Monday 18 January 2021

Did 'Panorama' use statistics in a misleading light tonight?

"I can't breathe!" These same words were uttered two years later by George Floyd whose death sparked outrage on both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK, if you're black, you're more than twice as likely as a white person to die in police custody.
So said white BBC reporter Mark Daly at the start of tonight's Panorama on BBC One, tying the situation in the USA to that in the UK.

That statistic was repeated later in the programme as well.

But is it true?

Well, the BBC's very own Reality Check last June was doubtful. It pointed out that over the previous 10 years, 164 people have died in or following police custody in England and Wales, of which 141 were white, 13 were black and 10 were from other minority ethnic groups. So vastly more white people died in police custody than black people - a context Panorama should surely have pointed out, shouldn't it? 

Moreover, if you compare these figures to how much of the population these groups comprise (which is how Panorama's figure came about), yes, black people are more than twice as likely to die in police custody than white people but (a) white people die almost exactly in proportion to their share of the population and (b) Asian people are more than twice less likely to die in police custody than white people - two facts which surely complicate Panorama's highly-charged, race-based statistic?  

Furthermore - and this must be the more relevant way of looking at it - if you review figures again of those arrested, 79% were white and 85% of those who died in custody were white, whereas of the 9% of people arrested who were black (which is disproportionally high) 8% of those who died in custody were black. So over this period a white individual who has been arrested was about 25% more likely to die in custody than a black individual who had been arrested - which again casts Panorama's incendiary charge in a highly questionable light, doesn't it?

Also, figures for the past two years available on the 17 custody-related deaths show that 12 were white people and 5 black people (30%), but those figures feed into the same 10 year period in the figures above. And were they because of the use of force? Not necessarily, say the BBC Reality Check. In 2018-19, for example, almost two-thirds of the custody-related deaths were directly linked to intoxication. (Drugs and mental health are other factors).

So what was Panorama up to here? And who at the BBC give the go ahead for that statistic to be used in this way?  

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