliberately write off crimes which have been committed by their mates so that their mates can return the favour when they are arrested. It is all part of the great game.

For Nottinghamshire, prison visits became a minor industry. One division, Arnold, bagged no less than 30% of their total detections for an entire year by getting prisoners to sign write-offs. Beds found that in 1996, Notts police had used prison write-offs to clear up 5,293 offences – 14% of the total which they claimed to have detected.

Prison visits and TICs on unreported crimes are known to the Home Office as “secondary detections”, essentially because they do not lead to prosecution or even a caution. In 1996, Notts police boasted that they had detected 37,890 crimes – 3,993 more than in the previous year. However, more than a fifth, 8,055 of them, were secondaries. Many of them may will have been genuine. However, on the evidence of the Beds inquiry, many of them will also have been bogus. Combined with the cuffing of thousands of other offences, the effect of the malpractice was to credit the force with a success to which they were plainly not entitled. None of which was understood at the time that they were presented to a grateful public.

Within the private world of policing, there is no secret at all about the unreliability of secondary detections. The Audit Commission has ceased referring to them in its annual report. The Home Office are considering following suit. David Phillips, the chief constable of Kent, who currently chairs the crime committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers, told us that it was ‘ridiculous’ to use them as a measure of police success. And yet these figures are still served up as fodder for an unsuspecting public.

Only four police forces have had the courage to abandon the search for secondary detections – Manchester, Northumbria, West Midlands and Cleveland. Manchester and Northumbria both disbanded detective squads whose sole purpose in life had been to visit prisoners for write-offs. David McCrone, the assistant chief constable responsible for crime operations in Manchester, told us that the quest for secondary detections had been costing his force three quarters of a million pounds a year and tying up 20 or 25 officers full time on prison visits. “Although it was improving our detection rate, it wasn’t actually giving any extra sentence to the prisoners; the intelligence we gained from those visits was minimal; and the overall benefit to the organisation or indeed the public of Greater Manchester was negligible.”

The other 39 forces, to a greater or lesser extent, continue to write off crime. While the four forces who have abandoned secondary detections claim to have detected between 12 and 21% of their burglaries – a figure which experienced detectives say is realistic – the other 39 forces are turning in far higher figures, because they are still using these discredited secondary detections. Across the country last year, nearly half of the burglary detections which were claimed by police – 42% of them – were, in fact, achieved by persuading criminals to write them off. It is alarming to note that Nottinghamshire with its proven track record of abuse is by no means the leading player in this game. Nine other forces used secondary detections to ‘solve’ even more of their burglaries. Hertfordshire, for example, which claimed first prize, with a detection rate of 50% for burglaries, in truth, made 65% of those detections by persuading criminals to sign write-offs.

The editor of Police Review, Gary Mason, an independent journalist who talks to police all over the country, told us: “You would have to say there could be as many as two thirds, perhaps three quarters of forces who actually do have some degree of abuse when it comes to using secondary clear-ups as a way of actually making the crime figures look better. Some of the forces may suffer abuse to a far greater degree than others.”

The crime game has one other tactic which is used by players with breathtaking skill and horrible results not only for the victims of crime but also for a mass of innocent bystanders. The Home Office recognises that sometimes police will genuinely have solved a crime but be unable to take it to court – if the accused dies, for example, or if the main witness refuses to give evidence. This can be recorded as a legitimate detection under the heading Detected No Further Police Action, DNFPA. But the Home Office imposes one strict condition: the police have to have enough evidence to bring a charge. Notts police dealt with this inconvenient condition with sublime ease. They simply left it out of their force rules. The result was that their officers were writing off thousands of crimes as DNFPA without any evidence at all.

According to the official Notts police figures for 1996, their detectives cleared up 98.6% of all rapes in the county. It was the sort of detection rate that chief constables dream about. The Beds team concluded that that was all it was – a dream. When they looked closer, they found that 60% of rape detections across the force failed to stand up to scrutiny. With indecent assaults, it was even worse – 75% of them collapsed under inspection. Armfuls of sex offences had been written off as DNFPA, crashing through the Home Office requirement for evidence to justify a charge. In one case a child had complained of being sexually assaulted but refused to name the offender. Notts police chalked themselves a DNFPA detection. The Beds investigators were not impressed: “One has to ask how the guilt of the offender can be clear if the offender is not known to the police. Likewise, how can there be sufficient evidence to charge?”

This was more than just a statistical sleight-of-hand: this was the most vulnerable victims in the world of crime – children as well as adults – having their ordeals written off, so that for all official purposes, the crime was solved, even though the offender might be wandering around unpunished, free to offend again if he so chose.

The extent of this abuse was caught vividly when the Beds team looked at the Radford Road division near the centre of Nottingham and found that in 1996, in dealing with sexual assaults on women and young children, the division had turned in a record-breaking performance. They had solved 228% of their sex offences. The explanation for this aberration, the Beds team found, was simple. Encouraged to believe that they were working within the Home Office rules, Radford Road officers had tried to please their masters by ransacking their records for the past eight years, looking for unsolved sex crimes and writing them off as DNFPA regardless of evidence. Beds accepted that the officers thought they were doing the right thing: “It shows the lengths that divisions may feel it is necessary to go to, in a performance culture that emphasises quantity and apparently ignores quality.”

This tactic in the crime game threatens real pain, not only for the victims of sex crimes whose offences have been falsely ‘detected’; but also for the men whose names have been logged without proof as sex offenders. Most of them have no idea that their names have even been used; none of them has had a chance to defend himself. And yet, as a result, all of them are likely to be obstructed if they want to adopt or to work with children. The Beds team warned Nottinghamshire that they could face a torrent of legal actions, using Data Protection laws. The Chief Constable of Notts, Colin Bailey, told us that he had now gone back into the records to remove the names of these men. Pressed, however, he admitted that he had gone back only as far as April 1997, not even touching the period which was investigated by the Beds officers. He said he could not spare the manpower to go back further.

The Bedfordshire inquiry reported that the use of DNFPA had had “a profound effect on the detection rate of the force”. When they stood back and looked at the total picture which they had now uncovered, of TICs, prison visits and DNFPA, they found that in 1996 these clear-ups “which are the most easily manipulated” accounted for 15,770 of the detections which Notts police had claimed for themselves – nearly half (41.6%) of their total detections for the year! The conclusion of the Beds chief constable was calm but clear: “The true picture of recorded and detected crime was being suppressed and distorted.” That was last February.

All of this had been foreshadowed by Det Supt Peter Coles nearly 18 months earlier, in September 1996. However, his attempts to draw it to the attention of the senior command had ruined the end of his career. Coles was then the head of the force’s Major Crimes Unit, the most senior operational detective in the county, with 35 years service, and a holder of the prestigious Queen’s Police Medal. On September 4 1996, he presented a paper for his senior command, entitled Ethics of Crime and Crime Investigaton. It was a powerful piece of writing.

Coles laid out the appalling detail of the crime game as it was being played in the force and then he warned: “A culture of good results is burgeoning, paying scant regard to the methods employed by junior officers to serve the ambition of their seniors.” He added: “The greatest danger is that we appear to believe in our own publicity and accept the hypocricy as the truth. Rightly or wrongly, top management believe they are promoted upon performance, never mind whether the results measured are true or false.” He warned that with the introduction of performance-related pay for senior officers, “the culture of massaging and manipulating could be transformed into a conspiracy to defraud.” He underlined his charge that the force was guilty of organisational dishonesty: “It seems ill-fitting for us, the police, to moralise without internal examination of our corporate morals which, as an individual, I find lacking.”

Coles’ paper went in to the senior command – and came straight back out with an order that every copy should be seized and that the original should be removed from the force computer. Shortly afterwards, Coles found himself removed from the Drug Strategy Group; the meeting at which his paper was to have been discussed was cancelled; and the senior command considered taking him to court and injuncting him if he tried to release its contents to the outside world. Coles, who was already planning to retire in the following year, resigned in protest. But before he went, he filed a formal complaint against the entire senior command – his Chief Constable, Colin Bailey; the deputy, Tom Williamson; and the two assistants, Robin Searle and Mike Todd.

The Beds inquiry, which investigated his complaint, cleared all four of corruption but followed the threads of responsibility which led from the malpractice which they found on the ground – just as Peter Coles had outlined – to the behaviour of the senior command. The Beds investigators recorded how the senior officers had pressed relentlessly for better crime figures:

October 1994, memo from the Assistant Chief Constable for Crime Operations: “Four months ago, the force was on line for a detected rate of 34%, although it has now slipped to nearer 30%. The ACC (O) re-emphasised the need to carry out prison visits.”

July 1995, memo from the Assistant Chief Constable: “It is clear that the steam has gone out of prison visits… Within policy, breathe new life into prison visits… Drive and manage TICs.”

September 1995, memo from ACC (O): according to new plans, divisional crime managers would “undertake a retrospective look at those prisoners who may benefit from a prison visit” while a detective inspector would “target prison visits, identifying eight visits per month for the period ending March 1996.” The Beds inquiry noted that these instructions appeared to breach guidelines from HM Inspector of Constabulary. The memo ended: “This targeting would not be generally broadcast and would remain confidential with senior divisional management for obvious reasons.”

These instructions were sent against the background of criticism from HM Inspectors who in 1994 had warned Notts that they were relying too heavily on secondary detections. Notts flinched under the blow, set up a new vetting system and, in the next year, recorded 9,011 fewer secondaries, an enormous drop of 53%. Their prison write-offs alone crashed from 7,584 to only 2,818. One year later, however, the new vetting system was cut and the figures started to creep up again, driven by policy from the centre. By the middle of 1996, the vetting system had collapsed under its load. Each month, the divisonal crime figures were published as a league table. Soon, divisions were competing with each other. When these figures were then built into the appraisal procedure for the divisional commanders, and when furthermore they were told they would have to make a 15-minute presentation to senior command on their record, pressure became intense.

August 1996, memo from ACC (O) urges that “prison visits be maintained and that they do not decrease in number or fall in profile.” The next month, Det Supt Peter Coles had had enough.

The Home Office and HM Inspectors have insisted that the drive for performance must be monitored by robust independent audit systems. In Notts, however, each division was left to audit itself. The Beds detectives confronted the Chief Constable of Notts: “It was pointed out that although there were a number of statements made about the desirability of an ethical approach, there appeared to be very few, in fact no examples of any behaviour which showed that this was the real wish of the force. He was unable to given any examples where the behaviour of managers at any level could have shown to the force that the statements on ethics had a real rather than a cosmetic purpose.”

The Beds inquiry was clear that although the senior command set the targets and failed to ensure that they were reached in an ethical manner, they never actively encouraged any of the malpractice. However, they made it clear that the senior command had good reason to realise what was happening.

The cuffing of crime, they said was “in principle supported by the current (senior command) in their reluctance to discontinue the three registers for criminal damage, vehicle interference and domestic violence.” The policy had been introduced overtly, in written memos, by a previous ACC (O). It had been the subject of a high-profile debate in the force and of a detailed leak to the local press. Nevertheless, the chief constable Colin Bailey, who was deputy chief constable at the time that the policy was introduced, claimed to us that he had been unaware of it. Pressed, he conceded that he had known that there were ‘concerns’ at the time.

On the malpractice in clear-ups, the Beds inquiry equally made it plain that the senior command should have seen what was happening. The evidence was in the crime figures – the 98.6% clear up of rape, for example. Anyone with any experience could see the problem – “Anyone reading the figures would only require a limited knowledge of the recording and detection of crime to identify areas that warranted further investigation… These figures demonstrate areas that should have been examined by the force and highlight the lack of will to address the issue for fear of its effect on the overal performance of the force.”

The Beds investigators recorded, too, how the senior command had been told by their own auditors of the abuse of TICs in Mansfield and had then failed to distribute the result of the audit to other divisions. They recalled the slow progress towards a crime-recording policy that removed the alternative records: “There was little or no evidence of a strong desire to change policies or working practices for fear of the impact on the force’s detection rate. If Mr Coles had not made his complaint, judging by the force’s apathy and inaction that followed it, it is doubtful whether any action would ever have been taken….It appears to the inquiry team that there is a reluctance to address issues with any degree of enthusiasm that will effect the recording and detection rate of the force”.

The same reluctance appears to have stained the force’s public reaction even after the chief constable of Beds delivered his report. Confronted with hundreds of pages of humiliating evidence and 59 recommendations for change, the Notts police and the county police authority set up an Action Plan. However, the public who had been so misled by false figures were now misled once more. The Notts Chief Constable, Colin Bailey, and the Notts police authority separately released brief statements which announced that the four senior officers had been cleared of corruption and made not one reference to a single one of the criticisms or any of the recommendations that had been made by the Beds inquiry. The people of Nottinghamshire were no wiser. Privately, the force suggested that Peter Coles was an embittered man who was frustrated by his lack of promotion. They claimed he had retired of his own free will, denying that he had resigned in protest.

But ultimately, this is not a story about Nottinghamshire. They are simply the unfortunate example of a national problem. The performance indicators which drove them into malpractice apply to all 43 police forces in England and Wales. According to reports by HM Inspectors, more than half of those forces lack the necessary audit systems to ensure that the targets are reached in an ethical fashion. The monitoring of the Home Office and HM Inspector of Constabulary has never exposed the malpractice, even in those forces where officers have subsequently been disciplined for their part in it.

The anecdotal evidence is overwhelming and profoundly alarming. A detective chief superintendent, who runs his force’s CID, told me: “The police force is reaching a crisis point. It is as strong as that. There is a total crisis in terms of the credibility of senior command.” The head of a drugs squad in another part of the country complained of his senior command: “All they care about is volume, quantitive results. I can take out one big dealer and stop the flow of Turkish heroin into our area, but they don’t want me to do that because it will take time and because it will show up as just one arrest. They would rather I left the big guy and dealt with the small guys, street dealers, because that’s volume.”

These officers point to an essential hypocrisy, right at the top of the hierarchy, in the office of the Home Secretary. That is where the performance culture for police has its origin and where its rewards are most enjoyed. That is also the office which claims to want an ethical police force, accountable to its public. As the Beds inquiry watched their Notts counterparts behave as though the Home Office had never laid down its rules, their most symbolic discovery was that none of the Notts divisions had an up-to-date copy of the rulebook. The real message of the scandal in Notts police is that as long as police officers around the country are told that their job is to deliver good figures for their bosses, they will play the crime game.