Knife crime at eight-year high

22 October 2019
What was claimed

Knife crime has soared to a record high.

Our verdict

Correct, for England and Wales, though comparable data only goes back to 2011 and there are some data issues.

What was claimed

Knife murders fell 14% due to increased stop and search operations in London.

Our verdict

Homicides involving a knife are down, and stop and searches in London for offensive weapons are up but there’s no evidence to support the idea that one is causing the other.

“Knife crime has soared to a record high, figures revealed yesterday.

“One glimmer of hope was a 14 per cent fall in the number of knife murders – largely due to increased stop and search operations in London.”

Daily Express, 18 October 2019

Last week the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the latest crime statistics showing that knife crime in England and Wales had risen to a record high.

It’s worth noting a few things here. Firstly, while it is accurate that knife offences have risen to a record high, we only have comparable data going back to 2011. So a “record high” is maybe more fairly described as an eight-year high.

Secondly, statistics in this area aren’t perfect. Knife crime is measured using police recorded crime data and so only reflects crimes that are reported and recorded, not total crime.

The ONS says: “A rise or fall in police recorded crime does not necessarily mean the actual level of crime in society has changed. The data can be affected by changes in recording practices, policing activity and victims’ willingness to report crime.”

Also the data doesn’t include Manchester as before December 2017 knife crime was undercounted there and so you can’t compare the data over time .

Those things aside, most newspapers reported the story accurately.

However, the Express reported that knife murders had fallen 14% over the past year “largely due to increased stop and search operations in London.”

It’s correct that the number of homicides (including murders, manslaughter and infanticide) committed with knives and sharp instruments fell by 14% last year. This was mainly due to a fall in the number of homicides involving a blade in London.

It’s less clear whether the number of stop and searches increased over this time period. While the crime data in question compares the year to June 2017 and the year to June 2018, stop and search data covers a slightly different time frame, the year to March.

That aside, in 2017/18 there were around 3,000 fewer stop and searches in London overall than the year before, but around 4,000 more searches for offensive weapons specifically. So the Express has a point in saying that stop and searches increased, if what it meant was searches for offensive weapons.    

But the Express also says that that one has explicitly caused the other, and there is no evidence for that. We can’t say for sure what has caused the fall in the number of homicides involving a knife.

There was little overall change in the number of total offences involving a knife or sharp instrument in London in the last year.  And there’s evidence that previous stop and search initiatives in the capital have had a negligible effect on bringing down violent crime.

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.