Media & PR

Julie Spence: intriguing new appointment at the Press Complaints Commission

The news that Cambridgeshire Chief Constable Julie Spence has been appointed to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) is likely to divide people.

Depending on your point of view, Julie Spence either has fed just the sort of whipped up fears of immigrants stories based on flawed ‘facts’ that the tabloids so love (and so will be decidedly bad news at the PCC) or has been herself the victim of tabloid misreporting (and so may bring some very useful insights to the PCC).

A previous profile of Julie Spence in The Guardian lays out both sides of the case:

This chief constable of a provincial police force has made a national name for herself speaking out about immigration and crime and the challenges of policing a highly mobile, multicultural society. Her stance has made her a hero in the rightwing tabloid press; inside her office, a copy of the Daily Mail pokes out of her bag…

Certain members of the government may wish that Spence herself would shut up and move on from her remarks about the pressures that new migrant communities have placed on her police force. At first, her argument was a plea for more funds: she argued that the government had failed to accurately count immigration and underestimated the booming population of Cambridgeshire as Fenland factories and high-tech industries recruited foreign workers, many of whom arrived from eastern Europe after the EU’s expansion in 2004. Spence says that while Gloucestershire, for example, has 234 officers per 100,000 population, Cambridgeshire has 183 officers per 100,000 and needs more. Unusually, however, Spence publicly linked specific crimes to specific immigrant groups and, emphasising the expense of translation services (which will cost £750,000 this year), said migrants made particular crimes newly prevalent in her county, including drink-driving, knife violence and sex-trafficking.

Hailed as “fearless and forthright” by the Mail, Spence’s comments triggered tabloid reports of a “migrant crime wave”. Spence was linking migrants to certain types of crime – but did immigration actually cause a rise in crime? “Yes, there was a rise in crime but it was proportionate to the number of new migrants,” she says now. “It was no more or less than you’d expect with any rapid movement of people into the country.” If these comments were reported at the time, they were lost in the frenzy caused by her descriptions of Iraqi Kurds bringing knife crime to Peterborough and Lithuanian blood feuds triggering murders in Wisbech. That could be the fault of the media, or of Spence for not explaining herself clearly enough.

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