Crime: Babies are most at risk of being murdered

From watching television or reading newspapers you could easily believe most killings in Britain are carried out by gun-toting drug dealers or mysterious sex stalkers. But, says Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent, official figures reveal a very different picture.
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Babies aged under one year old are most at risk of homicide, with 44 deaths per million people in England and Wales, compared with the national average of 12 per million. Women are far more likely to be strangled or suffocated than men, while males are most likely to be stabbed to death.

Only 8 per cent of the 681 people killed in England and Wales last year were shot dead, according to police and Home Office figures released this week.

Detailed analysis of criminal statistics give a fascinating insight into the true nature of killing in Britain. It reveals that far from being a country over-run by serial killers who strike for no reason and are never caught, most suspects were known by their victims and the majority are jailed.

England and Wales have one of the lowest homicide rates - offences that include murder, manslaughter or infanticide - in the world.

You are more than twice as likely to be killed in countries such as Finland, France, Portugal and Scotland and five times as likely in the United States.

The number of homicides dropped by 10 per cent from the record total in 1995, although it was still the fifth highest this century and violent crime is continuing to rise to all-time highs. Two-thirds of the homicide victims were male, one-third female.

Statistically, babies are at the greatest danger of being killed, usually by their parents, although children under 16 are not in a high risk group. As with the overall figure, children who are killed usually die at the hands of someone they know, not those of a lurking paedophile. After babies, the group most at risk are men aged between 16 and 49 - not young women or pensioners who are often considered more vulnerable. A quarrel, revenge, or loss of temper accounted for more than half of all killings in 1996. Only 6 per cent of homicides were carried out to steal goods or gain money. Deaths caused by mentally disturbed suspects, and where there was no apparent motive, comprised just 4 per cent of incidents in 1996.

Just over half male victims and three-quarters of females ones knew the main or only suspect. Nearly half the women were killed by former partners or lovers, compared with only 6 per cent of men. Men were far more likely - 38 per cent - to be killed by a stranger than women - 14 per cent.

The most common method of killing was with a sharp instrument, such as a knife, which was used by about one-third of the suspects. Men were more likely to be killed with a knife, hit, kick or shot, than women. Strangulation and burning were more popular methods of killing females than males. Suspects had been charged or convicted in all but about 10 per cent of the homicides.

Compared with the rest of the world, England and Wales have a low homicide rate. Of those countries where statistics were obtained only Norway with nine per million people, Japan with 10 per million, and the Republic of Ireland and Belgium which both have 12 per million, were lower. Northern Ireland recorded the largest rise in homicides - up by 52 per cent - in the past year to 21 per million, followed by Switzerland, where the rate rose by 23 per cent.

Criminal Statistics England and Wales 1996 is available from 0171 873 9090, price pounds 22.70.