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 (I have duly withdrawn the complaint.)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 RichardsonAnonymous users wishing to paste in the comments box need first to select the 'Anonymous' profile, then type in a couple of letters, select 'preview', then close the preview box and delete these letters.
30 September 2009
30 September 2009
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