695 victims of homicide in the last year
Last week (25 February 2021), the Office for National Statistics published its annual report on Homicide in England and Wales. The report analyses information held within the Home Office Homicide Index, which contains detailed record-level information about each homicide recorded by police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2020. The headline points were:
There were 695 victims of homicide in the year ending March 2020, 47 more (7%) than the previous year; this figure includes the Grays lorry incident with 39 homicide victims – if this incident is excluded, homicide showed a 1% increase overall.
The homicide rate was 11.7 per million population, with the rate for males (17 per million population) almost three times that for females (6 per million population); this is a higher difference than previous years because of a 20% increase in the number of male victims, from 422 to 506, and a 16% decrease in the number of female victims, from 225 to 188.
The homicide rate over the three-year period to year ending March 2020 was 49.5 per million population for the Black ethnic group, approximately five times higher than for the White ethnic group (9.4 per million population).
Just under two-thirds (443 or 64%) of all homicide victims in the year ending March 2020 were from the White ethnic group. The number of Black victims in the last year, at 105, was the highest seen since the year ending March 2002 (107 victims).
There were 142 homicide victims aged 16- to 24-years-old, an increase of 32 on the previous year and a return to the relatively high levels seen in the year ending March 2018 (147).
The most common method of killing continued to be by a sharp instrument, with 275 homicides by this method, an increase of 15 offences (up 6%) compared with the previous year and the second highest annual figure since 1946.
To put the raw numbers in context, incidence rates show the volume of offences as a proportion of the resident population. The incidence rate for homicide remains very low, with 11.7 (or 11.0 excluding the Essex lorry deaths) homicides recorded per million population during the year ending March 2020, a similar rate to the previous three years.
The number of homicides increased from around 300 per year in the early 1960s to consistently over 700 in the early years of this century. This was at a faster rate than population growth over the same period, with the rate of homicide increasing from around 6 per million population in the early 1960s to 15.1 by the year ending March 2002. However, from the peak in the year ending March 2002, the volume of homicides generally decreased while the population of England and Wales continued to grow. This led to a fall in the homicide rate to a low point of 8.8 per million population in the year ending March 2015. The rate then increased until the year ending March 2018 (11.9) before a fall in the following year (11.0). The latest year shows an increase and returns the rate to a similar level seen in the year ending March 2017. However, if the Essex lorry deaths are excluded the rate is the same as last year (11.0).
The increase in homicide between the year ending March 2015 and year ending March 2018 reflected a 50% rise in the number of male victims, which increased from 319 in the year ending March 2015 to 479 in the year ending March 2018. Over the same period the number of female victims increased from 184 to 219 (19% increase).
In the latest year, there has been a 20% increase in the number of male victims (422 to 506). Conversely, the number of female victims fell by 16% (from 225 to 188), the first decrease since year ending March 2016.
Ethnicity and homicide
Just under two-thirds (443 or 64%) of all homicide victims in the year ending March 2020 were from the White ethnic group. This was a decrease of 14 victims (from 457) compared with the year ending March 2019. There were 105 victims identified in the Black ethnic group in the last year, accounting for 15% of all victims. This was an increase of nine homicides compared with the previous year and the highest number of Black victims since the year ending 2002 (107). The number of Black victims has been increasing steadily since the year ending March 2015.
Although the majority of homicide victims were White, accounting for different population sizes shows that Black people had higher rates of victimisation. In the three years to year ending March 2020, average rates per million population were around five times higher for Black victims than White victims and almost four times higher than victims of other ethnicities.
ONS researchers are keen to point out that differences in homicide rates by ethnicity are likely to be influenced by variations in demographic and socioeconomic indicators across ethnic groups which are not taken into account in these figures.
Homicide rates across all ethnic groups have increased compared with the three-year period to year ending March 2014. The homicide rate for Black victims has increased by 68% compared with the three-year period to year ending March 2014 (from 29.5 to 49.5 per million population).
There were clear differences in the age-profile between different ethnic groups. Around half (49%) of Black victims were in the 16 to 24 years age group, whereas this was a much lower proportion for Asian (25%) and White victims (12%). Three-quarters (75%) of Asian victims were aged between 16 and 44 years, while White victims were the most evenly spread across different age groups. This may partly reflect the different age distributions of ethnic groups in the population.
Other points of interest include:
- There were large differences in the profile of victim-suspect relationships between male and female victims. In the year ending March 2020, female victims were more commonly killed by a partner or ex-partner or a family member, while for males the suspected killer was more commonly a friend or acquaintance, stranger or other known person (see details of women killed by men in my summary of the Femicide census).
- As in previous years, the most common method of killing, for both male and female victims, was by a sharp instrument (including knives) (40%). Since the year ending March 2007, the proportion of homicide offences committed by a sharp instrument has fluctuated between 35% and 40%.
- In the year ending March 2020, around a half (49%, 341 offences) of all homicide cases resulted from a quarrel, a revenge attack or a loss of temper.
- The number of drug- or alcohol-related homicides fluctuates from year to year, so the analysis and commentary in this section focuses on data combined from the last three years (the year ending March 2018 to the year ending March 2020). The section is based on all victims and suspects charged from incidents recorded in that period. According to the Homicide Index, in the last three years a third (33%) of homicide victims were under the influence of alcohol and/or illicit drugs at the time of the homicide:
- 19% had been drinking alcohol
- 7% had been taking an illicit drug
- 7% were under the influence of both.