Retired Professor fails BBC Reporting Scotland Editor on Organised Crime research


To: BBC Executive Complaints Unit:

BBC Complaints – CAS-4952019-6JPNYG

Complaint Summary: Reporting of research on Organised Crime

I write to continue my complaint after my second complaint was met with this on 18.6.28:

‘Thank you for taking the time to contact us again about Reporting Scotland on 4 June at 6.30pm. We are sorry to learn that you were not satisfied with our earlier response. We have discussed your comments with the Editor of Reporting Scotland but she has nothing further to add. For this reason, I’m afraid we cannot correspond with you further at this first stage of the complaints process.  If however you are still dissatisfied, you can contact the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU). The ECU is stage 2 of the BBC’s complaints process.

To keep within your 1000-word limit, I have had to shorten both my complaints and the one response I did get.

Initial complaint 4th June 2018

Full Complaint: Extended, headlined, report, with 24 long, compound, sentences on organised crime. Despite, the length, RS failed to mention the researchers’ own repeated warning against generalising the findings beyond their small sample to the national situation in Scotland. This is a key responsibility in reporting research. As early as page 3 in the report, ‘Community Experiences of Serious Organised Crime in Scotland’, we see this: ‘188 individuals participated in the study, which mostly involved semi-structured qualitative interviews, but also a small number of focus groups, unstructured interviews and observational research.’ So, this is a small-scale piece of qualitative research. Such research can be very useful in explaining the complexity of social situations and, in particular, helping professionals, such the police, to develop effective strategies. However, such research, cannot be used to tell us how common something is or how widespread it is. For that, you’d need a much bigger sample, randomly selected and spread across the country. The researchers are not to blame for Reporting Scotland’s misuse of their findings. On page 3 and again on page 25, in the methods section, they say: ‘While the case study areas had traits that were similar to other communities in Scotland, however, it should be noted that these findings should not be read as a generalised picture of SOC-community relations in Scotland.’ Given their prominence in the report, it’s difficult to explain the failure to mention the declared limitations on interpreting these results, as other than deliberate and then we’re left to wonder why.

Reporting Scotland editor’s response: 14th June 2018

I am afraid I am not clear about what your complaint actually is, because you produce not a single example of what you are complaining about. The closest I can get to understanding your point is your statement: “Such research cannot be used to tell us how common something is or how widespread it is”. As we did neither, your complaint – if that it be – is without foundation.

The reporter Reevel Alderson spoke to three people with something to say about serious crime in Scotland – Chris Kerr of Family Action in Rogerfield and Easterhouse, who amongst other things are organising activities to keep young children away from crime groups; one of the leaders of the study, Dr Alistair Fraser of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, who outlined how a map of organised crime in Scotland correlated closely to a map of economic disadvantage and who emphasised how ripe such communities were for exploitation; and the Scottish Government Justice Secretary Michael Matheson, who agreed with the finding that more needed to be done to win over communities with high levels of mistrust in the police, with all-round cooperation by interested parties being “an important element” of a wider package of measures.

The research findings paper 67/2018 published on the Scottish Government website concluded “Serious organised crime has deep roots in Scotland and extends the corrosive reach into a wide range of communities, businesses and institutions.” That sobering assessment is reason enough to report an issue of concern to most Scots and that was what we did using three important players in this story.

In view of what I have written above I hope that you will understand why I find wholly without foundation your statement ‘it’s difficult to explain the failure to mention the declared limitations on interpreting these results, as other than deliberate and then we’re left to wonder why’.

Second complaint 15.6.18 CAS-4964526-MV7QNQ (case number changed by BBC)

Full Complaint: Yours is quite a tetchy wee response. I know it can be upsetting when you don’t or are not allowed to understand something but that’s no excuse. Luckily, it’s simple. My complaint is that by giving headline attention at some length to research about organised crime without mentioning the researchers’ own clear and repeated warning about the extent to which their small number of cases can be generalised to the wider Scottish context, you suggest to your viewers that it may well be widespread. I know that you did not explicitly state that it was widespread (duh) but it was your responsibility (in your charter) to make sure viewers were aware that you were not saying that, by referring to the researchers’ warning. There is a serious danger than many viewers, trusting your coverage, will now think that this is a more common phenomenon than it is – see your own website which reveals that there are only 164 gangs in Scotland yet according to a BBC Salford broadcast on May 14th, there are 4 500 in the UK as a whole. Thus, Scotland has, per capita, far fewer gangs than the rest of the UK. Indeed, Scotland has 8% of the population yet only 3.5% of the gangs. Try again?


Please deal with this complaint seriously. In reporting on research which may have a significant effect on both policy development and levels of public anxiety, it is essential that any limitations on the conclusions made by the researchers themselves are clearly stated in the report. They were not, nor was the research put into context in terms of the number of gangs in Scotland as opposed to the level across rUK. What then remains is a scare-story of the kind we might expect in a tabloid, but which should not appear in a state-funded organisation, guided by a charter. Please insist on a correction broadcast at the same time of day.





Second BBC Complaint re Scottish Fire and Rescue report


Initial complaint 31.5.18 – CAS-4946918-F6LDN5

Full Complaint: We heard, six times between 6 and 9am: ‘Scottish Fire and Rescue has a backlog of almost £400 million in vehicle and property maintenance.’ According to the BBC report, Audit Scotland have described the funding gap as ‘insurmountable’. The above information was extracted from the 5th statement in the summary on page 5 of the report. Missing from the BBC broadcast was any reference to statements 1 to 4 or the opening to statement 5, which include these key points: 1. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) continues to deliver emergency and prevention services while progressing a complex and ambitious programme of reform. 2. The board continues to work well, with real strengths in the quality of discussion and scrutiny and challenge of management. The board and management display mutual respect, a constructive tone and genuine shared ownership of the issues facing the SFRS. 3. The SFRS has an ambitious vision that involves significant changes to make it a more flexible, modern service. Progress with developing and implementing the plans for transformation has been steady but slow, due to a range of contributing factors. 4. The SFRS has continued to make progress with integrating different ways of working but has not yet achieved full integration. Harmonised pay and conditions for firefighters were agreed in April 2018, placing the SFRS in a good position to complete integration of the service. 5. The SFRS has strong financial management and has developed a good approach to long-term financial planning. It is now in a position to progress with transformation. This is a classic scare story, based on bias by omission, which was likely to be all the more scary given the time of broadcast and the repetition of one negative aspect, from a more complex and balanced document.


BBC Reply 18.6.18

The story to which you refer lasted for twenty-six seconds. The early team took the view – one that I share – that the most important and interesting point for our viewers was that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service had a backlog in maintenance of vehicles and property approaching four hundred million pounds, an insurmountable position without further transformation and investment. The other points, including information such as “the board continues to work well” and “the board and management display mutual respect, a constructive tone and genuine shared ownership of the issues”, were not considered as being of comparable interest in a news story of limited duration. This was therefore not “a classic scare story, based on bias by omission”. You do not explain why the time of broadcast has anything to do with it. You talk of the “repetition of one negative aspect”: what we reported was the story and it can bear any number of repeats as long as it is accurate and fair – which it was.


Second complaint 19.6.18

It is essential when reporting on an important document to give viewers a representative and balanced account. Your report picked out the one negative and ignored five positive statements. That this was an example of bias by omission is quite clear. Repetition of this, unbalanced with any positive statement, six times in the early morning is likely to have scared viewers into thinking their lives may be at risk. Your mention of the 26-second length of the broadcast suggests you think this excuses imbalance. If it cannot be done professionally in the time available, then you should not do it at all. While this is a specific complaint about one issue, it is important to note that such imbalance is not uncommon in your reports. Your selection of the one negative aspect, ignoring two important positives, in the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service press release on Hate Crime in Scotland, 2017/18, on 16.6.18, on access to Higher Education on 13.6.18 and on the Scottish economy on 12.6.18 are the basis for other complaints.


Retired Professor stumps BBC Scotland Acting Temporary Deputy Head of News, Current Affairs and Royal Babies on Obesity

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(c) cnbc

To BBC Executive Complaints Unit : Incorrect use of and omission of data on obesity

I write to continue my complaint after my second complaint was met with this on 18.6.28:

We have discussed your comments with the Deputy Head of News and Current Affairs, but he has nothing further to add. For this reason, I’m afraid we cannot correspond with you further at this first stage of the complaints process.  If, however you are still dissatisfied, you can contact the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU).

To keep within your 1000 word limit, I have had to shorten both my complaints and the one response I did get.

Initial complaint May 27 CAS-4941139-HMPVR9 Reporting Scotland:

‘New research suggests that more than 1 in 3 women in Scotland will be morbidly obese, that’s at least 100 pounds above their ideal weight, by 2035. The research presented today in Vienna at the European Congress on Obesity indicates that women who have been to university are likely to be more adversely affected than those who didn’t.’

From a report in Medical Express: ‘rates of morbid obesity in adults will reach 5% in Scotland (compared to 4% in 2015), 8% in England (2.9% in 2016), and 11% in Wales (3% in 2015) by 2035.’ So, 1 in 20 Scots are expected to be morbidly obese by 2035. Even if the percentage for Scottish women is higher than for men, 1 in 3 is highly improbable. There are three serious problems with this report. First, the error confusing obesity with morbid obesity thus failing to inform viewers in a manner promised in the BBC’s charter. Second, the failure to report on the key finding that morbid obesity, in Scotland, is expected to plateau at 5% while soaring past that figure elsewhere in the UK. Third, the failure to report on the explanation for the above trend. The researchers offered a clear, confident and simple explanation for the significantly slower growth in obesity in Scotland – Scottish Government policy initiatives and resource allocation. For example: ‘The government put a massive push on developing a route map for how we can actually combat this. They put together resources from the NHS that were proving to be effective. They did put a lot of work into it.’ The effectiveness of the above initiatives can be seen in this: ‘almost no 15-to-24-year-old males in Scotland are expected to fall within this category, compared to 6% of the same group in England.’

CAS-4940361-J4C08P: Good Morning Scotland

In the report on obesity, at 09:00, we heard nine, long, compound sentences yet no reference was made to key role played by Scottish Government policy initiatives and resource allocation as stated clearly by the university researchers. In the Independent newspaper report, for example, we were able to read that the researchers offered a clear, confident and simple explanation for the significantly slower growth in obesity in Scotland – Scottish Government policy initiatives and resource allocation. For example: ‘The government put a massive push on developing a route map for how we can actually combat this. They put together resources from the NHS that were proving to be effective. They did put a lot of work into it.’ Why was this omitted?


BBC 1st response June 8th Reference CAS-4941139-HMPVR9

‘The radio item to which you refer lasted less than a minute, including the intro; and less than half a minute in the television report. In that timescale, only the principal points can be made. One of them was that by 2035 obesity levels in Scotland amongst women who had gone to university would have doubled and be higher (40.1%) than levels amongst women who had not gone to university (36.7%). On Radio Scotland, the report (which was longer than the TV report) also made the point that Scotland was likely to fare better than England and Wales over the next seventeen years.

However, as you rightly point out, the report on television also said that new research suggested that more than one in three women in Scotland would be morbidly obese by 2035. The reference should have been to general obesity. (Although you do not mention this in your radio complaint, the same reference was also made there.) I have investigated this and I believe that there was an honest mistake made under customary newsroom deadline conditions: the table for general obesity (which was mistaken for morbid obesity) was included in a research file marked “morbid obesity” in amongst information about morbid obesity. However, to explain is not to excuse and I have ensured that your detailed comments are being taken on board by my team in order to help prevent such an occurrence again.’

(Note: Final paragraph, not needed and removed to keep within word limit)


2nd complaint: June 11th RENUMBERED by BBC – CAS-4959059-HN2DLY

Your conflation of the two complaints is not really acceptable and, I suspect, contrary to the regulations for dealing with such as it seeks to confuse and to obscure them. 2. Regarding the factual error in your use of the term ‘morbid’, whether the mistake was honest is not the issue. This was a serious error which may have caused upset and anxiety and requires correcting publicly in Reporting Scotland. Please let me know when you will do this. 3. Your excuse of timescale does not justify a failure to inform accurately. Three principal points – that morbid obesity is expected to plateau at 5%, that the research authors have identified Scottish government policy initiatives as responsible for this in Scotland and that no Scottish 15-24-year-olds are expected to fall into this category compared to 6% in England – were central for Scottish viewers, you audience. Please let me know when you will make these corrections public on both Good Morning Scotland and Reporting Scotland.


A warning for Scotland’s 100% IVF post-Brexit: How moneygrubbing Tory IVF policies are creating massive distress now in England


© evolvepolitics

How IVF became a licence to print money.

As we tumble toward a hard Brexit and trade deals with the USA allowing the private sector into the heart of the NHS, we can see how things will work out in the already privatised IVF service in England and contrast it with the state-controlled and regulated version, in Scotland. See this from the Guardian today:

‘Private fertility clinics routinely try to sell desperate patients add-ons that almost certainly don’t help – why isn’t more done to monitor the industry?  Around three-quarters of all IVF cycles fail. And results vary with age. Figures from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) published in March state the average live birth-rate for each fresh embryo transferred for women of all ages is 21%; for those aged under 35, it is 29% – the highest it has ever been. For older women, the picture is bleaker: 10% for women aged 40-42, for example. IVF is expensive. And what makes it worse, says Hugh Risebrow, the report’s author, is the lack of pricing transparency. “The headline prices quoted may be, say, £3,500, but you end up with a bill of £7,000,” he says. “This is because there are things not included that you need – and then things that are offered but are not evidence-based.”’


Creating opportunities for the private sector

In Tory-run NHS England, only 12% of boards offer three full cycles in line with official guidance. 61% offer only one cycle of treatment and 4% offer none at all. Private treatment costs between £1 343 and £5 788 per cycle.


Creating knock-on effects in women’s mental health

Failing to treat infertility can result in problems and further costs for the NHS in other areas. A Danish study of 98 737 women, between 1973 and 2003, showed that women who were unable to have children were 47% more likely to be hospitalised for schizophrenia and had a significantly higher risk of subsequent drug and alcohol abuse. See this:


Why UK politicians would like more privatisation in the NHS

There are 64 Tory and Labour (New) MPs with ‘links’ to private health care. Why would we trust them to protect the NHS? See this:


Whitaboot Scotland?

Well, leaving aside any obvious and probably tasteless suggestions, of  superior potency in Scots males (I have 4, I think….bairns not testacles!), see this from ISD on 29th May 2018:

‘The four IVF centres in Scotland screened 370 eligible patients, compared with 362 in the  previous quarter. 100% of patients were screened for IVF treatment within 365 days. The 90% target continues to be met since it was first measured in March 2015.’

BBC Scotland:

‘That’s just the kind of meaningless whitabootery we get from cybernats like ‘prof’ Robertson. You can’t compare Scotland with England………eh, unless it’s GDP or…..drug abuse….or…..actually we’re running out of topics where we can even lie about Scotland being worse than the non-Scottish parts of the UK.’


Police Scotland more than fifteen times better at clearing up robberies than English forces!


Today’s Observer, using ‘national police data’, headlined:

‘95% of UK burglaries and robberies not solved, data suggests.  Police ‘doing all they can’ as crimewave fears rise, with motor scooter thefts a concern.’

In March 2018, the Scottish Sun headlined:

FLOP FORCE Police Scotland clear-up rates crumble after five years of controversy and cuts to the force, figures reveal.’

However, here are the actual figures for Police Scotland:

For housebreaking (burglary) in 2016/17, 22.5% of cases were cleared up. It had been 26.7% in the previous year and 25.7% in 2008/9. So, the headline could be:

‘Police Scotland still more than four times better at clearing up burglaries than English forces!’

For robbery, in 2016/17, 76.2% of cases were cleared up. It had been 78.3% in the previous year but only 46.4% in 2008/9. So, the headline could be:

‘Police Scotland more than fifteen times better at clearing up robberies than English forces!’

Given the background of the Scottish media’s regular hatchet jobs on Police Scotland in an attempt to undermine the SNP, it’s worth remembering these other stories:

Remaining Scotsman readers left fatigued and frustrated in wake of another Police Scotland hatchet job

As knife and gun crime rockets across England and Wales and falls in Scotland, Scotland has far more police officers per head of population

Proxy war on SNP: STV News makes fake news on Police Scotland by distorting overtime spend and officer numbers and by ignoring context

Lib Dems, Tories and Labour take turns to help Scotsman, STV and BBC Scotland cast unjustified doubt on successes of Police Scotland, as crime plummets regardless

Police Scotland, world experts on violence reduction, are now to advise The Met after helping the NYPD and Canada Police. Scotland’s media ignore the story in favour of anything negative they can find.

First New York Police and now Canada’s police come to learn from Scotland’s successes in tackling violence

Allo, allo, wot’s goin’ on up there?


Reporting Scotland uses discredited right-wing fundamentalist thinktank to try to undermine SNP


(c) YouTube

At 15.6.18 at around 6.40pm

‘The Institute of Fiscal Studies believes the new blueprint for the public finances of an independent Scotland would mean a tighter squeeze on public spending than the rest of the UK faces. The thinktank was responding to the SNP’s growth commission which made a new economic case for independence. It’s been criticised for recommending a government spending squeeze lasting up to ten years.’

Did Sally Magnussen look just a bit embarrassed to be making this statement?

There are three problems with the statement. First, what is the source for the last statement? It’s not in the Growth Commission report nor, in those terms, is it in the IFS report. Nowhere does the Growth Commission report ‘recommend a ten-year spending squeeze.’ Second, where is the balance which the BBC prides itself on and which is part of its charter? Even if the IFS is to be completely trusted for its independence, we should have had a comment from the SNP.  RS editors tend to try to use the excuse that the report was too short for more information to be included but the answer to that is simple – if there’s no time to do it properly, don’t do it at all. Third, the IFS is decidedly not to be trusted as either competent or impartial. In 2015, Professor Richard Murphy of City University London wrote:

‘People often wonder why I criticise the Institute for Fiscal Studies for right wing fundamentalism, as I have done on this blog, quite often. The reason is that it is right-wing and fundamentalist, however good its analyses might be when it comes to budgets, spending reviews and so on. In the Royal Economic Society’s annual lecture on Tuesday, Professor Rachel Griffith will argue corporate tax should be charged like VAT.”A preferable way to tax corporate income would be to tax profits at the destination of sales”, she will argue….This proposal….reveals an indifference to the role of tax in redistribution within and between states and ignores economic fundamentals but happens to suit the owners of capital very well. If that is not right-wing fundamentalism I do not know what is. Beware the IFS when it comes to policy issues: it is very far from the neutral think tank it likes to pretend to be but is, instead, a fully paid up advocate of neoliberalism and the flooding up of wealth.’

This is by no means the only evidence that IFS competence and impartiality are so widely contested, from the right too, such that media reports should not use them unchallenged. See these:

The IFS are completely wrong about Brexit

IFS Wrong On UK Economy – Falling Real Wages Are The Solution To A Recession

The IFS forecast should be taken with a pinch of salt

Why is the Institute for Fiscal Studies receiving millions from the State?

Even the current head of the IFS, Paul Johnson, writing in March 2018 has serious reservations about the use of statistics, including we hope, his own, in a political context:

‘I trade in numbers and am passionate about them. From crime rates to the climate, we need them to describe and make sense of the world around us. But I’ve also learned to be very cautious in their company. They don’t just help us to interpret the world, they can be powerful enough to change it too—and not always for the better. A focus on one number, a shock balance of trade deficit that was published three days before a general election, is said to have done for Harold Wilson’s premiership in 1970. A particular measure of public borrowing caused the British government to bring in the IMF to bail it out in 1976. More recently, a net immigration figure in June 2016 played a role in the EU referendum decision, as of course did the most famous number of recent years: the £350m a week that we supposedly send to Europe. Numbers, then, can and do disrupt the course of political history—that’s real power. With that power comes danger, especially where numbers are arbitrary or misleading, which is—in fact—what all those examples of politically powerful numbers were. That alarming trade deficit, released in the run-up to the 1970 general election, was puffed up by a one-off purchase of two jumbo jets, not by any underlying economic problem.

As both SNP media attention and membership soared, was this inadequate little report inserted into a Reporting Scotland broadcast to satisfy the expectations of the Scottish Conservatives that their older audience/voters be warned not to start liking the SNP? Murdo Fraser and Blair McDougall had been tweeting about the IFS report, in this light, the same day.






60% support for independence according to poll in, of all places, the Scotsman


Still active at the time of writing, 16.6.18 at 09.09am, the Scotsman’s poll had a sample of 8 149. This is quite a big sample compared to that of 1 000 used typically by most polling companies but it is quite limited in reliability by being self-selecting. Intriguingly though and perhaps raising the reliability a bit, you needed to have an account with the Scotsman (not necessarily paying) to vote, and, judging by readers comments over the years, there is some evidence that the Scotsman tends to attract No rather than Yes supporters. Of course, I have no empirical evidence of this nor can we really assume anything about the representativeness of the sample. Also, likely to be factors in this response, will be the SNP walk-out, the consequent Tory benches sneering, Mundell’s mendacity and the conversion of Murray Foote, the ‘man behind the Vow’, to the independence cause.

In response to the question: ‘Has the Brexit process made you more or less likely to vote for Scottish independence?’:

More likely                                          33%

Less likely                                            7%

Unchanged: I remain a No voter        34%

Unchanged: I remain a Yes voter        27%

I know, ca’ canny but we can still enjoy it as one wee bit of apparently good news.