Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Teenage murderers —going up?

Readers may recall an item I posted back in June, where I speculated that the commission of murder in the UK was becoming more prevalent amongst the young —specifically amongst teenagers. At the time I was taken to task over the use of ‘Google news’ trends to back up what I admitted was “a hunch”, arising out of a sense that the number of news stories concerning teenage victims or perpetrators of murder was increasing.
I did also mention that I’d tried, but failed, to obtain some statistics on this from the Ministry of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act. Somewhat frustrated that my hunch remained just that, I therefore decided to try again. I accordingly contacted the Ministry of Justice, asking them to provide the figures for “how many people under the age of 20 were convicted of murder between 1969 and 2008 on a year-by-year basis”.
Once again, the answer was not easy to obtain! I submitted the request in early July, and by law the response ought to come within twenty working days. Despite an immediate acknowledgement of the request, however, by mid August I still had not heard anything. To cut a long story short, I put in a formal complaint last week, and yesterday the information arrived, having been delayed by an administrative error. (I have duly withdrawn the complaint.)
It did come with some caveats, explained in a covering letter. In particular, the figures only go back to 1979 (and also omit 1983). Prior to that, the information is not broken down into the category I requested and is therefore not held. This means I cannot apply these figures to my suggestion that the steep increase in young murderers may have begun as long ago as 1975.
Notice also that the figures are only for England and Wales, but I don’t think this matters for the basic thesis. (Indeed, including Northern Ireland over this period may have created its own distortions.)
The figures are also based on the principle that “the offence selected is the one for which the heaviest penalty is imposed,” which I take to mean that if the individual were found guilty of, say, burglary and murder, they would show up as a ‘murderer’ if the penalty imposed was greater than that for the burglary (which I imagine would always be the case).
The figures for 2008/9 have also not been released, on the basis that they are covered by “a qualified exemption” and are therefore “subject to a public interest test”. This, however, seems to be a formality and relates to the (understandable) need to get the figures right before they are made public.
What we are left with, then, is a simple table for ‘the number of persons aged 10-19 found guilty of murder at all courts in England and Wales, 1979-2007’ (omitting 1983). This is reproduced as a chart below.

The first thing to say is that the figures are obviously limited in what they can tell us. In particular, there is no way of telling the extent to which they may include multiple convictions for the same crime —in cases, for example, of a gang attack which resulted in a single death. The figures for murderers do not correlate directly to those for murders.
The second thing is that I was admittedly surprised by the number of teenage murderers already being convicted in the late seventies and early eighties, which was higher than I expected. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that the figures are not available earlier than this, as my initial hope was to look at how the trend changed in the 1970s.
Thirdly, however, there is clearly an increase, which seems to begin some time in the mid-to-late 1990s, and seems to confirm the tentative conclusion I offered at the end of my previous article. Although it may not show up very well, behind the bars of the histogram is a trend line, based on a three-year average, which begins to climb around 1997. (If you click on the image, you will see a much larger version.) Nevertheless, it is impossible to say whether or not this is part of an overall increase in the murder rate in the same period.
Beyond that, I’d rather sit and think about what these figures might be saying. Between 1979 and 1996, the average number of young people convicted of murder remained at about twenty-five a year. Before that, we cannot tell anything. Over the following decade, the figures rose, and peaked in 2007 in the mid sixties. After that, again, we cannot tell anything —indeed my intuitive impression is that the figures are substantially down for this year (2009), but only time (and the FOI Act) will tell. Nevertheless, within the range of figures provided, there is a trend, and it is, sadly, upwards.
Revd John P Richardson
30 September 2009
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  1. It would be interesting to work out what the numbers are when expressed as a proportion of the population of 10 - 19 year olds. The Abortion Act became law in the UK in 1967 according to this web site so it's reasonable to hypothesise that the population thereafter would contain proportionately fewer young people.

    From UK national statistics: in 1981 the total population was 56,352,000 and the population of 15 - 24 year olds (its not broken down by 10 - 19 year olds) was 9,019,000 or 16%.

    By 2007 the total population was 60,975,000 and the population of 15 - 24 year olds was 7,128,000 (!) or 11.7%.

    So, using your figures (very roughly and just for the sake of argument) lets assume that in 1981 40 people out of 9,019,000 in that age group were found guilty of murder. That's 0.00044% of that age group.

    In 2007, assume there were 65 people out of 7,128,000 in that age group found guilty of murder. That's 0.00091% of that age group. That is, the rate of murder convictions in that age group has more than doubled.

    Wow! What a boon secularisation of the culture has been! [/sarcasm]

  2. For what it is worth, and errors and omissions excepted, by trawling through the BBC news website I have counted 44 convictions of teenagers for murder in England and Wales so far in 2009.

  3. I think (developing Janice's point) that since the abortion legalization, and other things no doubt, the population (younger, no moral education in earkly life) has subliminally realized the message that came from the State/legislature, etc., that life is of no ultimate value, and killing is centrally sanctioned in some (why not all?) cases. I'm convinced the evils in our society come/have come from the top down, not otherwise.

  4. A slightly scary thought that just occurred to me is that in the period covered by these statistics, the treatment of traumatic injury has doubtless improved substantially (not least because, for example, hospitals have become more familiar with treating stab and gunshot wounds). Thus the number of cases in which people have died, and in which, therefore, there might be a murder charge, may well have been depressed by these improvements.

  5. On the subject of improving treatments of potentially fatal trauma, this link goes to an official chart of gunshot and stab wound admissions for English health authorities, affecting roughly the same age-group as the murder figures. Whilst gunshot wounds are somewhat down (and dramatically for the under-16s) in the period 2002-2006, stab wounds are up. The year-on-year figures for under-16s are:

    2002-3: 95
    2003-4: 110
    2004-5: 143
    2005-6: 169

  6. David says...

    John, the Home Office used to (may still) have a spreadsheet of crime figures going back to about 1900 on their website. It didn't look specifically at teen crime, but still showed that the post-war success of secularism and "freedom from taboos" has been accompanied by huge increases in violent and sexual crimes (about 10 to 40 times higher than before as I remember!!)