Homicide: Violent death is twice as common in Scotland as in England and Wales

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The Independent Online
People in Scotland are nearly twice as likely to meet a violent death as those in England and Wales, a survey by this newspaper has found. Now the Government has set up an inquiry to find out why. Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent, reveals where you are most likely to die by another's hand.

Living north of the border or in most of England's major cities would appear to be bad for your health, and several rural areas are also surprisingly risky with high homicide rates. Detailed analysis of the 918 recorded homicides in 1996 in England, Wales and Scotland, reveals a fascinating snapshot of killing in Britain.

There are huge regional variations. People living in any of the eight areas with the highest rates are three times as likely to have been killed in 1996 than those in the bottom eight.

Homicide covers the offence of murder, manslaughter - the unlawful killing of a person without malice, for example in a pub brawl - and infanticide - a woman who causes the death of a child aged under a year while in a disturbed state of mind due to the birth.

Many of the killings are of babies, who are most at risk with 44 deaths per million people compared with the average of about 14. The second highest group are men aged 16 -49, frequently through drunken fights and in drug- related incidents. Domestic disputes are another common cause of death.

The Independent obtained the killing rates for each of the 51 police areas by calculating how many deaths occurred in proportion to the population, thereby allowing a fair comparison between urban and rural areas. The figures for 1996 are the most recent available.

Top of league is Central Scotland, followed by two other rural Scottish regions, Tayside and Northern Scotland. Strathclyde, fuelled by a spate of drug-related murders in Glasgow, was fourth, while some regions, such as Dumfries and Galloway and Fife, have rates lower than average.

Why Scotland has such high homicide rates is now subject of a six-month government-funded study, which started last week. Professor Keith Soothill, of the Social Research department at Lancaster University, and Brian Francis, a statistician, will examine whether the rates are due to the different Scottish and English legal systems. They will also examine whether social and economic factors play a role. They hope to include aspects such as poverty and the consumption of drugs and alcohol - drink was cited by the a senior Scottish police officer as the main cause of violence in his region. The shooting dead of 17 people in Dunblane distorts many statistics for 1996 and because of its unique circumstances has been generally ignored in this report.

Greater Manchester had the highest killing level in England and Wales in 1996, partly because of drug gang shootings. Predictably, violence between criminals was also partly responsible for pushing London and Merseyside into sixth and seventh places. More surprisingly, some regions with large rural areas such as Hampshire, Avon and Somerset and Befordshire, have high killing rates, whereas places often considered fairly violent, such as Newcastle, Nottingham, Leicester and Essex, have low levels. Regions with few built up urban areas scored the lowest, with Lincolnshire, Surrey and Hertfordshire bottom of the table.

Compared with the rest of the world, England and Wales has a low homicide rate coming joint fifth bottom in survey of 25 countries. Its average rate of 13 homicides per million people compares with 9 in Norway, Japan 10, Denmark 13, Germany 15, France 20, Canada 21, Northern Ireland 21, and Greece 25. Scotland, with 26, was the fifth highest, below Finland (27), Switzerland (28), Poland (29), and the United States (74).

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Central Scotland:

Booze is the common thread that appears to link most of the homicides in the Central Scotland police district - which has the highest killing rate of any police district in Britain.

The Central Scotland police region, with its population of 274,000, appears to be an unlikely place to claim the title of Britain's top killing zone, especially as recorded crime has dropped by a third since 1991. This unwanted ranking also does not take into account the massacre of 17 people at Dunblane primary school, which was hopefully a unique event.

Central Scotland is a relatively affluent picture postcard region, where the lowlands meets the Highlands, being marketed as "Braveheart country".

Among its conurbations, Stirling has a Medieval castle, a university and several notorious housing estates, while Falkirk and Grangemouth sprawl between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Detective Chief Superintendent John Ogg, head of CID, said: "The typical case is a husband turning violent after drinking, but that's a problem throughout the country. "Stranger murder is still very rare and we didn't have any drug-related deaths last year. It's really a very nice place to police."

London

North-West London has earned the reputation as Britain's killing capital.

Last year there were 52 homicides in the area - more than the total for Manchester, Liverpool or Glasgow. The area includes some London's most wealthy, as well as its most deprived neighbourhoods. The killing rate is 31.8 deaths per million population - more than twice the national average.

Part of the reason for the rate of violent death is an on-going drugs war fought largely among Jamaican "Yardie" gangs over the sales of crack cocaine. It also reflects life and death in a large city - abandoned babies, family feuds and brutality.

It is an area of 157 sq miles and a population of 1.6 million, stretching from Islington to Harrow, Holborn to Barnet. As well as affluent Hampstead, it includes some of the highest murder divisions in London like Tottenham, Islington and Kilburn.

Of the 52 people killed in north-west London, two were abandoned babies and about 21 were manslaughter.

The majority, 20, were street fights, brawls in bars or gangster killings. There were few "domestics" - only 15 of the 56 cases. Stranger killings are still extremely rare.

Lincolnshire

"People come to Lincolnshire for its quality of life," says the police force's spokesman. A quality of life that appears to include not being killed. In 1996, the county that spawned Margaret Thatcher had the lowest homicide rate in Britain, with 3.3 killings per 1 million people.

The country is a sprawling rural area covering 2,000 sq miles with a population of about 600,000. The largest conurbation, the cathedral city of Lincoln, boasts an attractive historic centre, but has some rough estates on the outskirts. Light industry, agriculture, and tourism, particularly in the east-coast resorts are the main sources of income.

Considered a comfortable rather than an affluent county. The town of Grantham has become a popular commuter town for people working in London, attracted by the ease of living and low house prices.

The police spokesman believes that lack of built up urban areas and tower blocks could be part of explanation for the low level of homicides.

But he added: "It's impossible to predict crime trends. We pride ourselves in making Lincolnshire a safe place to live, but things can quickly change."

- Jason Bennetto

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