Trends in knife homicide in England and Wales

Richard Garside
Tuesday, 29 April 2014

There is no getting away from the awfulness of what unfolded yesterday at Corpus Christi Catholic College. The fatal stabbing of teacher Ann Maguire was a shocking event.

A much respected public servant, committed to one of the most important responsibilities of all - educating the next generation - killed in distressing circumstances in front of a number of her students and colleagues.

It is far too early to draw conclusions, and wrong to speculate, about the events that led up to her death. It will also be of scant comfort to those affected that such violent deaths in school are thankfully extraordinarily rare.

What of the wider picture in relation to homicide? The most recent assessment from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) highlights a declining trend.

'Over recent years,' it notes, 'the number of currently recorded homicides has shown a generally downward trend and the numbers for 2012/13 (551) and 2011/12 (530) were the lowest since 1989 (521).'

Trends in knife homicides

What of homicides involving a knife? Within the ONS dataset this is categorised as 'sharp instrument' homicide, which includes implements such as broken bottles or glasses, as well as knives.

This has also shown declines over recent years, as illustrated by the graph below.

In 2002/03, there were an estimated 265 male and female victims of a sharp instrument homicide in England and Wales. This number stayed relatively stable and peaked at 272 in 2006/07. Since then it has declined, reaching 194 in 2012/13.

The trend for male sharp instrument homicide victims followed a similar trajectory: 182 in 2002/03; rising to 209 in 2007/08 and declining to 137 in 2012/13.

There were fewer female sharp instrument homicide victims by 2012/13, compared with a decade earlier: 57 compared with 83 in 2002/03.

There were also fewer female sharp instrument homicide victims than male across the whole period, as there were fewer female than male homicide victims more generally.

Who kills whom?

There are also important differences between males and females when it comes to who kills them.

Male homicide victims are generally killed by friends, acquaintances and strangers.

Most female homicide victims are killed by partners and ex-partners or other members of their own family.

None of this will be of much comfort to Ann Maguire's family and friends, students and colleagues, as they come to terms with their loss.

It should, though, reassure teachers and their students, their families and friends, that our schools are generally safe places to be.

Ann Maguire's death was shocking in part because it was so rare.