Murder rate in Scotland at its lowest since late 70s

Scotland's murder rate is at its lowest level for more than three decades after falling by a fifth during the last year, newly released figures have revealed.

A total of 78 cases of homicide were recorded by Scotland's police forces during 2009-10 - the lowest number of incidents since 1979.

Knife attacks in Scotland accounted for nearly half the murder toll during 2009-10, sparking calls for tougher action against criminals caught carrying blades.

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The figures from Scotland's chief statistician showed knife killings fell from 57 to 35 during the past year - a drop of 22.

But the statistics also showed that a large proportion of murders recorded during 2009-10 were carried out by younger men, while others involved alcohol-fuelled attacks, with a large number of homicides in the west of Scotland.

A total of 84 per cent of all Scottish suspects facing murder charges during 2009-10 were male, while the accused rate per million population was nearly six times greater for 16 to 20 year old males than the national average.

More than half of all the recorded murders - 55 per cent - took place in the Strathclyde Police area during 2009-10.

A total of 44 per cent of Scotland's murders during 2009-10 were committed with a sharp instrument, while almost 50 per cent of all those accused of homicide were under the influence of drink or drugs at the time of the attack.

• Analysis: 'Homicide rates fluctuate, so this could be just a blip'

The Scottish Government last night welcomed the figures, but police chiefs cautioned that the latest drop may not be statistically significant and said murder rates can fluctuate year by year.

Scotland's justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, welcomed the overall fall in the country's murder toll, but expressed concern about knife crime, which he claimed "blights parts of Scotland" along with the country's "damaging relationship with alcohol".

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He said: "While this significant drop means fewer families are having to come to terms with the consequences of such a terrible crime, we still have to work hard to reduce further the number of killings by tackling the booze and blades culture that still blights parts of Scotland."The significant drop we have seen in the number of homicides that involve a knife is very welcome, but our strenuous efforts to rid Scotland of knife crime will continue, be it through the courts as we crack down hard on those that carry weapons, or by education as we work with youngsters through campaigns such as No Knives, Better Lives.

"These figures also demonstrate the terrible cost of Scotland's damaging relationship with alcohol, with nearly half of all those accused of homicide found to be under the influence of drink or drugs at the time of the incident.

"The links between alcohol and violent crime are already well known, and that is why we have already taken tough action, through the Alcohol Bill, to address Scotland's drinking culture by ending irresponsible drinks promotions and tightening up the rules surrounding the sale of alcohol in off-licences."

Labour's justice spokesman, Richard Baker, claimed that those caught carrying knives should face automatic jail sentences. He said: "While the overall decrease in the number of homicides is to be welcomed, there can be no complacency when stabbings continue to account for three times as many homicides as the second most common method of killing.

"What is most worrying is that Labour's repeated calls for the SNP to get tough on knife crime have fallen on deaf ears. When so many Scots continue to die at the hands of knife criminals it is clear more needs to be done.

"That is why within the first year of a Labour Scottish government tough new legislation would be introduced to make it clear that if you carry a knife, you will go to jail."

The Labour MSP also expressed concern about Scottish Government figures released earlier this year, which showed 1,178 people in 2009-10 were admitted to hospital after they were injured in knife attacks.

Mr Baker said: "These figures show knife crime is a very serious problem for all parts of Scottish society and that the murder rate could go up unless we take tough action against people convicted of carrying knives."

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A senior Scottish police officer also warned murder and other violent crime could "fluctuate" and said more needed to be done to reduce the country's homicide rate.

Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan, the head of Scotland's Violence Reduction Unit, said: "Obviously any drop in the homicide rate is to be welcomed, but we should remember that these figures only cover a 12-month period: the figures for violence and in particular murder and attempted murder can fluctuate year on year for a range of reasons. If this trend continues, then it is a step in the right direction for violence reduction.

"However, although there may have a drop in the number of homicides, there have still been too many as a whole - every death caused by violence is a death too many."Most concerning is the fact that nearly 50 per cent of the perpetrators of homicides were under the influence of alcohol or drugs - we need to continue to work hard to tackle these problems and thus prevent more violent incidents and deaths."