UK Murder rate rose 5% last year?

So says the Guardian, normally one of the more reliable sources of news around.

But, adds the subheading, overall crimes are stable, or even falling despite the August riots. Of course, since many people won’t get as far as the subheading, they’ll miss this point.

And the 5% increase in murder rate? It’s actually a 5% increase in the number of murders in the year. The murder rate is the number of murders in a year per population. So what is happening to the murder rate?

Here’s Wikipedia’s data on the murder rates in the UK from 2000-2009: (This data is convenient to copy here, but note that it is not identical with the Home Office’s figures, available here.

1.71 1.79 2.1 1.75 1.60 1.38 1.42 1.46 1.26 1.17

So the murder rate has been falling for a decade. And the ’5% increase’ is compared with 2009/2010, which had the lowest number of murders in 11 years, according to the Guardian; but according to the Home Office’s own figures, 2010 was the lowest since 1990. In fact the UK murder rate has been pretty much stable, apart from an increase for a few years around 2002, since the 1960s. The Home Office analysis discusses the trends in homicide:

One can assess from this analysis that the number of homicide incidents recorded in 2010/11 was not statistically significantly different to the number of homicide incidents in 2009/10 or 2008/09, despite the actual number of incidents having risen by three per cent since 2009/10. However, the number of homicide incidents recorded in 2010/11 was statistically significantly lower than the number of incidents recorded in 2006/07 and 2007/08, and those recorded between 2000/01 and 2004/05. This means the risk of becoming a victim of homicide was, in fact, lower for 2010/11 compared with those earlier years.

In other words, there’s no statistical significance to the increase. Oh, and this also clarifies that actual increase in murder rates, as opposed to number of murders, was 3%, not 5%.

So the Guardian’s heading was both factually wrong and misleading. The actual situation is that crime levels are fairly stable in the long term. But even for a respectable media outlet like the Guardian, that doesn’t make much of a headline.

All this is just one example of a trend in the (mis)reporting of violence and crime. We are constantly being told how the world is getting more violent – but the statistics tell a different story.

Do you have any other examples?

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4 thoughts on “UK Murder rate rose 5% last year?

  1. Bhante
    “All this is just one example of a trend in the (mis)reporting of violence and crime”
    Is there a trend or has it always been like this :)

    Violence has always been there but I think that we do have to acknowledge that we do live in fairly violent times (possibly not statically the most violent though). I live in London and I think that the attitude to violence is changing. Young people seem to be becoming more blasé to extreme violence.
    Like many social problems it seems like certain proportions of the community are getting far more than their fair share due to underlying social problems.

    Have you ever come across this website: http://projects.latimes.com/homicide/blog/page/1/

  2. The Guardian article says that the number of murders rose in England and Wales, not the United Kingdom. Separate reports say the rate is up more than that over the last year in Scotland, and I haven’t seen what it has been in Northern Ireland. Even British papers often confuse statistics for England and Wales with those for the entire UK.

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