Glasgow is Britain's murder capital as knife crime spirals

By Paul Kelbie,Scotland Correspondent
Saturday 29 November 2003 01:00

Gerald Barnes was killed outside his home this week. No one was quite sure why he died, and nobody seemed to care either. The 44-year-old bachelor was kicked and stabbed to death in the street and neighbours had few good things to say about the man many said was a "bad egg".

He died on Tuesday in the town of Dumbarton in Strathclyde, where violent crime - particularly with knives - is on the rise. So much so that Glasgow, the region's main city, is now the murder capital of western Europe.

Police were putting up the blue and white tape around the place where Mr Barnes fell while the Scottish Executive published the country's annual homicide statistics. They revealed that the number of Scots killed last year was one of the highest in Europe, with Glasgow its most dangerous city.

Scotland's soaring murder rate is blamed on a "booze and blade" culture among the young. According to the statistics, there were 127 homicide victims in Scotland in 2002, 11 more than in 2001 and the highest annual total since 1996. In more than half of those murders a sharp instrument was used and in at least 44 per cent of cases the accused was drunk. In 10 per cent of cases, the accused was on drugs and in 15 per cent of cases, drunk and on drugs.

There were 68 fatal stabbings - the highest number for 10 years. Cathy Jamieson, Scotland's Justice Minister, blamed much of the increase on alcohol, with either the accused or the victim being drunk. She said: "Most occur at the weekend and involve young men. It doesn't take a huge leap of the imagination to connect many of these tragic incidents with binge drinking and serious street disorder."

Scotland is now behind only Finland and Northern Ireland in the European Union in murder rates. Figures show that violent deaths in Glasgow are at their highest level for seven years and that the murder rate per head of population is higher than Belfast, double that of London and almost four times the EU average.

For years Glasgow has tried to live down the "No Mean City" reputation of 1930s when gangs armed with razors fought pitched battles in the streets. But authorities now fear that the gangland culture is making a comeback.

Groups of youngsters, with names such as the Young Southside Cumbie and the Royston Shamrock, wander the city centre at night armed with knives and heavy leather belts, often high on drink or drugs.

The gangs also trade insults in cyberspace, because each group has a website boasting of violent exploits and glorifying the gang culture. They then head into the city centre, looking for fights.

The murder statistics for last year showed that in at least eight cases, the killers were under 16, while 46 were aged between 16 and 20.

But it is not just the gang members who are in danger. The knife culture has become fashionable among teenagers across the social spectrum.

A recent survey carried out by Glasgow City Council and Strathclyde Police to find out young people's attitudes towards crime, vandalism, graffiti and personal safety discovered that one in five young people in the city carries a weapon for protection, citing fear of gangs, drug users and of walking through rough areas.

Ms Jamieson said: "This kind of behaviour and its shocking consequences can no longer be tolerated in a modern Scotland. That is why action is under way on two fronts to tackle it. Reforms to Scotland's drinking laws will help reduce this potentially fatal connection between over-indulging in alcohol and violent crime."

She added: "In May this year, Strathclyde Police launched Operation Magnet, a major crackdown on knife and violent crime. Operation Magnet ended last week and as a result of its high visibility patrols on foot and car, the rigorous enforcement of the street drinking by-law, and the use of undercover officers gathering intelligence, a total of 204 weapons were seized by police officers many of them potentially lethal knives. "Reducing violent and knife-related crime is key to our drive to improve public safety," said Ms Jamieson.

It is estimated that in the past four years the incidents of knife crime in Scotland increased by 350 per cent and that the majority of victims were stabbed to death by friends or relatives. But the conviction rate for homicide cases has fallen, the statistics showed. One hundred and eighty-six people were arrested for the 127 killings in Scotland last year, and nine out of 10 were caught within a month. But there were convictions in only 71 of the cases, compared to 75 convictions in 116 cases the previous year.

HOMICIDE FIGURES

¿ Figures for 2002 showed that Glasgow had a homicide rate of 58.7 people per million of population, the highest rate of any city in western Europe. Belfast was on 55.9, Madrid on 18.4, Paris on 20, London on 26, Amsterdam on 31.3 and Dublin on 18.8

¿ Only Baltic cities such as Vilnius in Lithuania (89) had a higher rate, along with New York (86.5) and Washington (428.7) and Moscow (183.8)

¿ Aberdeen was the second most dangerous city in Scotland, with an average of 21.9 killings per million while Dundee had 15.9 victims and Edinburgh was safest with just 15.6 fatalities