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Map of the Week - Murder UK

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Mark Easton | 17:17 UK time, Monday, 15 December 2008

On an average day in Britain, two or three people will be murdered. The UK currently has a homicide rate equivalent to the mid-Victorian period.

The prevalence of murder seems a reasonable proxy for the health or sickness of a society and this deteriorating picture of our islands perhaps tells us something about the profound problems of social cohesion.

teen homicide mapThis Map of the Week is part of a fascinating project conducted by my colleagues at the BBC News website. In the absence of relevant statistical information, the team trawled through newspaper cuttings, police records and other sources to produce a map of violent teenage deaths in the UK this year.

If you click on the image on the right, you'll be taken to the interactive map, which you can zoom in and out of to move between individual incidents.

Each of the purple icons reflects an appalling individual tragedy with the associated pain and suffering for families, friends and all those caught up in the incident. But what is the bigger picture?

England & Wales murder rate 1967-2001
Centre for Crime & Justice Studies - click here to enlarge

If we look at the murder rate from 1967 through to the turn of the millennium, it is obvious that the prevalence of homicide has been rising. There may have been a flattening or even a slight fall in the years after the graph but the likelihood of being killed by another hand is more than double what it was forty years ago. That thin black line shows we are a more violent society.

But it is not the whole story. While the murder rate has been rising overall, for most of the groups in the chart below, it has been falling. I am indebted to research published by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies for this telling illustration of changing risk.

graph showing change in murder rate in the UK between 1981-5 and 1996-2000
Centre for Crime & Justice Studies - click here to enlarge

Here we compare murder rates by age and gender between 1981-5 and 1996-00. The most striking feature of the graph is that it reveals how the risk of homicide to women has fallen or remained stable for every age group with the exception of baby girls.

For men, it is the reverse, with rising risk for almost every age group. However, the real change is in a doubling of the risk for men in their early 20s and I would guess that more recent figures would see the line for teenage boys extending further too.

Who are the victims? Well, by and large, it ain't rich folks.

Looking at murder rates by wealth reveals how, in the most well-off areas, the murder rate has fallen 4-7%. But the poorer the neighbourhood, the more the risk has increased, with the most impoverished areas seeing a 39% rise.

mortality ratios for murder in Britain, by wealth, 1981/5-1996/2000
Centre for Crime & Justice Studies - click here to enlarge

Last from the UK, this chart shows how the method of murder also changes depending on the wealth of the area. Many victims of murder with a firearm are from wealthier areas, perhaps because it tends to be those with money who have shotguns and similar weapons in their homes.

Methods of murder by ward poverty, Britain, 1981-2000
Centre for Crime & Justice Studies - click here to enlarge

Finally, a global perspective on murder. This map twists the world so that a country's size equates to its homicide rate.

Murders, manslaughter, and 'lawful'
homicide by territories of the world, 2002
Murders, manslaughter, and "lawful" homicide by territories of the world, 2002. Colours simply differentiate nation-states. Courtesy Danny Dorling of the University of Sheffield. Larger version at the Environment & Planning website

The USA appears smaller than some might have guessed, while parts of South East Asia are very large. The UK looks bloated compared with continental Europe. As ever, I would appreciate your observations.


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