14 December 2010

"Death hath so many doors to let out life..."

As regular readers will know, I like to take a wee peek into the detail of Scottish quantitative research, not least because the raw data often holds the interesting potential to subvert and challenge our understandings about the incidence of some commonplace social phenomena. Today's drear subject is homicide in Scotland. Day in, day out, the media exercises its capacity to make the aberrant seem average and thereby constitutes a public whose views on the prevalence of certain modes of killing, certain "social problems" and apprehensions of risk - are often strongly at odds with statistical realities. You'll likely have heard this year's topline figures on the news. In Homicide in Scotland 2009-10, the Scottish Government publish figures showing that in the last year, Scottish police forces recorded 78 cases of homicide,  down from 97 cases in 2008-09. This is the lowest number of cases recorded in the last 10 year period. Here are just a few of the bits and pieces from the publication which caught my eye.

Age, Gender...

In total,there were 79 victims of homicide in Scotland last year (the 78 figure relates to homicide cases, slightly different). Nine people below the age of 20 were violently done to death. Out of the total of 79 deaths, 52 of the victims were male (66% of the total). As others have cautiously recognised, rates of homicide fluctuate very significantly. Looking across the last decade (2000 - 2010), this year the numbers of male victims hits a decade-long low. In 2004/05, more than double today's numbers perished, with 110 men being killed. 2009/10 records 19 fewer male deaths than the next lowest year of the last ten years (in 2000/01 and 2008/08, 71 men died in homicides). The number of female victims of 2009/10, by contrast, remains significantly lower but did not decrease in comparison to previous years. There were 27 female victims (34% of the total number of victims). Last year, 28 women died in circumstances of homicide. In the late decade, the lowest number to die fell in 2005/06 with 13 deaths, the decade high falling in 2000/01 during which 36 women were killed. 

Main methods of killing, gender...

A macabre roll of instruments, it must be said - but worth knowing, not least because our press-mediated perceptions often tell a different story. Last year, only two people (2.5% of the total) died gunshot wounds. Over the last decade, no more than 8 people have died per year as a result of being shot. 35 (44% of the total) were killed using a "sharp instrument", with 10 killed by blunt instruments and 10 by the pure physicality of hitting and kicking (12.7% of the total, respectively). 7 people were throttled, 3 were poisoned. The figures also afford some insight into the gendered nature of forms of killing. Amongst men, 27 (52%) died on the point of knives and similar objects. Amongst women, sharp instruments claimed 8 (30%). Horrifyingly, the second most common method of killing women was strangulation or asphyxiation, with seven women - or all of the national total - having their lives choked from them last year (26% of the total number of women killed).

Those mean streets...

Up to a point, Lord Copper. In 2009/10 47 homicides (60% of the total) took place in houses, one in a garden, two in a close - and contrary to a long-standing literary paranoias about mysteries to be solved by dapper Belgian detectives - no one was slain in a hotel. Some many be surprised to learn that only 1 death occurred in licensed premises in 2009/10. In any given year across the whole of the last decade, at most 4 people have been killed in pubs per year. Only 32% of homicides (25 in total) took place out of doors in some public setting last year. The chart (top right) shows this distribution.

Victim's relationship to main accused, gender...

In 2009-10, 78 % (61) of homicide victims knew the main accused, either as an acquaintance (53 %), relative (9 %) or partner (17 %). The partners or ex-partners of only 3 of 51 male victims of homicide (in "cases solved") were accused of bringing about their deaths (6% of the total). In the case of female victims whose cases are solved, 4 were killed by their parents, constituting the whole national total of people killed by their mother or father. 10 women were killed by their partner (37% of the total). 

Geographic distribution...

In 2009-10, 43 of 78 recorded homicide cases took place in the Strathclyde police force area (constituting 55 % of the national total). The statisticians have isolated Glasgow specifically, 20 deaths in the last year, or 26% of total deaths in Scotland). To contextualise this year's figures over the last decade, in the year in which the highest number of homicides took place (2004-05), 82 of 134 deaths took place in Strathclyde - a huge 61% of the national total in that year. In Glasgow city in the same year, the figure was 39 deaths. In Scotland's other city states, only three people were killed in both Aberdeen and Dundee, Edinburgh counting 7 homicides in the last twelve months. 


  1. Where you say " all of the national total" and "Whole national total" are you referring to UK national total? or Scotish national total or what?

  2. Chris,

    Sorry if I was unclear. By "national", I'm referring to the Scottish national figures only.

  3. LPW

    Any reference to ethnic origin in any of the sub sections?

    I am tip toeing here, because I believe there that there could be an unspoken cause within some groups.

    Having live for some years in Scandinavia, there is a bit of alarm bells sounding over family homicides and what they are beginning to uncover in related matters.

  4. Bugger,

    Funny you should say that, as (I assume) the same "honour killing" thought flashed involuntarily across my mind when I noticed that everyone who was killed by their parents happened to be female (four individuals in total).

    In my case, I'd attribute the immediate emergence of this thought to my own introduction to the issue during a year spent living in the Netherlands. The Dutch were rather obsessed with the idea, no doubt because it focussed many of their anxieties about ethnic minorities - in a particularly brutal fashion.

    Statistically, however, the bulletin doesn't contain any ethnic or religious data on victims or their killers.

    Moreover, in the section which purports to identify the "main motive" prompting homicides (an intensely problematic exercise, I'd suggest), no category of motive immediately suggests that these women died for the reasons which I assume you are alluding to.