What do we know about murder in 2021?

Work with offenders looks at the House of Commons briefing on homicide

The House of Commons Library is a wonderful institution, albeit one little-known outside the confines of the Palace of Westminster. The Commons Library provides a range of services for MPs and their staff, including impartial research and access to resources and training. In particular, it publishes politically impartial policy analysis and statistical research, free for all to read in a range of formats including quick-read articles, in-depth research, and interactive data visualisations. MPs and those who work for them can request information and research from the Library team of subject specialists who answer requests related to legislation, policies, constituency-level statistics and more.

One of the key functions of the Library is the series of practical briefings it prepares every week so that MPs can be fully informed about the topics they are debating.

The House of Commons Library recently published a new briefing paper on our homicide statistics. Here are some of the interesting facts and figures Work with Offenders have gleaned from reading it.


Homicide is the killing of one person by another. In England and Wales, the two main criminal offences are murder and manslaughter. Other homicide offences include infanticide (the killing of a baby under 1-year-old by their mother while the balance of her mind was disturbed as a result of giving birth etc.), causing death through careless and dangerous driving, and corporate manslaughter.

Homicide trend

The number of homicides generally increased from the 1960s until the early 2000s. There has been a steady decrease in recorded homicides from 2002/03, when they reached a peak at 944 (the year ending March 2003 included 172 homicides committed by Dr Harold Shipman) to a low of 511 in 2014/15. The number of recorded homicides has risen in each year since with 695 homicides in the year ending March 2020.

London has the highest homicide rate

For the year ending 31 March 2020 there were 695 recorded homicides in England and Wales – a rate of 11.7 per million population. London had the highest homicide rate at 16.5 per million population. The South West had the lowest with 6 per million population.

Most murders are committed using knives

The most common method of killing (40%) in 2019/20 was use of a sharp instrument (275 out of 695 victims). This was the most common method of killing both male and female victims at 44% and 27% respectively.

Distressingly, strangulation and asphyxiation was the next most prevalent method of death for females (31 out of 188 victims). The second most common for men involved hitting, kicking, etc (95 out of 506 victims).

Most victims are men

In 2019/20, just under three quarters (73%) 506 of the total 695 victims of offences currently recorded as homicide were male and over a quarter were female (188 or 27%). Young men aged between 16 and 24 are the group most at risk.

Most victims (particularly women) are killed by people they know

The majority of homicides involve principal suspects who are known to the victim. This is more pronounced among women. In 2019/20, 32% of men and just 13% of women were killed by a stranger.


Murder has carried a mandatory life sentence in England and Wales since capital punishment was suspended in 1965. As at 31 March 2020, there were 7,071 prisoners serving life sentences (including for offences other than homicide) – a 1% increase on the year ending 31st March 2019. Of these, there were 64 whole-life prisoners (who will never be released), with 2 additional life prisoners being treated in secure hospitals.

Repeat murderers

Between April 2009 and March 2020, a total of 38 suspects were convicted of homicide having been previously convicted of homicide. Of the 38 suspects convicted for homicide, 26 (68%) did so after being released or having their sentence for a previous homicide conviction terminated. 12 were convicted while serving a sentence for homicide – in other words they killed someone while in prison or secure hospital.

How do we compare with other countries?

Although the Commons Briefing does not provided comparison with many other countries, it is clear that our homicide rate is towards the bottom end of the global scale. While our current homicide rate is 11.7 per million people, South Africa’s is 364 (more than 30 times higher) and Mexico’s 291 (almost 25 times higher) per million. At the other end of he scale, the homicide rate in Japan is just 3 per million, one quarter of our own.