Alex Massie

Knife Crime Hysteria?

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There's an old newspaper adage that "If it bleeds, it leads" that helps explain the current obsession with knife crime. But there's another old truth that it would be useful to remember: news, almost by definition, is defined by what is rare and unusual, not what is common. The more coverage an event or pattern receives, the more exceptional it is likely to be.

There was a knife crime "summit" at the Scottish parliament today at which John Muir, whose son Damian was stabbed to death in Greenock in 2007, called for mandatory jail sentences for anyone caught carrying a knife:

Mr Muir, 69, said his son's death was one of "the shameful violent statistics which have blighted the Scottish nation for decades". 

And he claimed there had been "a very nearly criminal institutional failure" to tackle the problem of knife crime.

He added: "That failure is borne by the frequency of the disgraceful statistics which shame Scotland.

"However, the statistics are real people. All and every one of the statistics represents a real victim and a person whose life has been taken or shattered, as well as their families and friends."

murdered

higher murder rate

whole

Washington Post

In England and Wales, according to the British Crime Survey, knives were used in 6% of violent incidents, and 19% of "serious violent incidents" (lower figures than for police recorded crime because the BCS is based upon a "much wider range of violent offences.") According to the Offending Crime and Justice Survey of 10-25 year-olds just 3% of 10-25 year-olds had carried a knife to protect themselves in the past 12 months and 54% reported only doing so once or twice. In 46% of cases the knife being carried was a pen-knife.

Now perhaps the statistics are wrong. Perhaps they are being corrupted or juked. But if they're not then it's hard to see that there is, in fact, a knife epidemic. That's no consolation, of course, to the victims and their families. But it ought to make politicians think twice before endorsing the (terrible) idea of mandatory minimum sentences for knife-related crime or for proposing that anyone accused of a knife-related crime should be denied bail.

So, yes, again there is a problem. But no, that problem doesn't seem as great as media coverage might have one believe,

Standard Crime-Related Disclaimer: Obviously, it's easier to take a broader view of these matters from the seclusion of the Yarrow Valley than it might be if I lived in Brixton or Paisley or Liverpool.

UPDATE: Aaargh. This makes for unfortunate timing, but it doesn't change the underlying reality. I think.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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