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If you watch a lot of British mysteries, it's only natural to start wondering if people in the UK are constantly killing each other. Every time I go over, my grandmother is full of helpful warnings like, “Don't go walking alone on the moors at night,” or, “Don't go to Midsomer – you'll get murdered!” This is usually where I point out that Midsomer Murders is actually filmed in various villages and towns around a couple counties, but that doesn't help much. It's not just her, either. Over and over, I hear people (seriously) talking about the high British murder rate. But is it REALLY as high as the murder mysteries would suggest?
Murder Rates in the United Kingdom vs. United States
Since most of us here are from the United States, we'll use it for comparison.
Murders with firearms
With one of the lowest gun homicide rates in the world, the UK is a clear winner here. Although UK citizens are allowed to own guns (after jumping through a few hoops to ensure they aren't passed out willy nilly), they just don't use them all that often. A few key stats:
- In the year 2015, UK police fired their guns a total of 7 times. That is considered somewhat high compared to other years. If you adjusted that for the larger US population, that would be like US police using firing their guns 35 times total in an entire year, across the entire nation. Since 995 people were shot dead by US police in 2015, I think it's safe to assume they used their guns a few times more than that.
- In 2013, the United States had 11,208 homicides by gun (and another 73,505 non-fatal firearms injuries). The United Kingdom typically sees between 20 and 40 gun homicides annually. When you look at it on a per capita basis, you're more than 100x more likely to be murdered with a gun in the United States.
Again, the UK is a clear winner. The United States as a whole sees around 4.88 murders per 100,000 inhabitants with a total of 15,696 murders in 2015. The United Kingdom has just under 1 murder per 100,000 inhabitants (.92) with a total of 592 murders in 2014. The years are different because those were the data sources I found first, but in both cases, the numbers are “typical” years – not significantly above or below what you'd normally see in any other year.
No matter what you see on Midsomer Murders or Marple or Shetland or Vera, you're much, much more likely to get murdered in the United States. Aside from that, if you DO get murdered in the UK, it's much more likely to happen in a city (and not some gorgeous Cotswold village).
The Most Dangerous Parts of the United Kingdom
If you're trying to stay safe in the United Kingdom, it's not Midsomer you need to avoid (again, not a real place but a group of towns and villages in rural Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire) – it's London, West Yorkshire, Glasgow, Manchester, and the like (though the rankings do fluctuate from year to year).
Even in its murder hotspots, though, the UK is still a pretty safe place. In most years, London's homicide rate per 100,000 is around 2. For Glasgow, one of the most dangerous cities in Europe, it's around 2.7 per 100,000. Compare that to some US cities:
- Anchorage, AK – 8.6
- Anaheim, CA – 5.2
- Chicago, IL – 23.8
- Dallas, TX – 10.4
- Detroit, MI – 43.4
- Indianapolis, IN – 17.1
- Louisville, KY – 11.9
- San Francisco, CA – 6.1
- St. Louis, MO – 59.8
- St. Paul, MN – 5.3
- Omaha, NE – 10.6
Think about that for a moment. A person is more than twice as likely to be murdered in St. Paul, Minnesota…than in London.
The Safest Places in the United Kingdom
Of course, if you want to be extra cautious, you'll book it out of London and head somewhere a little calmer. Inspector Morse fans may be surprised to know that Oxford ranks as 9th safest city in the UK, based on a poll that asked people how safe they feel. Aberystwyth, the setting for Hinterland, was ranked as safest. Other cities that scored well include Edinburgh (home to Rebus and The Escape Artist), Brighton (the setting for one great Lovejoy episode), and Norwich (setting for many episodes of Tales of the Unexpected and the movie 45 Years).