Claim Syrian refugees linked to sexual crimes increase on island is FFS

The death of toddler Alesha MacPhail on the Isle of Bute has dominated the news since her body was discovered.

Police have confirmed the death is being treated as murder, and a teenage boy has now been arrested.

Ferret Fact Service | Scotlands impartial fact check project

Anti-immigration columnist and former TV reality star Katie Hopkins took to Twitter, posting an image of the six-year-old alongside an article noting increases in sexual violence and another about Syrian refugees who were settled on the island in 2015.

She highlighted a portion of the first article, which read “However, sexual crimes, including rape and attempted rape, are up 29 per cent on last year’s figures, while sexual assaults have jumped up 45 per cent.”

She accompanied the image with a caption saying: “For an island with close to zero crime, there has been a recent disturbing trend on the Isle of Bute, Scotland.”

The tweet was later deleted and replaced by a link to a story about the girl’s death, then a screenshot of an article about Syrian refugees settling in Bute “tweeted without comment”.

Ferret Fact Service looked at the claim that sexual crimes have increased since refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict were resettled on Bute and found it to be FFS.


The article in Hopkins’ tweet is from local newspaper, The Helensburgh Advertiser. The image is a screenshot of a portion of the text, and does not give any further context, but the online article is actually from 2016.

The statistics in the article actually refer to Argyll and Bute, which covers a larger area than just the Isle of Bute. The Argyll and Bute council area’s latest comparable estimated population is 87,130. The most recent population estimate for the Isle of Bute is 6,129, which is just over seven per cent of the council area.

The tweet implies a link between the crime increase and resettlement of refugees from Syria, which took place in 2015. The first charter flight to Scotland in the “Syrian Resettlement Programme” landed in November 2015.

According to an Argyll and Bute council report, “the first 10 families were resettled on Bute on 3 December 2015 followed by a further 5 families on 15 February 2016.”

The latest statistics show that on 31 October, 2017, there were 19 refugee families resettled on Bute. This equates to 70 individuals in total – 18 men, 19 women, 20 boys and 17 girls and four babies born since arriving in the UK.

The first ten families only arrived on the island during the last three months of the recorded crime period mentioned in the article Hopkins shared.

The statistical increase of sexual crimes referred to in the article was between 2014-15, when there were 105 such offences recorded, and 2015-16, when 146 were recorded. This is an overall increase of 39 per cent, while rape and attempted rape had increased by 29 per cent over the period, as mentioned in the Helensburgh Advertiser.

There is also no evidence of a trend of increasing sexual crime. The sharp increase can be attributed to an unusually low level of crime the previous year.

The rate of sexual crimes per 10,000 head of population has remained fairly consistent, apart from the previously noted low crime year in 2014-15. Argyll and Bute’s rate of sexual crime remains lower than the Scottish average.

However, the article contains no data on offences specifically on the Isle of Bute, nor is there evidence of any link between sexual crimes in the wider area and the resettlement of refugees on the island.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: FFS

The tweet by Katie Hopkins does not show evidence of an increasing trend of sexual violence linked to resettlement of Syrian refugees on the Isle of Bute. The statistics she refers to cover the entire council area of Argyll and Bute, of which Bute’s population makes up around seven per cent. The statistics in the article Hopkins shared are for 2014-15 to 2015-16, and the Syrian refugee settlement programme only began in December, three months before the end of this period.

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, working to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Want to suggest a fact check? Email us at or join our community forum.

Article updated at 07.42 on July 5, 2018 after arrest in Alesha MacPhail investigation.

Good journalism changes things

The Ferret was established in 2015 with a mission to publish fearless, high quality journalism.

Since then thousands of people have joined us. We hope you will too.

We're a cooperative with places reserved for both our writers and subscribers on the board.

We're independently regulated, and work hard to keep our overheads down. This means that all the money we get from our subscribers is invested directly in original public interest news.

We're avowedly non-partisan so we can treat everyone fairly. We don't publish click bait and we don't do favours for political parties or powerful vested interests. We do help to change things.

Or see your other subscription options.

Got a story idea?

Tell us what you'd like us to write about next and vote up the best ideas.