Characteristics Of Murders In England And Wales Criminology Essay

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From apparently ordinary men who, seemingly, without warning decide to kill their own families or embark on a killing frenzy at their place of work, to committed murderers who engage in the type of killing spree that ended fashion designer Gianni Versace's life, the question for many is often why? Why do people commit murder? It is never easy to always attribute the true motive to an offence due to the subjective element of it and the fact that there may often be more than one motive [1] . However it is safe to say that people commit murder for numerous reasons. One motive frequently submitted is revenge. Usually, when vengeance is behind the action to kill another human being the perpetrator is not thinking clearly, isn't in a rational state and has lost control which results in the instant decision to murder someone, a murder that is born out of anger. Most murders which are committed for vengeful reasons are not premeditated or planned, however some killings are, some may actually be planned for months, years even. Revenge is certainly one of the main reasons people murder but not the only one. Serial killers or devoted murderers and those who are pathologically insane murder people as a way of living their lives, they need to kill. Many of these killers have diseased minds that falsify complex thoughts of torture, mutilation and rape. There are a number of reasons which cause the type of psychological damage which induces them to murder - being abused as a child or simply being born with a harmful mental illness. Whatever the reason unfortunately the consequences are the same. But who commits these crimes? How often do they occur? Who are the victims? Are they preventable?

It is generally considered that most victims of murder know their killer. In their study on murder in England and Wales in the late 70's Morris and Blom-Cooper noted:

Earlier studies of homicide established that murder was over-whelming a domestic crime. More than half of the persons indicted for murder each year have a familial relationship, and up to two thirds of all have had a personal relationship of some duration/or intensity with the victim. Only about a quarter of the total number of murder victims have been total strangers to their victims [2] .

In a separate study conducted by author Barry Mitchell in the 1980's confirmed this view [3] , he recorded that between 1978-1982 77.6 per cent of murderers knew their victim. Both of these two surveys are important for the comparative analysis of the characteristics of murder from that period to the place we have reached in contemporary England and Wales today. In Mitchell's study he found that the relationship which was most common between offender and victim was between friends or acquaintances, accounting for 39.6% of all murders. The official statistics released from the Home Office covering the same category of relationship for the same period reported 23.7% for homicides generally (Home Office, 1986). During that period there was much public concern about the perception of increased firearm crime as is often the cause of concern for the public today in 2010. However Morris and Blom-Cooper found that in actual fact it was not a characteristic of homicide with only 378 out of 4110 being shot. Another public anxiety in today's society is the rise in knife related murders. Morris and Blom-Cooper found that between 22-40 per cent of offenders indicted for murder between 1957 - 1977 had used such a weapon. Circumstances surrounding the murder in Mitchell's study recorded one fifth of murders were committed in the furtherance of theft or other material gain. Furthermore in nine of Mitchell's 54 cases no premeditated violence had been employed by the offender, it appears therefore that they had been disturbed whilst committing a theft or burglary and lashed out instantly with whatever weapon they can find. Mitchell also found that little research had been conducted on when and where murder is committed and identified that most crime (63.2%) occurred between 6pm and 6am and perhaps rather unsettling almost half of murders committed took place within the victim's home (48.4%).

In 2003 a study was released from the University of Bristol which examined the characteristics of murder from a socio-economic perspective [4] . Authors Mary Shaw, Helena Tunstell and Danny Dorling observed how:

A common theme in the study of murder can be read as a form of social barometer, indicating something of the quality of social relations, whether at the micro or macro-level, within a society [5] .

The study recorded how there was increasing inequalities in the exposure of murder in England and Wales and Britain generally as a result of the demographic distribution. It noted how that in 1997 the murder rate was 20 per cent higher in Scotland than that of England and Wales and assessed this in a European and international context. There is much debate in relation to whether there is a correlation between income inequality and murder rates [6] , the right realist perspective rejects the notion. However there appears to be firm evidence supporting a link between socio-economic status and homicide, and it has been found that individuals with a low socio-economic status are more at risk from homicide in places such as Germany and the USA [7] . In England and Wales there is also a correlation with murder and socio-economic conditions at the individual level, data from England and Wales suggests that the most likely to be murdered are the unemployed [8] . The 'Homicide Index' demonstrates that in England and Wales between 1995 - 1999 approximately 40 per cent of victims of homicide were unemployed. Brookman and Maguire's study further suggest that there is evidence to show that certain occupations such as security staff and prostitutes are singled out as in a heightened risk of murder. Between 2001 - 2002 murder rates hit a 35 year high with 838 recorded murders. Due to this increasing trend over 50 per cent of the total number of murders were attributable alone to the preceding fifteen years up to 2002; although it was still a relatively uncommon cause of death it was nonetheless a significant increase in the rate in homicide for England and Wales. Shaw, Tunstall and Dorling's study also produced an alarming pattern in the demographic and spatial distribution of murders. Using the Breadline Poverty Index the study revealed out of the least poor there were approximately 35 murders recorded in England and Wales however this figure dramatically increased to 211 murders in the most poorest category. The main methods of murder were placed into five categories: (i) fighting (ii) poisoning (iii) strangling (iv) firearms (v) knife or sharp weapon. The study eliminates the misconception that gun crime is the main factor for the higher rates of murder in poorer areas of England and Wales with only 11% of murder victims being killed with firearms in these areas. However Brookman and Maguire note that despite this finding in the three years up to 2002 the figures nonetheless doubled for murders where a firearm was used.

Figures released from the Home Office for 2009 [9] however show a significant reduction in the murder rate with a 14 per cent drop, it is a twenty year low for England and Wales with 651 deaths recorded. In 2008 the figure was higher with 753 murders occurring but overall the number of murders taking place in England and Wales in the latter part of the decade was part of a reductionist pattern. Home Office officials have suggested that the reason for this decrease is due to advances in medical science which has helped to save the lives of would be murder victims. The weapon of choice for most murderers is the knife or other sharp instrument, for example a broken bottle frequently used as a choice of weapon, which accounts for 255 out of the 651 deaths which resulted due to a fatal stabbing. In 2008 the figure was higher for murders where the weapon used was a knife was 271. The police figures reveal that there has been a 12 per cent reduction in knife crime and a further significant reduction in robberies and cases of grievous bodily harm which seem to contradict the Home Office conclusions that it is not improved treatment that lay behind the reason for the reduction in the figures for murder. Encouraging figures for gun crime is also recorded with the number of murder victims reduced to 39 in 2009 from 53 in 2008 - this is the lowest recorded figure since 1989. A tragic indictment of our society is that overall analysis of the Home Office figures demonstrates the most at risk category are babies under the age of twelve months where the murder rate is 27 per million. The second most common individual to be a victim of murder is a male aged between 16-29, 459 males were victims of murder which constitutes over two thirds of all murder victims whereas 192 murder victims were female. The over seventies are the least likely to be a victim of murder. The overall risk to the general population of being a victim of murder is 12 per million. Using data collected between 2005 - 2007 the Home Office have stated that the figures for murder in England and Wales largely reflect what is occurring in other western European countries.

Critically Evaluate the Arguments For and Against Capital Punishment as a Response to Murder Generally and In Relation To Serial Killers and Mass Murderers

The arguments surrounding the use of capital punishment are as old as the punishment itself. In the United Kingdom the death penalty was a method of state punishment until 1965 when, after a series of controversial cases, Parliament voted to suspend it for a period of five years under Sydney Silverman's Private Members Bill, although high treason and piracy would still remain capital offences. It wasn't until the 27th January 1999 that capital punishment was abolished in the United Kingdom, for all offences, by the signing of the 6th Protocal of the European Convention on Human Rights by the Home Secretary on behalf of the British government. One of the key arguments for the use of the death penalty is that it will serve as a deterrent for would be offenders. However it has been a major challenge for many criminologists for many years as to whether it is a deterrent and numerous investigations have provided uncertain and inconclusive results. Criminologists Michael Radelet and Ronald Akers conducted a survey of seventy past presidents of various academic sociologist associations in America and discovered that only eight of these eminent sociologists believed that the death penalty served as a deterrent to committing murder [10] . However many supporters of capital punishment cite the Singapore example, a country which employs a strict criminal justice code, a country which has a low serious crime rate and a country which almost always carries out executions where a sentence of death has been handed down. However the nature of the crime also determines whether the death penalty will serve as a deterrent for if the offender has made plans and his/her actions are premeditated then capital punishment will be more effective as a deterrent, whereas if an offender has committed murder in the heat of the moment capital punishment will be less influential as a deterrent. In relation to serial killers and mass murderers the deterrent effect is virtually diminished altogether. In 1973 Isaac Ehrlich released a study entitled 'The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: A Question of Life and Death [11] ', he employed a different approach and generated results which demonstrated that for every offender who was executed seven further lives were saved because the deterrent effect had proven successful and had deterred others committing murder. A study released in 2009 by American scholars John J. Donahue from Yale Law School and Justin Wolfers from University of Pennsylvania examined the impact of the death penalty on the prevention of murder, they acknowledged that:

There is little clarity about the knowledge potential murderers have concerning the risk of execution: are they influenced by the passage of a death penalty statute, the number of executions in a state, the proportion of murders in a state that leads to an execution, and details about the limited state of murders that are potentially susceptible to a sentence of death? [12] 

In their attempts to determine the depth, accuracy and geographic precision of the information accessible to potential murderers part of Donahue and Wolfers study centres on the use of the death penalty in New York. During the 1980's and early 1990's crime in New York increased dramatically. In 1994 Republican George Pataki won the governorship partly on the basis that he would reintroduce the death penalty to the state and in 1995 this was achieved. During the mid 1990's the murder rate began to drop. However in 2004 the US Supreme Court declared New York's capital punishment law unconstitutional which effectively rendered the end of its use. David Frum from the American Enterpirse Institute stated that the reintroduction of the death penalty induced the recorded lower rates in murder (Frum, 2006). Donahue and Wolfers claim this is unsubstantiated as the decline in the murder rate began before 1995 but also admit that New York experienced an 'unusually large post-1995 murder rate decline' which continued for a number of years. Yet again it appears that despite a prime cotemporary example of how capital punishment is introduced (or reintroduced) into a society and then subsequently removed it is still difficult to guage a clear understanding of the extent of the impact of capital punishment on murder rates.

The second most common justification for the death penalty is that it serves as retribution - the concept that all guilty people, and only guilty people, must be punished and that the punishment must be in proportion to the offence. Retribution advocates that the offender must get what they deserve and where that crime is murder then the appropriate response within the retribution model is death. There is also a pro-capital punishment argument in that ultimately it is largely the innocent taxpaying public who will have to pay the cost of incarcerating an offender who has been given a life sentence for murder instead of a death sentence. Many argue it is not the role of the state to support this and it would be better if governments spent their limited resources in other areas.

One of the most significant arguments against using capital punishment is that genuinely innocent people will be wrongly convicted and subsequently wrongly sentenced to death and that there can never be any possible means of redress for this miscarriage of justice. An addition to this argument is that an offender may have killed their victim and admit doing so but it may not have been an act of murder, often only the offender and victim will only ever know what has taken place so it will fall to the prosecution to determine the nature of the crime and may well charge someone with murder when in actual fact the crime was manslaughter. Many anti-capital punishment proponents believe that every human life is valuable and that no matter what criminal actions an offender has committed they should not be deprived of their life. This is essentially what is enshrined into Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and incorporated into British law in the Human Rights Act (1998) which therefore eliminates any argument the state may put forward for executing its citizens. Human rights is an indicator of the civility of a country, allowing the state to execute individuals many argue has a brutalising and dehumanising effect on society, this of course was heightened when in this country executions were carried out in public which of course is a spectacle which still happens in some countries today. Many people believe that the system of retribution is wrong as it overlooks a certain moral perspective in practice, they see retribution as just another form of vengeance disguised as justice and they believe that retribution can be achieved in any case without the need for execution. It is also often argued that what murderers deserve as their punishment is death and the retribution model advocates this to ensure the offender is punished according to their 'desserts' - making the punishment befitting of the crime. However philosophy writer and Nobel laureate Albert Camus asserted that:

For there to be equivalence, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life [13] .

Many US states capital punishment statutes are drafted in a number of different ways setting out a number of different criterion to determine if an offender should be handed down a sentence of death. However much of this criterion does not necessarily distinguish between offenders who commit murder once and individuals who embark on killing sprees, kill in a serial manner or commit mass murder. Focus on Connecticut's death penalty laws we can observe that there is no specific law which addresses serial killers and their crimes when considering the death penalty. The capital felony statute does contain provisions for people who commit certain crimes eligible for the death penalty for example by (i) committing murder after a previous conviction of murder and (ii) murdering two people or more at the same time or in a single transaction, however a serial killer or mass murderer would not automatically fit into this legal framework and this avoid the death penalty. A serial killer could also fall under another area of the statute as well. In the United Kingdom in 2003 the then shadow Home Secretary David Davis announced that he would like to reintroduce the death penalty but only for offenders who are serial murderers, he said 'I would bring back capital punishment for serial murderers. It is not a crime of passion, it is clearly pre-meditated and cold blooded [14] ' he further stated however this was not the Conservative party policy and represented only his personal views. The Home Secretary of the day, David Blunkett, criticised Mr. Davis for employing 'novel' crime initiatives when he should really be supporting the criminal justice bill. Mr. Davis has remained adamant on this issue and he favours the use of lethal injection where an offender is convicted of multiple murders.