The latest crime figures for England and Wales confirm the drop in the murder rate is continuing. In the financial year 2011/12 there were 550 homicides initially recorded by police, compared to 638 in 2010/11. (Homicide being murder, manslaughter and infanticide)
Now put that into context with a look at the last 50 years, which shows that we are rapidly returning to levels last seen in the 1960s. (Note that the spike of 1047 in 2002/03 included the 172 victims attributed to Harold Shipman).
If you examine the 100 years between 1898 and 1997 you can see how homicide remained pretty steady (apart from spikes in 1942 and 1945) until the 1960s, when it shot upwards.
Whereas the population of England and Wales has grown steadily over the last two hundred years (there was no census data for 1941).
But what caused that rapid growth in homicides from the 1960s onwards? Was it the state of the economy, the new ‘permissive society’, a breakdown of ‘family values’, or the effect of hard drugs like heroin and cocaine? Or a complicated combination of these factors (and others, such as the way the data is recorded)? And why has that trend reversed? Heavier sentences? Better policing?
It has been suggested that the recent decrease is down to a sustained fall in the level of domestic violence, given that around two-thirds of murders are carried out by partners, former partners or family members. There now seems to be less tolerance of violence in society, perhaps driven by media coverage of crime.