Intended for healthcare professionals


Violence in England and Wales: does media reporting match the data?

BMJ 2019; 367 doi: (Published 29 October 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;367:l6040
  1. David K Humphreys, associate professor12,
  2. Michelle Degli Esposti, postdoctoral researcher1,
  3. Frances Gardner, professor1,
  4. Jonathan Shepherd, professor3
  1. 1Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  2. 2Green Templeton College, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  3. 3Crime and Security Research Institute, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
  1. Correspondence to: D K Humphreys david.humphreys{at}

Disproportionate reporting of a violence epidemic risks exacerbating the problem, argue David Humphreys and colleagues

Patterns of violence over the past 20 years have followed a sustained downward trend according to routine police and hospital data, as well as findings from the Crime Survey for England and Wales.1 But in early 2019, there was intensive media coverage of increasing violence in England and Wales.2 In response to public concern, an urgent Cabinet Office meeting was called to discuss this “national emergency.” Since then, the violence epidemic has been reported regularly in the media.

A public discussion of the complex social problems, including violence, manifesting in urban communities is long overdue. However, it is important to consider all the data before labelling the problem a national emergency. Such a label may increase people’s concerns about safety and encourage them to adopt protective behaviours, such as carrying weapons, with the unintended effect of increasing rates of violent injury.

Is there a national emergency in violence?

Violent crime recorded by the police is estimated to have increased 19% between 2017 and 2018 and knife crime increased 7% in the 12 months to June 2019,34 but the size of the increase varies depending on the reference period and the specific definition of violence (homicide, serious violence, violence against the person, etc). The reports of increased violence since 2014 are largely based on police crime data. But other sources of data on homicide and violent injuries show a different pattern. These include the Office for National Statistics (ONS) mortality statistics (based on medical death certificates)5; emergency hospital admissions for injuries inflicted through serious assault from NHS Digital’s Hospital Episode Statistics6; and estimates of attendances at emergency departments with violence related injury from the National Violence Surveillance Network at Cardiff University (box 1).7 …

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