Alex Massie Alex Massie

Knife Crime Hysteria?

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.”

Mr Muir’s anger is understandable and arguing against a victim’s family is never a particularly pleasant experience. Nonetheless, facts remain stubborn things. 114 people were murdered in Scotland in 2007-08, of whom 55 were killed by a “sharp instrument”. In 2003-04, by comparison, there were 108 murders and, again, 55 were committed using sharp instruments. Not great, perhaps, but on the face of it, hardly an out of control epidemic either. And of course these figures are so low that even a small increase in actual murders results in an eye-popping percentage increase. (Granted, Glasgow has a higher murder rate than most European cities and one that is on a par with the United States as a whole.

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