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Fearmeister Reid fakes his terror figures

Unfit for arithmetic...

Quality control issues at the Ministry of Truth & Fear? To shore up his speech to the Society of Spookgear Suppliers yesterday Home Secretary John Reid produced some impressive (but strangely implausible) numbers showing the devastating effect the UK security services are having on terrorism. But by bizarre coincidence (?), on Monday Tony McNulty, Home Office Minister for tags, shackles and prison hulks, trotted out numbers covering precisely the same territory.

But, ahem, they're different! Comrade Reid thanked the Plod on our behalf for its efforts: "On behalf of the nation I am delighted to pay tribute to our police, judicial, security and armed services for their great work and unstinting sacrifices. For example, from 9 September 2001 to 30 September 2006 there have been 387 people charged under the Terrorism Act and other criminal legislation..."

Ah, you could see that one coming, couldn't you? It's barely worth firing up the few synapses needed to ask how many of these 387 were actually charged under terrorist legislation, and how many were instead busted for fraud, petty crimes or immigration offences, the latter often coming in handy when you've deployed several hundred cops to bust somebody suspiciously foreign-looking. But we don't really have to ask, because here comes McManancle with Monday's answer: "Statistics compiled from police records show that between 11 September 2001 and 31 March 2006 997 people were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 (TACT). Of these people, 154 were charged with offences under TACT and 79 of these were also charged with offences under other legislation. A further 175 individuals were charged under different legislation. A total of 25 people were convicted under TACT during this period."

Notice the eccentrically different periods the two ministers produce figures for. But if you add together McNumptie's TACT and other offences charges, you get 329, which is ballpark similar to Reid's number, if the good Comrade Doctor's arresto-bots have been busy between April and September 2006. Which they have.

But the Monday figures don't look anything like as clever as the Tuesday figures, do they? You pull in over 1,000 (including the April-September nickings, that would be), and you send down 25. Briefly fire up the synapses after all, and ask how many of those convicted were in the "Islamist" category, how many were stray IRA ceasefire refuseniks (they still turn up), and how many were banged up for frequenting dodgy web sites and/or having "terrorist" literature on their computers. Or, to cut to the chase, ask how many of them actually had bomb-type equipment and a coherent and plausible terrorist plan. None? Perhaps...

Ah, but the trial process takes a long time, so we can't just assume that only 25 people will ultimately be convicted out of a total 154 charged. When all of these have fed through the system, the hit rate will surely look a lot better, right? So how many are awaiting trial?

McNulty, unhappily, declined to play on Monday: "The Home Office does not publish statistics on the number of cases awaiting trial."

Rats. So we'll just have to wait. Until, er, Tuesday. Because Comrade Doctor Reid continues, "...with 98 awaiting trial and 214 already convicted."

The 98 awaiting trial at end September will include arrests outside of the period covered by McNulty's figures, and a dozen or thereabouts of these new arrests will have been of those currently in detection on suspicion of paralysing international air travel with the aid of an ungraded GCSE in Chemistry and a Lucozade bottle. Which suggests that quite a few of McNulty's 154 somehow came out of the other end of the process without a measurable result for the War on Terror between April and September.

We can however tentatively tinker with the TACT charging numbers in another way. If there were 154 at the beginning of April, we can guesstimate 180-200 TACT charges up until the end of September, meaning that of Comrade Doctor Reid's 387 total charged, somewhere in the region of 200 were not charged under TACT. Even if we're vastly generous in guesstimating the additional number of successful results since April, then we surely need to conclude that at least 150-160 of Reid's "214 already convicted" were not convicted for terrorist offences.

One could, were one not already bored with tallying up numbers, figure out a couple of indicators of the vast sums of money the police have been spending on terror investigations and then divide the total by the number of successful terrorist prosecutions. And one would not be at all surprised if each of these heinous criminals turned out to be, in their way, a millionaire of sorts. But the Comrade Doctor puts it for us in a different way: "Unless we speed the execution of delivery and open up to the drive of innovation that enables growth, security and resilience will come at unpalatable and unsustainable costs."

This, were it not at least 80 per cent marketing bollocks, would be a clarion call to the vendors of surveillance snake-oil to fuel growth through innovation, in order to produce the prosperity to pay for increases in the Metropolitan Police's already impressive stock of heavy weaponry and tech-toys. So increased government and private industry security spend leads to a booming UK security industry, powering a booming UK economy. We at The Register do not entirely cleave to the opinion that Gordon Brown is a successful Chancellor and can count, but nevertheless we're sure he'll spot the flaws in this one, and tell Comrade Doctor Reid where he can stick his request for an increased Ministry of Truth & Fear budget. @reg;

Truthwatch Truth is a strange and flexible thing. According to Alan Travis in today's Guardian, the shameless Reid's speech deployed the Dambusters in support of his absurd argument. "Today we face a situation similar to 'the technological battle to "beat the Nazis' in the second world war. 'In a sense it is a recall of the innovators of the past. Just as in the past innovators such as Barnes Wallis, Alan Turing and Tommy Flowers [who built the first digital computer as a codebreaking device in 1943], were vital in our battle to beat the Nazis, so now we must be able to use the skills and expertise of all in our battle against terror.'"

Well, The Register didn't make it to the gig, but has a purported transcript (draft1a.doc) kindly sent us by the Home Office press people. This contains no Nazis, no Wallis, no Turing, no Flowers and no Dambusters. Weird or what? Did he have a Churchillian attack at the last minute? In any event, the Dambusters is to an extent appropriate, because although they were very brave men operating very clever technology, their impact on the Third Reich's physical war effort was negligible. The propaganda effect, however, echoes to this day. ®

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