"We have Bulgarian and Romanian gangs committing 90 per cent of ATM crimes and there have been 28,000 arrests of Romanian people for serious offences in the past five years." Daily Express, 25 October 2013
When we ring in the new year this January, Romanian and Bulgarian nationals hoping to find work in the UK will have more reason to celebrate than most.
On January 1 2014, the transitional restrictions that prevent citizens from these 'A2 countries' from finding employment without a work permit - restictions which have been in place since Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007 to guard against disruption to the British labour market - will be lifted.
Some have also warned about an increased risk of crime, and we've examined claims that the UK is in the grip of a "Romanian crimewave" earlier in the year. The Express developed this theme last week, pointing out that nine out of ten of those responsible for fraud at cash points were from these countries.
The claim that 90% of crime at ATMs (or cash machines) is the work of Romanian gangs has often been repeated in the press as far back as early 2012.
It can be traced back to DCI Paul Barnard, then head of the Dedicated Cheque and Plastic Crime Unit (DCPCU) - a police unit run in partnership with banks and financial services companies. DCI Barnard told ITV1's 'Fraud Squad' programme that:
"The fact is 92 per cent of all ATM fraud we see in this country is committed by Romanian nationals."
We spoke to the DCPCU hoping to find out more, but were told that DCI Barnard was no longer head of the unit, and that no further details were held on this particular claim.
Although a spokesperson did tell us that the figure was based on "police intelligence at the time", he also said that no statistics were available on the issue.
What we can tell from this is that the Express has been a little unfair to Bulgarians: according to the source of the claim, it is Romanian nationals alone who are responsible for 92% of ATM fraud.
But there are many unanswered questions in relation to this statistic. We don't know what time period it refers to, and whether more up-to-date figures might show a decrease, and whether it is based on anecdotal evidence, or a more thorough review of the problem.
Despite the popularity that this claim has enjoyed in the press, more publicly-available research would be needed to properly assess its accuracy.
28,000 serious offenders?
The second part of the Express's claim focuses on the number of Romanians arrested for "serious crimes".
The source is data that was released in response to a Freedom of Information request by the Metropolitan Police. According to this, there were 27,725 arrests of Romanian nationals in the five years covering the period 2008 to 2012. (In fact, owing to a change in recording methodology, data for 2008 only covers the months April to December, so may underestimate the total for this year.)
While the headline number itself is accurate - only Polish nationals were arrested more frequently in this period - the Express's interpretation leaves a little to be desired.
This is because the data does not relate only to "serious" crimes, but covers all arrests on suspicion of any number of crimes. In fact, the figures separate out the most serious offences, such as murder, rape and other sexual offences, burglary, robbery and other violent offences. These accounted for under a fifth of all arrests, with the remaining 22,332 falling under the 'other offences' category.
It's also worth remembering that these figures relate to arrests where the person is suspected of having committed a crime, and not the numbers charged, let alone found guilty, of these offences.
While both parts of the Express's claim on the prevalance of Romanian crime in the UK have some evidence underpinning them, both need to be carefully understood. A former head of the police unit tasked with tackling ATM crime has indeed estimated that 92% of fraud at cash machines is committed by Romanian nationals (although the Express also threw Bulgarian nationals into the mix), we don't know the basis for this assertion, nor whether or not it still applies.
Similarly, almost 28,000 Romanians have been arrested in the past five years according to Metropolitan Police figures, but only a small fraction of these were on suspicion of "serious" offences.
UPDATE: We originally said Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2005 rather than 2007.
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