Information

Homicide in Scotland 2020-2021: statistics

Statistical bulletin on crimes of homicide recorded by the police in Scotland in 2020-2021.

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Commentary

Homicide cases

Table 1; Charts 1, 2

  • The number of homicide cases recorded by the police in Scotland decreased by 15% (or 10 cases) between 2019-20 and 2020-21 from 65 to 55. This is the lowest number of recorded homicide cases since comparable data became available in 1976.
  • Following a generally downward trend between 2004-05 and 2012-13 the number of homicide cases in Scotland remained relatively stable during 2012-13 to 2019-20 (with between 59 and 65 recorded each year). The decrease of 10 cases in 2020-21 is the largest one-year change since 2012-13 (Chart 1).
Chart 1: Cases recorded as homicide by the police, Scotland, 1999-00 to 2020-21
Line chart showing the number of homicide cases recorded by the police, 1999-00 to 2020-21. Broadly speaking recorded homicides have fallen over time.
  • Homicide cases involving more than one victim are relatively rare, in 2020-21 there were three cases with more than one victim (Table 1).
Table 1: Summary table of homicide cases, victims and accused persons, Scotland, 2011-12 to 2020-21
2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21
Total number of cases 91 63 61 63 59 62 59 63 65 55
Cases by number of victims:
1 victim 90 63 60 63 59 59 59 62 64 52
2 or more victims 1 - 1 - - 3 - 1 1 3
Cases by number of accused:
1 accused 66 45 47 50 48 48 45 42 55 47
2 accused 13 11 8 9 9 5 8 10 6 6
3 or more accused 10 6 6 4 1 6 5 8 3 2
Unsolved cases 2 1 - - 1 3 1 3 1 -
Total number of victims 93 63 62 63 59 65 59 64 66 58
Total number of accused 127 85 90 81 69 78 81 86 77 65
Median age of victims 35 38 42 41 37 40 39 42 45 33
Median age of accused 29 30 30 31 29 30 35 30 33 31
  • In 2020-21, Glasgow City had the highest number of homicide cases (eight), followed by North Lanarkshire (seven) (Table 2). In both areas the share of national homicides was higher than their share of Scotland’s population in 2020[1]. (15% versus 12% in Glasgow City and 13% versus 6% in North Lanarkshire.) It is important to note however that victims may not necessarily reside in the local authority where the homicide took place. Glasgow City has also witnessed a relatively larger fall in homicides of 50% since 2011-12, accounting for over a fifth (22%) of the overall national decrease.
Chart 2: Location of homicide cases, where known, Scotland, 2011-12 to 2020-21
Line chart showing the location of homicide cases, where known, 2011-12 to 2020-21. Dwelling is consistently the most common location at around 60%, with Street or footpath typically the next most common location at around 20%.
  • In 2020-21, 67% of homicides occurred within a residential location (dwelling and other residential), 27% in outdoor public places (street, footpath and open outdoor area) and 4% in indoor public places (Chart 2). In 2020-21, one case (2%) occurred within a prison (Table 3).

Victims of homicide

Table 5; Charts 3, 4

  • Between 2019-20 and 2020-21, the number of homicide victims in Scotland decreased by 12% (or eight victims), from 66 to 58 (Chart 3). The number of male victims increased by one from 47 to 48, whilst the number of female victims decreased by nine from 19 to 10.
Chart 3: Total number of victims and victims by sex, Scotland, 1999-00 to 2020-21
Line chart showing the total number of homicide victims and victims by sex, 1999-00 to 2020-21. Broadly speaking the number of victims have fallen over time and the majority of victims are male.
Chart 4: Age profile of homicide victimisation rate by sex, Scotland, 2011-12 to 2020-21
Bar chart showing age profile of homicide victimisation rate by sex, 2011-12 to 2020-21. The highest peaks are amongst males aged 21 to 30 and 31 to 50.
  • In 2020-21 there were 48 male victims, representing 83% of all homicide victims. Males are more likely to be victims compared to females, with an overall rate for males of 18 victims per million population, more than four times the rate for females (four victims per million population).
  • Chart 4 shows the victimisation rate by age group and sex for homicides since 2011-12 (i.e. for the past 10 years – representing 652 victims). For most age groups, the victimisation rate is higher for males than for females, though rates were very similar for those aged between 0 and 15 years old. The victimisation rate for males peaks in the 21 to 30 years old and 31 to 50 years old age groups.
  • The median age of a victim of homicide in 2020-21 was 33 years old, 12 years lower than in 2019-20 when the median age of a victim was 45 years old. Over the past 10 years the median age of a victim has ranged between 33 and 45 years old (Table 1).

Persons accused of homicide

Table 6; Charts 5, 6

  • The number of people accused of homicide has shown an overall downward trend since 2004-05 (Chart 5). In 2020-21, there were 65 persons accused of homicide, 12 fewer than in 2019-20. This is the lowest number since comparable records began in 1980-81.
  • The vast majority of persons accused of homicide since 2000-01 have been male, making up 92% of all accused in 2020-21.
  • All of the 55 cases of homicide recorded for 2020-21 were solved.
  • In 2020-21, the total number of individuals accused of homicide equated to 12 per million population.
  • In 2020-21, the rates for those accused of homicide varied somewhat for the 16 to 20 (24 per million population), 21 to 30 (33 per million population) and 31 to 50 (21 per million population) years old age groups.
  • Chart 6 shows the rate for accused by age group and sex for homicides since 2011-12 (i.e. for the past 10 years – representing 839 accused). The rates for males accused of homicide per million population were considerably higher across all age groups than for females.
Chart 5: Total number of accused and accused by sex, Scotland, 1999-00 to 2020-21
Bar chart showing age profile of homicide victimisation rate by sex, 2011-12 to 2020-21. The highest peaks are amongst males aged 21 to 30 and 31 to 50.
Chart 6: Age and sex profile of persons accused of homicide per million population, Scotland, 2011-12 to 2020-21
Bar chart showing age and sex profile of persons accused of homicide per million population. The largest peaks are for males age 16 to 20 and 21 to 30.
  • In 2020-21, the median age of a person accused of homicide was 31 years old, which is two years younger than in 2019-20 when the median age was 33 years old. Over the past 10 years the median age of a person accused of homicide ranged between 29 and 35 years old (Table 1).

Method

Table 7; Chart 7

  • Chart 7 shows that the most common main method of killing in each of the last 10 years was with a sharp instrument. This includes 59% (34) of homicide victims in 2020-21, of which all but two involved a knife. The next most common main method was hitting and kicking, accounting for 17% (10) of homicide victims in 2020-21.
  • Homicide by shooting is relatively rare in Scotland. In 2020-21, there were three victims recorded and since 2011-12 there have only been two other years where more than two victims were recorded (2011-12 and 2018-19).
Chart 7: Victims of homicide by main method of killing, 2011-12 to 2020-21
Line chart showing the main method of killing by victim, 2011-12 to 2020-21. Sharp instrument is consistently the most common, accounting for around half of all homicides. Hitting and kicking and blunt instrument are second and third most common, respectively. Shooting and Poisoning etc. are least common.

Relationship of main accused to victim

Tables 8-10; Charts 8-9

  • The victim and main accused were known to each other in a majority of cases, representing 91% of homicide cases solved in 2020-21. The accused was not known to the victim in two cases (3%). This latter group includes one case where the victim was not known to the accused and one case where the victim was known to the accused. The relationship to the main accused was unknown in the remaining 5% of cases.
  • Of those cases where the victim and accused were known to each other, 72% were acquaintances, 9% were partners or ex-partners and 19% were relatives.
Chart 8: Relationship between victim and main accused, by victim sex, Scotland, 2011-12 to 2020-21
Doughnut charts showing relationships between victim and accused by sex, 2011-12 to 2020-21. For female victims the most common relationship is Partner or ex-partner (41%). For male victims the most common relationship is Acquaintance (58%).
  • Chart 8 shows the percentage of homicides for male and female victims by their relationship to the main accused for all victims since 2011-12. Over the past 10 years, a majority of male victims were killed by an acquaintance (58%). In comparison, over the same period, female victims were most likely to be killed by a partner or ex-partner (41%).
  • For the latest year of 2020-21, of the 48 male victims, over two-thirds (69% or 33 victims) were killed by an acquaintance. Half of the 10 female victims were killed by an acquaintance (50% or five victims), with a further 30% (or three victims) killed by a partner or ex-partner.
Chart 9: Relationship between main accused and victim by sex, Scotland, 2011-12 to 2020-21
Bar chart showing the relationship between main accused and victim by sex, 2011-12 to 2020-21. Most victims and accused are male, with the most common relationship being acquaintance (male accused and male victim). For female victims the biggest relationship is partner or ex-partner (male accused).
  • Table 9 shows that between 2011-12 and 2020-21, a total of 32 children under the age of 16 years were victims of homicide (where there was an accused person). Of these, 63% were killed by one of their parents. Since 2011-12 there have been 11 victims aged under one year old and in all but three cases (where there was an accused person) the main accused was a parent.
  • Table 9 also shows that for all homicides recorded in the last 10 years, 59% of male victims aged between 16 and 70 years old were killed by an acquaintance, 23% were killed by a stranger, 5% were killed by a partner or ex-partner and 5% were killed by a relative. Over half (51%) of female victims aged between 16 and 70 years old were killed by their partner or ex-partner, 27% were killed by an acquaintance, 11% were killed by a relative and 7% were killed by a stranger.
  • Chart 9 shows that over two-thirds of all homicide cases (69%) recorded between 2011-12 and 2020-21 involved males killing males. Cases where the main accused and main victim were both female accounted for just 3% of the total number.

Main motive

Tables 11-14

  • The most common reasons recorded for committing homicide in the 10 year period between 2011-12 and 2020-21, were fight or quarrel, and rage or fury, with 42% of all victims in solved cases killed in such circumstances. For a further 31% of victims during this 10 year period the motive was unknown (Table 11).
  • In terms of the most recent year (2020-21), rage or fury and fight or quarrel accounted for 26% of all victims in solved cases. For 10% of victims in solved cases the motive was a feud or faction rivalry, this is similar to the last 10 years (10%). In 47% of solved cases the motive was unknown.
  • In the period 2011-12 to 2020-21, 85% of all female victims were killed in a dwelling, compared with 54% of males. Table 12 also shows the location, relationship and motives associated with all homicides recorded over the past 10 years. The most common set of circumstances associated with a male victim are a rage or fight with an acquaintance in a dwelling (accounting for 16% of male victims). The second most common set of circumstances are a rage or fight with an acquaintance not in a dwelling, accounting for a further 13% of male victims.
  • The most common set of circumstances associated with a female victim are a rage or fight with a partner or ex-partner in a dwelling (accounting for 16% of female victims). The second most common set of circumstances are an unknown motive with partner or ex-partner in a dwelling, accounting for a further 15% of female victims.
  • Forty-one (71%) victims were reported to have been killed in drug-related homicide cases in 2020-21, of which 35 were male (Table 13). This is an increase of 10 victims on the 31 reported in 2019-20. The number of drug-related homicide cases is higher over the past five years than in preceding years, though Police Scotland advise that this may be due at least in part to an improvement in recording practice (i.e. better identification of where motives can include a drug-related element). Given this, users are advised to exercise some caution when comparing this variable with years prior to 2016-17.
  • None of the homicides recorded in 2020-21 were reported to have had a homophobic or racial motivation. In all homicide cases in the 10 years leading up to 2020-21, 1% had a homophobic or racist motivation (Table 14).

Use of alcohol and drugs

Tables 15-18; Chart 10

  • Of the 65 persons accused in homicide cases in 2020-21, 40 (62%) were reported to have been under the influence of alcohol, drugs or a combination of both at the time of the homicide. These 40 accused break down into 17 (26% of all accused) who were under the influence of alcohol, 17 (26%) who were under the influence of alcohol and drugs and six (9%) who were under the influence of drugs alone (Table 15).
Chart 10: Distribution of the accused of homicide under the influence of alcohol [2] by day of the week 2011-12 to 2020-21
Bar chart showing the distribution of accused under the influence of alcohol by day of the week, 2011-12 to 2020-21. The percentage is highest for the weekend days, Friday (16%), Saturday (21%), and Sunday (20%).
  • In 2020-21, the alcohol and drug status of the accused was unknown for 20 persons, 31% of all accused. Five accused persons (8%) were reported to have been neither under the influence of alcohol nor drugs at the time of the homicide (Table 15).
  • In the 10 year period between 2011-12 and 2020-21, around half (46%) of all accused were reported to have been under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs at the time of the homicide. This is higher for males (47%) than females (38%) (Table 16).
  • Chart 10 shows that over the last 10 years, 21% (75) of homicides, where the accused was suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or alcohol and drugs, occurred on a Saturday. Furthermore, just over half of homicides where the accused was under the influence of alcohol or alcohol and drugs (57% or 202) occurred during the weekend (i.e. Friday, Saturday and Sunday).

Comparator statistics

Table 4; Chart 11

  • This bulletin has reported a decreasing trend in homicides over the longer term. Chart 11 shows this trend and compares it to the trend in attempted murder and serious assaults. This latter information is taken from the Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2020-21 bulletin. Over the 10 year period between 2011-12 and 2020-21, the reduction in levels of homicide has broadly followed a similar fall in levels of attempted murder and serious assault. The number of homicide cases has fallen by 38% over the last 10 years, compared with a 44% fall in attempted murder and a 23% fall in serious assault.
  • Similar to Scotland, England & Wales also produce National Statistics on Homicide, which is extracted from a dedicated database - the Home Office Homicide Index. The latest data published was for the 2019-20 reporting year[3].
  • Direct comparisons between Scotland and England & Wales should be treated with some caution due to uncertainty around different counting and classification conventions.
  • Further to this, users should note that in England & Wales, as in Scotland, it is possible for homicides that occurred sometime in the past to be recorded in more recent years. For example whilst the data for 2020-21 are not yet available, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has previously highlighted that earlier figures for 2016-17 included the 96 victims of Hillsborough which occurred in 1989, representing 14% of all victims in 2016-17.
Chart 11: Indices in selected crimes of violence, Scotland, 2011-12 to 2020-21
Line chart showing Homicide, Serious assault and Attempted murder from 2011-12 to 2020-21 indexed by their 2011-12 value. All three violent crimes have reduced over the ten year period.
  • One area where some general comparisons can be made are the broad trends in changes over time between Scotland and England & Wales, though still allowing for the caveats outlined above.
  • In Scotland, the number of homicide cases has fallen over the longer term but remained relatively stable during 2012-13 to 2019-20 (with between 59 and 65 cases each year). There was then a larger one-year decrease of 10 cases (or 15%) in 2020-21. The latest publication for 2019-20 reported that in England & Wales the number of incidents recorded in the year ending March 2020 was similar to the previous two years.

Contact

Email: Justice_Analysts@gov.scot

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