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Crime in the UK

The UK is a relatively safe place to live, work, and study, but like all countries, there is crime in the UK. In the year between 2019 and 2020, the overall crime rate in the UK was 96.4 crimes per 1,000 people, with the crime rate being slightly higher in England and Wales than it was in Scotland.

How Much Crime is There in the UK?

Crime rates are certainly climbing in the UK: a key example of this is that in 2019/2020 there were a total of 6.34 million crimes committed across the UK whilst in the year 2013/2014 this figure sat at a much lower 4.4 million recorded crimes and has been steadily rising since.

The crime rate in the UK varies considerably depending on where in the country you are based. The highest crime rate, for example, is in the area of Cleveland in the North West of England, where there are 129 crimes committed per 1,000 people. In the relatively tranquil and significantly more rural community of Wiltshire in South West England, just 55.8 crimes were reported in a 12-month period per 1,000 people. Often the best way to assess the amount of crime in a country is to look at its capital city and how safe it is to spend time there. In London in the year 2021/2022, the crime rate was 92.3 per 1,000 people.

How Does it Compare to the Rest of the World?

Whilst these figures might seem daunting, and taken in isolation could create the impression that the UK is a crime-riddled society, in reality, the crime rate in the UK is relatively low, particularly when compared to the rest of the world. This is particularly true when compared to other first-world countries.

When looking at the European crime index, the UK is ranked 8th out of 39 countries. This means that we rank slightly higher than Belgium, but below Ireland and Bosnia. Unsurprisingly, Switzerland is considered to be the safest country in Europe according to these figures. But these figures don’t tell the whole story; they look at all crimes, which means that a petty crime such as bicycle theft is counted in the same way as a violent homicide. Perhaps it makes more sense, therefore, to look at homicide rates in isolation.

In the UK, for example, there are only 1.2 intentional homicides per 100,000 people. This means that the United Kingdom sits in 174th place in the global rankings for intentional homicide, out of a possible 220 countries. This homicide rate is slightly less than the wider EU average. And at the top of this list sits El Salvador, which experiences a devastating 82.84 murders per 100,000 people, providing a sharp contrast to the incredibly low figures coming from the UK. Comparing the crime rates in the UK to the crime rates in the EU shows that our rates are remarkably similar to other EU countries. But comparing our crime rates to those of the wider world, suddenly the UK begins to look like a very safe place to live.

Given our shared language and similar cultures, the final comparison that should be made is between the UK and the USA. America has a huge problem with both violent crime and drug crime. If we look at the crime rates in the largest cities in both nations, then we will see that London appears to have far less of a problem with violent crime than many major US cities. The two countries have broadly similar levels of urbanisation, unemployment, and poverty, but whilst the homicide rate in the UK is just 1.2 per 100,000 people, the homicide rate in the USA is 5.3 per 100,000.

What Type of Crime is Most Common?

In the year ending March 2021, there were 5.4 million crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales. During periods of national lockdown, incidents decreased for many types of crime, but it is clear that crimes were still being committed, even during this unusual period.  The most common of these crimes were:

  • Fraud and computer misuse. This period saw a 47% increase in this type of online crime, making it the most common type of crime in the UK
  • Criminal damage. This is the second most common type of crime in the UK, and this fairly broad title refers to destroying or damaging the property or belongings of another person without consent or treating another person’s property or belongings in a way that is deemed reckless and could lead to damage
  • Vehicle-related theft. This is the third most common type of crime in the UK and the most self-explanatory on the list, referring to taking a vehicle without consent
  • Violence. The broad category of violence perhaps explains why this is the fourth most common type of crime in the UK. This figure also includes rates of domestic violence, which increased during the lockdown period, as many victims were stuck at home with their abusive partners or spouses
  • Sexual offences. Although not in the top five most common crimes in the UK, sexual offences are worthy of note because the number of Sexual offences recorded by the police was at the highest level recorded within a 12-month period (170,973 offences) between September 2020 and September 2021

It’s important to note that those crimes deemed to be most serious and morally repugnant, such as murder, drug crimes, or crimes against children, do not appear on the list of the ten most common crimes committed in the UK. That doesn’t mean that they don’t happen, of course, but that their occurrences are rare enough to be worth public note and media attention when they do occur.

Jack the Ripper

UK’s Most Famous Criminals

There are more criminals in the world, and in the UK, than you might think. According to the United Nations, 144 in every 100,000 global citizens are part of the prison population. That means that there are more than 10.35 million criminals in prison worldwide. Some of the UK’s most dangerous and notorious criminals include:

  • Jack the Ripper. The true identity of Jack the Ripper is still unknown, but this Victorian serial killer is known globally for terrorising the streets of East London. He predominantly targeted female prostitutes in the city, and much of his infamy arises from the fact that he was never caught. In fact, although we have repeatedly referred to Jack the Ripper as ‘he’, the killer was so skilled at evading the authorities and removing all evidence from the scene of the crime that even ‘his’ gender could not be officially ascertained
  • Harold Shipman. What makes Harold Shipman’s crimes so notorious, and so shocking, is both their scale and the fact that Shipman held a position of power and authority within his community. Harold Shipman was a GP who is believed to have murdered over 200 of his patients, though he was only convicted of 15 murders. All of his victims were killed by a lethal injection of diamorphine, earning Shipman the nickname ‘Dr Death’. Shipman was sentenced to life imprisonment for his crimes but later died by suicide in prison. Shipman is the only doctor in the history of British medicine to be found guilty of murdering his patients, and his crimes raised serious questions about the powers given to the medical fraternity in the UK
  • Peter Sutcliffe. Peter Sutcliffe is perhaps better known by his infamous nickname, ‘The Yorkshire Ripper’ which was given by the British media due to the similarities between the crimes of the then-unidentified Sutcliffe and Jack the Ripper. When he was ultimately caught, Sutcliffe was convicted of murdering 13 women and injuring nine others, over a period of five years between 1975 and 1980, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment. During this period, many women in the Yorkshire area feared leaving their homes after dark, because they did not want to be his next victim. Sutcliffe died in prison in 2020
  • Ronnie and Reggie Kray. The Kray Brothers lead an organised crime syndicate in London’s East End during the 1950s and 1960s when they were considered to be the most feared men in England who ‘ruled London’ with an iron fist. The Kray’s gang (known as ‘The Firm’) was notorious for committing murders, armed robberies, and arson, amongst other lesser crimes. The Krays regularly rubbed shoulders with celebrities, politicians and other influential players, making their position even more dangerous. In 1968 both brothers were arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment
  • Charles Salvador. Charles Salvador is better known as Charles Bronson and is notorious not just for his crimes, but for his behaviour behind bars. Salvador is known as Britain’s most violent prisoner, and Britain’s most notorious prisoner, and once behind bars he incited prison riots, and violence, and took a prison employee hostage. Bronson is still behind bars and remains one of the UK’s longest-serving prisoners
crime scene investigation

UK’s Most Dangerous Areas

Whilst the vast majority of crime in the UK is relatively minor, some areas in the UK not only experience more crime than others but more dangerous crime too. Looking at the statistics collated from the year 2021/2022, the five most dangerous areas of the UK are:

  • Cleveland. As mentioned above, Cleveland is officially the UK’s most dangerous area, with 129 crimes per 1,000 people. Cleveland is a small area in the Northeast of England with a population of just 569,800 but it still maintains the highest crime rate in the country. Perhaps even more surprisingly, Cleveland is a universally criminal area. Looking at the 23 categories that police forces and statisticians divide UK crime into, Cleveland has the worst crime rate across all categories. Cleveland’s high crime rate cannot be attributed to simply minor crimes. The margin differences between Cleveland and the rest of the UK are in some of the most serious and problematic areas, including ‘violence against the person’, ‘violence with injury’, ‘stalking and harassment’, ‘criminal damage and arson’, and ‘possession of weapons’. Spare a thought for those police officers who dedicate their lives to the force in Cleveland!
  • West Yorkshire. West Yorkshire is a relatively large area that comprises the cities of Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds, and Wakefield. The area has a dense population of 2,345,200. Population density often leads to crime, and this is true in the case of West Yorkshire. There are 125.5 crimes per 1,000 people committed in West Yorkshire and violent crimes are of particular concern. It has incredibly high scores in the categories of ‘violence against the person’, ‘violence with injury’, and ‘violence without injury’
  • Greater Manchester. Another area where population density can be considered a contributing factor to crime, Greater Manchester boasts 124.3 crimes per 1,000 people. Its 2,848,300 residents account for over a third of all people in the North West and yet the region only covers 493 square miles. High population density creates fertile ground for thieves and Greater Manchester tops the table in the categories of ‘robbery’, ‘theft offences’, and ‘burglary’. However, the rates of violent crime in Greater Manchester are not as high as in Cleveland or West Yorkshire
  • West Midlands. This is the second most populous county in England after Greater London and has a crime rate of 123 crimes per 1,000 people. Theft and violent crimes are the two most common crimes in the region, painting a bleak picture of communities driven by fear. ‘Violence against the person’ was recorded at a rate of 54.9 per 1,000 (the national average is a much lower 35 per 1,000) and the rate of ‘Violence without injury’ is double that found anywhere else in the region
  • Merseyside. Merseyside comprises the boroughs of Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral, and the city of Liverpool, and it is statistically the fifth most dangerous area in the UK. The main reason for Merseyside’s appearance on this list is drug-related crimes. Whilst the region boasts relatively low levels of crime in the categories of ‘violence against the person’ and ‘violence without injury’ and the lowest ‘sexual offences’ rate in the North West, it tops the charts for ‘drug offences’ and has the highest drug-related crime rate in the country by a considerable margin
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