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Homicide in Scotland, 2012-13

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3. Commentary

Statistics quoted in this section refer to cases currently recorded as homicide, as at 1 October 2013. A case of homicide refers to one incident and may involve more than one victim and/or accused person.

The statistics on homicides are used to inform National Outcome 9 - 'we live our lives safe from crime, disorder and danger' as well as The Strategy for Justice in Scotland. These statistics are also used by a wide range of stakeholders to monitor trends, for policy research and development, and for research purposes. The 'Homicide in Scotland' statistical bulletin forms part of a series of bulletins produced by the Scottish Government on the criminal justice system.

The full 'Homicide in Scotland' statistical bulletin was previously published biennially, with a shorter less detailed statistical release being published in the intervening years. To allow users to get a fuller picture of homicide in Scotland, the statistical bulletin will now be published annually from 2013 onwards.

The Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 changed the policing landscape in Scotland, replacing the previous eight police forces, the Scottish Police Services Authority and the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency from 1 April 2013. The Police Service of Scotland is now responsible for operational policing in Scotland and will be held to account by the Scottish Police Authority. The statistics set out in this bulletin cover the year immediately preceding the establishment of the Police Service of Scotland.

3.1 Homicide cases (Tables 1, 2, 3 and 4, and Charts 1, 2, 3 and 4)

  • In 2012-13, Scottish police forces recorded 62 cases of homicide, a decrease of almost a third (32%) from the 91 cases recorded in 2011-12. The number of cases recorded in 2012-13 was the lowest in the ten year period covered by this bulletin. There were 18 fewer cases recorded in 2012-13 than the next lowest year in this period, which was 2009-10, when 80 homicide cases were recorded. As at 1 October 2013, one of the homicide cases recorded in 2012-13 was unsolved.
  • Homicide cases involving more than one victim remain rare. There were no such cases in 2012-13. In total, there were only ten homicide cases involving multiple victims between 2003-04 and 2011-12. Of the 61 solved homicide cases recorded in 2012-13, 26% of them involved more than one accused person. There was a total of 83 accused persons connected with the 61 solved recorded homicide cases, with one further case unsolved as at 1 October 2013.
  • From Chart 2 it can be seen that over the ten year period from 2003-04 to 2012-13 the percentage of homicide cases recorded in each of the police forces areas broadly mirrored the percentage of the population that they contained. The exception to this is the Strathclyde Police force area. The Strathclyde Police force area contained 43% of the population of Scotland but 61% of the homicide cases in Scotland were recorded there in the period from 2003-04 to 2012-13. As a result of this, the other seven police force areas all recorded marginally fewer homicide cases in comparison to their population shares. This pattern was broadly replicated in the 2012-13 data, when there were 39 homicide cases recorded in the Strathclyde Police force area, 63% of the total number of cases, while the force area contained 42% of the estimated population of Scotland in 2012.

Chart 2: Location of homicide cases by police force area compared to population1 profile of police force areas, Scotland, 2003-04 to 2012-13

Chart 2: Location of homicide cases by police force area compared to population profile of police force areas, Scotland, 2003-04 to 2012-13

1. Population estimates as at mid-year 2003 to 2012 from the National Records of Scotland. (http://www.gro-scotland.gov.uk/statistics/theme/population/estimates/mid-year/index.html)

  • There were decreases in the number of homicide cases recorded by six of the eight police forces in 2012-13 compared to 2011-12. The forces where the number of recorded homicide cases decreased were: Central Scotland Police, Fife Constabulary, Lothian and Borders Police, Northern Constabulary, Strathclyde Police and Tayside Police.
  • The largest decrease in terms of the number of cases was 13 (25%) for the Strathclyde Police force area. The number of homicide cases recorded in the Strathclyde Police force area is now at its lowest level in the ten year period covered by this bulletin. There were only four homicide case recorded in the Lothian and Borders Police force area in 2012-13, a decrease of ten cases compared to the 14 recorded in 2011-12. This was also the lowest number of cases recorded in the Lothian and Borders Police force area in the ten year period covered by this bulletin.
  • Grampian Police was the police force to record an increase in homicide cases. Following the one homicide case recorded in the Grampian Police force area in 2011-12, the lowest number in the ten year period covered by this bulletin, there was an increase of four cases to five homicide cases being recorded in 2012-13. The number of homicides recorded in the Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary force area remained the same for the third year in a row, at one case.
  • In 2012-13, the most common location for homicides to occur was within a dwelling (69% of all cases) followed by a street or footpath (18% of all cases). In total, 76% of homicides occurred within a residential location, 19% in outdoor public places and 5% in indoor public places. This pattern of homicide locations has remained broadly consistent over the ten year period covered by this bulletin. However, in the last year there was an 11 percentage point increase in the percentage of homicide cases that occurred in residential locations and a corresponding 11 percentage point decrease in the percentage of homicide cases that occurred in outdoor public places. Chart 3 shows the distribution of homicide cases by location between 2003-04 and 2012-13.

Chart 3: Location of homicide cases, where known, Scotland, 2003-04 to 2012-13

Chart 3: Location of homicide cases, where known, Scotland, 2003-04 to 2012-13

  • Homicide cases recorded by the police make up only a very small proportion of all recorded crimes of violence, 0.1% in 2012-13. This has remained the same over the ten year period covered by this bulletin, except in 2004-05 when homicide cases accounted for 0.2% of recorded crimes of violence. It can be seen from Chart 4 that the number of recorded homicides by the police has followed a generally downward trend over the ten year period from 2003-04 to 2012-13, following an initial increase between 2003-04 and 2004-05. A similar trend has also been seen for the number of recorded attempted murders and recorded serious assaults. For further information on crimes of violence please see Note 4.14.

Chart 4: Trends in selected crimes of violence1, Scotland, 2003-04 to 2012-13 (Index 2003-04 = 100)

Chart 4: Trends in selected crimes of violence, Scotland, 2003-04 to 2012-13

1. The homicide figures provided in this chart are taken from aggregate crime statistics recorded by the police. Due to slight differences in the timing and methods of collection, the aggregated recorded crime figures for homicide may differ slightly from the figures given elsewhere in this bulletin, which are derived from individual returns made in respect of each homicide. For further information on the homicide figures included in this chart please see Note 4.14.

3.2 Victims of homicide (Table 5 and Charts 5 and 6)

In total, there were 62 victims in the 62 homicide cases recorded in 2012-13, 31 fewer victims than in 2011-12. This represented a rate of 12 victims per million population in Scotland. This is a decrease of six victims per million population in Scotland compared to 2011-12. This is the lowest rate of victims per million population in Scotland in the ten year period covered by this bulletin. The next lowest rate was 16 victims per million population in Scotland in 2009-10.

Chart 5 shows that, although only 29% of the Scottish population between 2003-04 and 2012-13 were aged 31 to 50 years, 43% of all homicide victims were in this age range. In addition, the percentage of homicide victims in the 21 to 30 year age range was greater than the relative percentage of the population by 11 percentage points. It can also be seen that the percentage of homicide victims in the older age ranges, 51 years and over, constituted only 17% of all victims in the period 2003-04 to 2012-13 compared to the 34% of the population these age ranges constituted.

Chart 5: Age profile of homicide victims compared to population1 profile, Scotland, 2003-04 to 2012-13

Chart 5: Age profile of homicide victims compared to population profile, Scotland, 2003-04 to 2012-13

1. Population estimates as at mid-year 2003 to 2012 from the National Records of Scotland. (http://www.gro-scotland.gov.uk/statistics/theme/population/estimates/mid-year/index.html)

In 2012-13, there were 50 male victims, 81% of all homicide victims. The overall homicide rate for males was 19 victims per million population, nearly five times the rate for females which was four victims per million population. For each age range, where there were comparable figures, the homicide rate per million population was greater for males than females in 2012-13. The homicide rates per million population for males, for comparable age ranges, in 2012-13 were at least three times higher than for females.

The highest homicide rates recorded in 2012-13 for males were in the 21 to 30 and the 31 to 50 year age groups, at 34 and 35 victims per million population respectively. The highest rate for females was in the 31 to 50 year age range, at nine per million population.

From Chart 6 it can be seen that for the ten year period from 2003-04 to 2012-13 in all age categories, with the exception of the 71 and over age range, the homicide rate was higher for males than females. For males the highest rate of homicide victims per population was for the age range 21 to 30 years. For this age range as well as the two surrounding age ranges, 16 to 20 years and 31 to 50 years, the per population rates were considerably higher for males than females. The highest rate of homicide victims per population for females in the ten year period for 2003-04 to 2012-13 was for the under 1 year age group, at 29 victims per million population.

Chart 6: Homicide victims per million population1 by age and gender, Scotland, 2003-04 to 2012-13

Chart 6: Homicide victims per million population by age and gender, Scotland, 2003-04 to 2012-13

1. Population estimates as at mid-year 2003 to 2012 from the National Records of Scotland. (http://www.gro-scotland.gov.uk/statistics/theme/population/estimates/mid-year/index.html)

3.3 Persons accused of homicide (Table 6 and Chart 7)

  • In the 61 solved homicide cases recorded in 2012-13, 83 persons have been accused as at 1 October 2013, 44 fewer than in 2011-12. This is a decrease of 35% in the number of accused persons. The decrease in the number of persons accused is in line with the decrease in the number of homicide cases as a whole. The majority of accused persons in 2012-13 were male, 80% of the total. Between 2011-12 and 2012-13, there was a decrease of 12 percentage points in the percentage of accused that were male. In 2012-13, 17 females were accused of homicide. This is an increase of seven in the number of females accused compared to 2011-12. In 2012-13, 20% of all accused were female, as was the case in 2010-11. This is the highest percentage of accused who were female in the ten year period covered by this bulletin.

In 2012-13, the total number of individuals accused of homicide equated to 16 per million population. This is the lowest rate per million population in the ten year period covered by this bulletin and a decrease of eight accused per million population compared to 2011-12.

The rate was highest for males aged 21 to 30 years, at 82 per million population, followed by males aged 31 to 50 years, at 35 per million population. The highest rate for females related to those aged 21 to 30 years, at 22 per million population, although it should be noted that the rates for females are based on relatively small numbers of accused.

Chart 7 clearly shows that amongst all age categories the rates of males accused of homicide per million population were considerably higher than for females in the period from 2003-04 to 2012-13. For both males and females, the age range for which the rate per million population of people accused of homicide was highest was for 16 to 20 year olds, at 165 per million population for males and 20 per million population for females. The rate for males was over eight times higher than for females. It can be seen that males aged 16 to 30 years are most likely to be accused in homicide cases. In the period from 2003-04 to 2012-13, no females under the age of 16 were accused of homicide.

Chart 7: Person accused of homicide per million population1 by age and gender, Scotland, 2003-2004 to 2012-13

Chart 7: Person accused of homicide per million population by age and gender, Scotland, 2003-2004 to 2012-13

1. Population estimates as at mid-year 2003 to 2012 from the National Records of Scotland. (http://www.gro-scotland.gov.uk/statistics/theme/population/estimates/mid-year/index.html)

3.4 Method (Table 7 and Charts 8 and 9)

The most common main method of killing in each of the last ten years was with a sharp instrument. For the definition of a sharp instrument please see Note 4.10. From Chart 8 it can be seen that a sharp instrument was the main method of killing in around half of all homicides each year over this period. Shooting was the main method of killing in a consistently small number of homicides over the period from 2003-04 to 2012-13.

Chart 8: Victims of homicide by main method of killing, Scotland, 2003-04 to 2012-13

Chart 8: Victims of homicide by main method of killing, Scotland, 2003-04 to 2012-13

1. The poisoning etc. category includes the following main methods of killing: strangulation or asphyxiation, drowning, fire, and poisoning.

In 2012-13, a sharp instrument was the main method of killing for 26 (42%) of the homicide victims. This is a decrease of nine percentage points in the percentage of victims where the main method of killing was with a sharp instrument compared to 2011-12. Whilst this figure is down compared to 2011-12, sharp instruments were still the main method of killing in over one and a half times as many homicides as the next most common main method of killing, which in 2012-13, was hitting and kicking. The distribution of the main methods of killing in 2012-13 can be seen in Chart 9.

Sharp instruments were the most common main method of killing for both male and female victims. For females, a sharp instrument was the most common main method of killing jointly with strangulation or asphyxiation. For male victims, the next most common main method of killing was hitting and kicking, affecting 26% of male victims.

Chart 9: Victims of homicide by main method of killing, Scotland, 2012-13

Chart 9: Victims of homicide by main method of killing, Scotland, 2012-13

3.5 Relationship of main accused to victim (Tables 8, 9 and 10, and Charts 10 and 11)

For 47 of the homicide victims recorded in 2012-13, the main accused was known to them either as an acquaintance (56%), a partner or ex-partner (15%) or a relative (7%). Seven victims were killed by a stranger, 11% of all victims. For the remaining 11% of victims in solved cases, the relationship of the main accused and victim was unknown.

Chart 10 presents the trends over the last ten years in the percentage of homicides for male and female victims by their relationship to the main accused. The highest percentage of male victims was consistently for those killed by an acquaintance. For female victims the largest percentage was almost always for killed by a partner or ex-partner. There are more fluctuations in the percentage of the relationships of the accused to female victims due to the smaller number of female victims compared to male victims.

A total of 54 children under the age of 16 years were victims of homicide between 2003-04 and 2012-13. Of these, 56% were killed by one of their parents. For the 20 victims aged under one year old, where there was an accused person, the main accused was either a parent (85%), other relative (10%), or the relationship between the victim and the accused was unknown (5%).

Chart 10: Victims of homicide by gender and relationship to main accused, where relationship known, Scotland, 2003-04 to 2012-13

Chart 10: Victims of homicide by gender and relationship to main accused, where relationship known, Scotland, 2003-04 to 2012-13

For homicides recorded in the last ten years, 50% of the female victims aged between 16 and 70 years were killed by their partner or ex-partner, 29% were killed by an acquaintance and 8% were killed by a stranger. For male victims aged 16 to 70 years, only 6% were killed by their partner or ex-partner. Nearly two thirds (63%) of male victims aged 16 to 70 years were killed by an acquaintance and 17% were killed by a stranger.

Of the 27 people aged 71 and over, who were victims of homicide in the ten year period covered by this bulletin, 19 were female and eight were male. Older people were most likely to be killed by either their son or daughter (eight victims) or a stranger (six victims). Of the eight victims killed by their son or daughter, seven were female. Acquaintances killed five older people, four of whom were male victims, and partners or ex-partners killed four older people, all of whom were female victims.

  • The majority of solved homicide cases (70%) recorded between 2003-04 and 2012-13 involved males killing males. Cases where the main accused and main victim were both female accounted for just 3% of the total number of homicide cases recorded in this period.
  • Chart 11 shows a breakdown of the relationship, where the relationship is known, between the main accused and victim. In over two thirds of cases (70%) where a male was accused of killing another male, the victim and accused were acquaintances, whereas only 48% of females accused of killing another female were acquaintances. In 45% of cases where a female was accused of killing a male, the accused and victim were partners or ex-partners. This was also the relationship in just over half (52%) of cases where a male was accused of killing a female.

Chart 11: Relationship between main accused and victim, where relationship known, Scotland, 2003-04 to 2012-13

Chart 11: Relationship between main accused and victim, where relationship known, Scotland, 2003-04 to 2012-13

3.6 Main motive (Tables 11, 12, 13 and 14)

The most common reasons recorded for committing homicide in the ten year period between 2003-04 and 2012-13, were fight or quarrel, and rage or fury, with just under half (48%) of all victims killed in such circumstances. In 2012-13, this figure was 30 victims (49%), 22 for whom the main motive was fight or quarrel.

In 2012-13, the main motive in the killing of 39% of male victims was fight or quarrel. The next most common known motives for killing male victims were rage or fury, or financial, each accounting for 14% of male victims. Due to the small number of female victims of homicide in 2012-13, there are no clear patterns in the main motives of these homicides.

In the period 2003-04 to 2012-13, 78% of all female victims were killed in dwellings, compared with 53% of males. The most common set of circumstances in which females become victims of homicide are in a dwelling, in a rage or fight with a partner or ex-partner (17% of female victims in solved cases). Location is less of a factor for male victims, whose killings are more typically a result of a rage or fight with an acquaintance.

Ten victims were reported to have been killed in drug-related homicide cases in 2012-13. Eight of the ten victims were male. One of the homicides recorded in 2012-13 was reported to have had a homophobic motivation. There were no homicides in 2012-13 where there was a racial motivation.

3.7 Alcohol and drug status (Tables 15, 16, and 17, and Chart 12)

More than two fifths (43%) of the total of 83 persons accused in homicide cases in 2012-13 were reported to have been drunk and/or under the influence of drugs at the time of the homicide. Of these 83, 30 (36%) were drunk, 4 (5%) were on drugs, and 2 (2%) were both drunk and on drugs. This represents 71% of accused persons for whom the alcohol and drug status was known.

In 2012-13, the alcohol and drug status of the accused was unknown for 32 persons, 39% of the total number of accused. This is an increase of 21 percentage points in the percentage of those accused in 2012-13 compared to 2011-12 for whom the alcohol and drug status was unknown. Only 15 accused persons (18%) were reported to have been neither drunk nor under the influence of drugs at the time of the homicide. The distribution of the alcohol and drug status of persons accused in homicide cases in 2012-13 can be seen in Chart 12.

In the ten year period between 2003-04 and 2012-13, half of all accused were reported to have been drunk and/or under the influence of drugs at the time of the homicide. For males accused it was also half, but for females it was marginally higher at 54%. When looking at only accused persons for whom the alcohol and drug status was known, the percentages for all accused and for males were both 78%. The percentage for females is again marginally higher at 81%. The pattern across the different age ranges is the same, with the exception of the under 16 age group. As should be expected within this age group, the percentage of accused persons reported to have been drunk and/or on drugs at the time of the homicide is lower, at 26%. When those accused whose alcohol and drug status was unknown are excluded, the percentage increased to 46%.

In 2012-13, 83% of cases where the main accused was drunk and/or on drugs, the victim was also known to have been drunk and/or on drugs. Where the main motive for a homicide was a rage or fight, 86% of the main accused for whom the alcohol and drug status was known, were drunk and/or on drugs. In 84% of such cases, the victim was also drunk and/or on drugs at the time the homicide took place.

Chart 12: Alcohol and drug status of homicide accused, Scotland, 2012-13

Chart 12: Alcohol and drug status of homicide accused, Scotland, 2012-13

3.8 International comparisons of homicide rates (Table 18)

A number of international organisations, including Eurostat, have attempted to collate international homicide statistics. It is important to note that there are issues surrounding the comparability of international homicide data. There are different definitions of homicide between countries, although definitions vary less than for some other types of crimes. Furthermore, there are differing points in criminal justice systems at which homicides are recorded, i.e. when the offence is discovered or following further investigation. The Eurostat figures are for completed homicides but, in some countries, the police register any death that cannot immediately be attributed to other causes, as homicide. It may, therefore, be over represented in the statistics.

  • Eurostat's most recently published figures compare homicide rates per 100,000 population averaged over the years 2005 to 2007 and 2008 to 2010. Table 18 contains the homicide rates per 100,000 population for the 28 European Union (EU) member states as well as the EU candidate states and the states that are part of the European Free Trade Association.
  • Scotland's average homicide rate for 2005 to 2007 was 2.18 victims per 100,000 population, which fell to 1.74 victims per 100,000 population for 2008 to 2010. For both time periods the rates were higher than the corresponding rates in England and Wales which were, 1.43 per 100,000 population falling to 1.17 per 100,000 population and in Northern Ireland, 1.60 per 100,000 population falling to 1.42 per 100,000 population. An average homicide rate of 1.74 victims per 100,000 population for 2008 to 2010 places Scotland in the upper third of EU member states.
  • Amongst EU Member states, there was a decrease in the average homicide rate per population between 2005 to 2007 and 2008 to 2010, in all but four countries. The average homicide rate increased in Malta, Greece and Denmark. The average homicide rate remained the same in the Netherlands. The decrease seen in Scotland in the number of homicide victims per population between 2005 to 2007 and 2008 to 2010 is amongst the highest in terms of the decrease in the number of homicide victims per population amongst the EU member states.