We shouldn’t lose sight of crime and harm happening outside London

Blog post

We shouldn’t lose sight of crime and harm happening outside London

This morning I’ve been reading a domestic homicide review into the death of *Elizabeth in Anglesey in 2022. As well as representing a human tragedy, this case also reminded me how infrequently we look at the issues facing rural communities in the UK when we think about policing, outside of specific rural crime strategies. 

The Metropolitan Police in London will always be the biggest force, will always be policing the biggest population in our country, and will be drawn into many high-profile debates and investigations. But all too often, the national media – almost exclusively London-based – lose sight of how important it is to understand what’s going on in other parts of the country. This is despite the fact that crimes in areas with lower population density might actually be a signifier of what’s to come in other places. 

The review notes that the number of murders of mothers by their sons is rising. This is something that needs examination in the context of domestic abuse. But it shouldn’t be confined there. As ever, crime and policing reflect wider societal issues, including issues of personal relationships and how we talk and think about those in this country, which issues we’re still keeping taboo, and how our personal relationships relate to our economic and health situation. The murder of mothers by sons is still rare in absolute terms and a small proportion of overall homicides annually. However, we could see this type of crime as one indication of how policing needs to be seen in its societal context. A rising proportion of adult children are ‘trapped’ in the family home they grew up in, unable to successfully start a life independent of their parent(s). The resentments of a domestic abuser – most commonly male when the victim is a family member, as well as when it’s a partner/ex-partner – are often targeted at those who they perceive know them too well. They turn their paranoias on the people around them, who they worry might ‘exploit’ knowledge of their past secrets and/or failures, or their current personal circumstances. 

We talk about ‘the housing crisis’. We talk about mental health and employment. But outside of specialist domestic abuse or women’s rights organisations, we often leave unsaid the social and emotional links between these issues and control (violent or otherwise) that someone might apply to the people around them. To be clear, adversity isn’t an excuse for abuse. But we should notice and act on the links between crime types and wider social factors. 

Police officers are often in a position to notice and flag social changes, including officers who work in small communities they know well. They aren’t, though, necessarily supported to join up their practical experience with hard data. Processes like Joint Strategic Needs Assessments aren’t always completed in a way that encourages or values working knowledge, alongside numerical data. When officers do raise these issues, it doesn’t always lead to change, even when their perspective is largely accepted. An obvious example of this is the way police officers are first responders for such a high proportion of mental health crises. The lack of action taken as a result of their professional experience can be another way cynicism and fatigue seep back into the frontline. 

I hope that as we get to the other side of an election, all parts of the UK will continue to be in the news. During election campaigns, broadcasters in particular make some effort to reach out beyond their usual address books and postcodes. Areas outside London need to be better represented in the media all the time, as they have been to a degree during the process of the election campaign. The crime and policing happening there is just as important as daily life in the capital.

The most authoritative data on overall homicide rates is available from the Office for National Statistics and for the murder of women by men, from the Femicide Census.