“If CCTV is to be effective, in an age of heightened terror, you need to see people’s faces.” – Paul Nuttall, 23 April 2017
UKIP leader Paul Nuttall has called for a burqa ban, citing security risks and integration concerns.
In 2013, he ruled out a blanket ban, but has now reversed his position. Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, he claimed the change in policy was partly because of “the bigger security threat”.
Making references to terrorism, he said that wearing a full face veil makes CCTV ineffective.
But while there’s no doubt that covering your face will make it harder for police to identify you, is there any hard evidence that the burqa poses a significant or growing security risk?
The Home Office, Scotland Yard, and the National Police Chiefs Council all told FactCheck they were not aware of any statistics showing the proportions of people who cannot be identified on CCTV, or any records of the reasons why.
FactCheck also asked UKIP if they knew of any stats, but they didn’t respond.
So, there appears to be no statistical evidence that burqas hamper the effectiveness of CCTV any more so than hoodies, big hats, balaclavas, masks or anything else. That’s not to say that it may not still be an issue – but there are no official figures to back it up.
Paul Nuttall said the issue was of particular concern because of the “heightened terror”; women who wear the burqa only make up a tiny proportion of terrorism-related offences. The overwhelming majority of people arrested for terror offences are male.
Research published by Parliament last year showed that between 11 September 2001 and 31 December 2015, only 8% of terror arrests were of women. The numbers have risen over the years, but are still very low. In 2015/16, there were just 32 female terror-related arrests and, out of these, we don’t know how many were Muslim, nor how many wore the burqa.
Of course, there’s nothing to stop men wearing burqas. Indeed, when FactCheck asked UKIP what evidence was behind its burqa ban policy, a party official cited “one small anecdotal example from years ago,” that happened in Yemen. He said that soldiers were fired at by a man dressed in a burqa, who had a machine gun hidden under his clothes.
There have been occasional reports of men committing crimes in the UK while wearing a face veil. For instance, in 2015, a man wore the veil while robbing a bank in Oadby. And, in 2013, a terror suspect managed to escape surveillance after disguising himself as a woman in a burqa.
But these cases appear to be very rare, and the people involved may equally have been able to adopt a different disguise instead.
Police frequently deal with imperfect CCTV, taking issues such as scarves, sunglasses and image pixelation into consideration. And the pictures are usually used in conjunction with other evidence.
What’s more, research has shown that CCTV is actually fairly ineffective for solving most types of crime – whether or not burqas are involved. A review by the College of Policing found that it’s most effective in reducing vehicle and property crime, particularly in car parks.
But it’s not nearly as good for tackling other crimes. The review said: “There was no evidence of an effect (of CCTV) on violent crime.”
David Videcette, a former officer with Scotland Yard’s Anti-Terrorist Squad who was at the centre of the 7/7 bombings inquiry, told FactCheck that he didn’t think burqas posed a particular security threat. In fact, he said he was only aware of two suspects who had used it to disguise themselves: one in 2005 and the other in 2010.
“In all my years of experience, they are the only two times that I can think of when it’s caused a problem. I wouldn’t say it’s a widespread problem.
“I don’t think that UKIP are right in suggesting that the burqa is a security issue, because I don’t think it is.”
Videcette added: “There’s a whole lot of things that are available to us. Facial recognition isn’t that reliable and CCTV generally often just shows people’s bodily movements and what they did somewhere, as opposed to identifying them facially.”
Because the police do not publish regular figures on CCTV effectiveness, it’s impossible to say for sure how big a problem burqas pose to the identification of criminals and terror suspects.
Anything that makes it harder to identify someone could potentially make a police investigation more challenging. However, all the surrounding evidence and expert opinion points towards this being a very minor issue.
Of course, whether the burqa has an impact on integration and British values, as Nuttall claims, is a separate issue. But his claims about the security risks of burqas appear to be based purely on anecdotal evidence, rather than any solid statistics or research.
We’re not saying that burqas don’t pose any security risk at all, but Nuttall and UKIP don’t appear to have evidence to quantify this.