French authorities have been accused of a cover-up after claiming New Year’s Eve “went off without any major incident” despite more than 1,000 cars being torched in arson attacks.
Police also arrested 454 people during the night, 301 of whom were taken into custody.
The phenomenon of torching cars at the end of the year is a “tradition” in France, with different departments and suburbs of the capital, Paris, competing to cause the most destruction.
The practice is thought to have begun in the 1990s in Strasbourg’s deprived, high-immigrant districts, which quickly spread to other poor areas.
According to the French interior ministry, a total of 945 cars were either “totally destroyed” or “more lightly affected” by the attacks, amounting to a 17 per cent rise on last year.
However, for the first time, the ministry initially chose to release only the number of cars (650) “set on fire”, rather than those destroyed by fire, allowing them to claim there had been a fall.
This led the national newspaper Le Monde to accuse authorities of deliberately being unclear. The populist Front National (FN) party implied dishonesty and slammed the state’s “unbearable laxity”.
In an official statement, the FN stated: “The new interior minister Bruno Le Roux… [initially] didn’t communicate the number of vehicles burned and considers that the number of cars directly set on fire to be ‘contained’ while even this constitutes a significant rise of 8 per cent.”
Responding to the claims, ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said: “There is no desire to conceal… The number of direct firings is the most relevant indicator because it corresponds to the unlawful act.
“Not all vehicles were destroyed, some were only slightly affected.”
He added: “Whatever the increase, this is not tolerable. But the trends are seen over several years and what is significant is a significant reduction over five years.”