There are, as Disraeli famously said, ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’. This indubitable fact arises, as much as anything from the way in which statistics are collected. Consider crime statistics in particular; and consider the following.
On a Saturday at the end of August various people were working around the church – arranging flowers, washing floors and generally preparing for Sunday – as you do. There was the occasional visitor. The odd prayer was said. Only afterwards was it noted that the weekday chalice – awaiting cleaning in a bag on a credence table – had disappeared.
After the usual series of recorded messages I eventually reached a police telephonist, who advised me that I should go in person to the station. I went there immediately, and told the young woman at the desk that I wanted to report a theft. What, she asked, had been stolen? I told her that it was a nine-inch high solid silver chalice.
Had I, the officer asked, seen the actual theft take place? No I said, but another person who had been present in the church could give a detailed description of someone who had been acting suspiciously.
I was told that since no one had actually witnessed the theft, it would have to be reported as one of lost property. A form for the purpose was produced. It was headed ‘Property Lost in Streets’. The following boxes were obligingly available for me to tick: Bank Card; Cheque Card; Purse/Wallet; Handbag; Keys; Driver’s Licence; Diary; Cash; DSS Documents; Jewellery; Mobile Telephone, Spectacles, Travel Pass; Other Item.
When I protested that the property had not been lost and that the theft had taken place not in the street but from the church, the officer remained adamant. So I filled in the form and went on my way, secure at least in the possession of an official document with which to accompany the inevitable insurance claim.
What, I wonder, happened to my ‘Property Lost in Streets ‘ form? What part did it play in the ever-widening vista of the Metropolitan Police Crime statistics? And how many other significant thefts – Victorian chased silver chalices (or diamond tiaras for that matter) – are diligently filed away alongside mislaid wallets and abandoned mobile phones, because the victim did not have a clear sight of the perpetrator at the time?
No one can tell. But it must go a good way to making damned lies out of statistics.