This report presents the findings of a study into the changing nature of police recorded attempted murder and serious assault (shortened to serious assault below) in Scotland. This includes new details on the characteristics of these cases, based on a random sample of police recorded crimes.
Serious assault is any attack where the victim needs hospital inpatient treatment or has any fractures / broken bones, internal injuries, severe concussion, lacerations that require stiches which may lead to impairment or disfigurement, or any other injury which may lead to impairment or disfigurement. Attempted murder is defined as attempting to kill without necessary cause, or acting in a way so reckless as to show the perpetrator was utterly regardless of the consequences.
This study into the characteristics of police recorded serious assault focused on the years of 2008-09 and 2017-18, the time between which saw the number of these crimes in Scotland decrease by 35% or 2,283 crimes (from 6,472 to 4,189).
The vast majority (89%) of the total fall in police recorded serious assault between 2008-09 and 2017-18 was due to fewer cases in the west of Scotland (centred in and around the city of Glasgow).
All of the fall in serious assault across Scotland came from fewer cases with a male victim, with little change in the number of cases with a female victim. Although the reduction in male victims has driven the total fall in serious assault since 2008-09, they still accounted for 80% of victims in 2017-18. Most male victims are seriously assaulted by acquaintances (55%) or strangers (23%), whereas females are more likely to be seriously assaulted by partners/ex-partners or relatives (52%).
Most (80%) of the fall in serious assault came from fewer cases where the perpetrator used a weapon, with the study finding that a serious assault in 2017-18 was less likely to involve a weapon than in 2008-09 (dropping from 63% to 55%).
In 2017-18, the use of a knife or other bladed/pointed article to commit a serious assault was much more common in the west of Scotland than elsewhere in the country. There was little difference across Scotland in the proportion of serious assault that involved other types of weapon.
Despite the reduction in the volume of serious assaults committed in Scotland over the past ten years, there has been no significant change in the proportion of these crimes that occur in a public setting or a private setting during this time – with most still occurring in a public setting.
The study also found that the average age of both a victim and perpetrator of serious assault in 2017-18 was several years older than their counterparts from 2008-09. This reflected a particularly large fall in the estimated rate of victimisation for people in their twenties and offending rates for teenagers (aged 13 to 19 years) and people in their twenties.
Finally, the study found that nearly two-thirds (63%) of serious assault committed in 2017-18 included a reference to the consumption of alcohol. This may somewhat underestimate the true position as police officers may not always receive enough information to identify the consumption of alcohol prior to any incident.
Overall this research suggests that fewer cases of males attacking other males in the west of Scotland, often involving relatively younger people (teenagers and those in their twenties) and the use of a weapon, have contributed the most to the reduction in serious assault over the past ten years.
Whist the police in Scotland now face fewer reports of serious assault today than a decade ago, the characteristics of these crimes are now a little less homogenous than before – with relatively fewer cases concentrated in the west of Scotland, or only involving relatively younger males. It remains the case that the use of knives or other blades is much more prevalent in the west of Scotland than elsewhere, and a majority of all serious assault committed in Scotland involved the consumption of alcohol prior to the incident.