6 November 2012

Death by the Clyde...

Every year, government statisticians put out a grim butcher's bill of Scotland's homicides, and the statistical detail on the killings is not for the squeamish.  The annual 2011/12 count of deaths was released this morning, recording a total of 90 deaths and 88 homicide cases over the last twelve months.  In the press, you're likely to hear a couple of headline statistics: the total number of deaths is down on last year, falling from 99 to 88 cases.  

A total of 124 persons were accused of committing homicide in the last year, of which 115 (93%) were men, compared to just 9 women (7%).  The vast majority of victims of homicide were also men.  Some 71 of 90 victims of homicide were men (79% of victims), while 19 women were also killed (21% of victims). As ever, alcohol features prominently Once again, the numbers put the prevalent myth of "stranger danger" to the question, particularly for women. Looking at the last ten years, the government statisticians report:

"For homicides recorded in the last ten years, 51% 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 9% 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, 64%, of male victims aged 16 to 70 years were killed by an acquaintance and 17% were killed by a stranger."

This seems borne out by the pre-eminent locations in which homicides occur. In 2011/12, 56 of 88 homicide cases (64%) occurred in a residential setting, which includes houses, but also common stairwells and hostels, hotels and lodging houses.  The vast majority (fifty three of fifty six in 2011/12) of these are confined to houses and dwellings.  That said, things get a wee bit more complicated when we take a decade-long look, and break down cases by recorded motive, gender and location.  Between 2002 and 2012, 840 men have been killed and their homicide cases "solved" by police.  Of these, 442 (53%) have occurred in a dwelling, compared to 397 (47%) which were "not in a dwelling".  In the same period, there have been 2011 solved cases involving female victims.  Of these, 77% occurred in a dwelling, with the remaining 23% occurring elsewhere.

Knives are obviously an important concern in Scottish politics, dominating Labour's agenda in the last Holyrood election. Accordingly, the number of folk killed by "sharp instruments" will likely attract the highest levels of political scrutiny.  Of the 90 victims of homicide recorded in 2011/12 (as opposed to 88 homicide cases recorded, where multiple killings were singly investigated), 52% were slain using a "sharp instrument" as compared to 61 of 101 (60%) of homicide victims in 2010/11.

Death by the Clyde...

This year, I thought I'd focus a little more closely on geography in general, and on Glasgow and Strathclyde in particular. First, some introductory demographics.  According to 2010 population estimates, Strathclyde police force area covers some  2,217,880 people, substantially more than double the next largest - Lothian and Borders police - which attended to public order and the investigation of crime for 939,020 souls. 

Although well shy of half of covering half of the Scottish population, over the last decade, Strathclyde has dominated the homicide statistics, never contributing less than half of the Scottish national total of deaths. As you can see, the national totals have tended to follow fluctuations in Strathclyde's homicide count.  For comprehensibility, I've only included specific numbers of homicide cases for the national and Strathclyde and Lothian and Borders in the chart below:

Taking of of these numbers, over the last decade, 62% of all homicide cases have originated in the Strathclyde police force area, fluctuating up and down over time.

One of the interesting aspects of today's statistics is that in addition to breaking down the figures by police force area, they also include information on a few - four - choice local government areas: Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee City areas.  The findings from Glasgow - historically "no mean city" - trace a highly encouraging downward trend in the number of homicides recorded.

At the start of the last decade (2002/03), Glasgow City actually contributed the majority of homicide cases in Strathclyde.  Since, that number as dramatically fallen, to a low of just fifteen deaths this past year. While the number of homicide cases concerning events in Glasgow city has been falling very substantially in the last decade, it is striking that the rest of Strathclyde exhibits nothing like the same decreasing incline of killings. 

These numbers are mute on the human stories behind the columns and the totals, the abstract "sharp instruments" some distance away from the horror and suffering of a life lost on the end of thrust blade, clubbed or choked from you. The objectivity of the numbers, their bare detail, has an obvious distancing effect which is mute on the devastated lives which lie behind them: the mothers and fathers buckled with grief, consigning sons and daughters to the earth, the tears stinging the eyes of loving friends, the lonely children bereft.  These numbers only thinly tabulate tragedy, both for those killed and for their families and friends, but also for many of killers, who were most likely drunk, most likely young men, most likely caught up in a fight or quarrel, all of whom have made a dreadful, tragic mistakes which will alter and afflict the course of their lives, and the lives of many others.

Reading these numbers at an abstract distance, it's important always to remind ourselves of the sorrow and loss that lies behind them.

No comments :

Post a Comment