Was Belfast the sixth highest in murder rate for a European city in 2010?

CLAIM: The murder rate in Belfast was sixth highest in a list of cities in Europe (according to 2010 data).

CONCLUSION: INACCURATE. Available data shows other cities with higher homicide rates. Data for some other cities was not and is not published. By any reasonable definition, homicide rates in Belfast are not among the highest in Europe today.

A graphic that is being shared on social media compares murder rates between American and European cities. Belfast is ranked sixth in the list of cities in Europe, with a rate of 3.3 murders per year, per 100,000 people. These figures are based on 2010 data. But how accurate and inclusive are the figures included in this claim?

Defining murder and homocide

First, we need a working definition of “murder”. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) collects data, on an annual basis, on the incidence of reported crime in order to improve analysis and share the information globally. “Murder” is included within its definition of “intentional homicide”: “Unlawful death inflicted upon a person with the intent to cause death or serious injury”. 

The UNODC definition of intentional homicide includes: murder, honour killings, serious assault leading to death, death as a result of terrorist activities, dowry-related killings, femicide, infanticide, voluntary manslaughter, extrajudicial killings, and killings caused by excessive use of force by law enforcement/state officials.

We used this definition of “homicide” because it is more inclusive than incidents of murder and there is more comparable data available.

US homicides in 2010

The graphic figures for murder in US cities appear to have come from a website, World Population Review; we could not match the figures with any found articles at Worldatlas.com, the source referenced in the shared graphic.

Data for “murder and nonnegligent manslaughter” is collected and published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting. The most recent publication is for 2019

Europe homicides in 2010

The UNODC publishes a table of series data for European cities. Caveats include different legal definitions of offences in countries, different methods of offence counting and reporting, differences in reporting rates, and what constitutes a “city”.

Nevertheless, the UNODC table shows the homicide rate for these highest ranking 20 cities in Europe in 2010:

Rank City Country Homicides per 100,000 people
1 Valletta Malta 15.9
2 Krasnodar Russian Federation 11.5
3 Tallinn Estonia 5.5
4 Mogilev Belarus 4.7
5 Vilnius Lithuania 4.5
6 Glasgow United Kingdom (Scotland) 4.3
7 Prishtina Kosovo under UNSCR 1244 4.2
8 Saint Petersburg Russian Federation 4.2
9 Nis Serbia 4.2
10 Tirana Albania 4.1
11 Chishinau Republic of Moldova 3.9
12 Podgorica Montenegro 3.6
13 Minsk Belarus 3.5
14 Riga Latvia 3.4
15 Kyiv Ukraine 3.2
16 Zurich Switzerland 3.0
17 Belfast United Kingdom (Northern Ireland) 2.8
18 Brussels Belgium 2.7
19 Ljubljana Slovenia 2.6
20 Skopje The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 2.2
21 Athens Greece 2.1
22 Helsinki Finland 2.0
23 Paris France 2.0
24 Dublin Ireland 2.0
25 Novi Sad Serbia 2.0

Belfast is ranked 17th, with a rate of 2.8 homicides per 100,000 population.

To learn how inclusive the UNODC list of cities is for each country, we inspected official data sources to discover what statistics were available at the city level. We examined data for the following regions of Europe: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, England and Wales, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Northern Ireland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and Ukraine.

We found that Germany and Moldova are the only countries in Europe that publish a full list of homicide rates at a city level for all of its cities.

Therefore, while the UNODC statistics are illustrative, they are by no means inclusive of every city in Europe.

Northern Ireland homicide rates in 2010

We also discovered gaps in the reporting of cities in the UK and Ireland. For 2010, the UNODC report just shows homicide rates for the largest regional cities: Belfast (2.8), Glasgow (4.3), London (1.6), and Dublin (2.0). However, data does exist for other cities in these regions.

For example, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) provided us with the following breakdown of the 23 homicides recorded in 2010, by local government district area.

Rank Local Government District Homicides Homicides per 100,000 people
1 Belfast City 9 2.7
2 Lisburn & Castlereagh City 2 1.5
3 Mid Ulster 2 1.5
4 Causeway Coast & Glens 2 1.4
5 Antrim & Newtownabbey 2 1.4
6 Newry, Mourne & Down 2 1.2
7 Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon 2 1.0
8 Fermanagh & Omagh 1 0.9
9 Derry City and Strabane 1 0.7
10 Ards & North Down 0 0.0
11 Mid & East Antrim 0 0.0
Northern Ireland (2010) 23 1.3

Recent Irish homicide rates

For Ireland, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) publishes a quarterly time series of crime statistics, available by Garda policing divisions (Table CJQ06). An accurate estimate of the 2010 homicide rate for each of the 28 Garda divisions at that time is not possible since population figures are only available for census years. However, using the 2016 crime figures and population estimates, Dublin Metropolitan North Central has the most homicides per 100,000 people (4.80), followed by Cavan/Monaghan (4.39), Westmeath (3.20), Dublin Metropolitan West (3.15), Roscommon/Longford (3.09), and Dublin Metropolitan South Central (2.60). The overall rate for Ireland was 1.82 homicides per 100,000 people.

Note that homicide rates are not included in the most recent publication of quarterly data of recorded crime in Ireland (see Table 3.3).

Recent UK city homicide rates

The table below shows recent homicide rate data for the top 25 areas in the UK. We have excluded cities/regions with populations less than 100,000 people. The data is from official statistical sources and covers the following places and periods: England and Wales (April 2018 to March 2019; Table 19); Northern Ireland (2019; table provided by PSNI); and Scotland (April 2019 to March 2020; Table 2). Population figures for Northern Ireland and Scotland are from mid-year estimates published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) (see Table MYE 5); for England and Wales, population figures are estimated from homicide rate figures published by ONS.

Rank City/Region and Country Homicides Population Homicides per 100,000 population
1 South Ayrshire, Scotland 4 112,610 3.55
2 Mid Ulster, Northern Ireland 4 148,528 2.69
3 Cleveland, England 15 566,038 2.64
4 Derry City and Strabane, Northern Ireland 4 151,284 2.64
5 Northamptonshire, England 17 763,278 2.27
6 Greater Manchester, England 63 2,812,500 2.24
7 Newry, Mourne & Down, Northern Ireland 4 181,368 2.21
8 Perth and Kinross, Scotland 3 151,950 1.97
9 Glasgow City, Scotland 12 633,120 1.90
10 Ards & North Down, Northern Ireland 3 161,725 1.86
11 Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon, Northern Ireland 4 216,205 1.85
12 Falkirk, Scotland 3 160,890 1.86
13 Cheshire, England 19 1,061,452 1.79
14 Aberdeen City, Scotland 4 228,670 1.75
15 Angus, Scotland 2 116,200 1.72
16 West Midlands, England 50 292,397 1.71
17 South Yorkshire, England 22 1,401,273 1.57
18 West Yorkshire, England 36 2,322,580 1.55
19 Merseyside, England 22 1,419,354 1.55
20 Belfast City, Northern Ireland 5 343,542 1.50
21 London, England 126 8,936,170 1.41
22 Antrim & Newtownabbey 2 143,504 1.39
23 Fife, Scotland 5 373,550 1.34
24 Edinburgh City, Scotland 7 524,930 1.33
25 Durham, England 8 634,920 1.26

Summary

It is inaccurate to say that Belfast was the sixth highest in murder (homicide) rate for a European city in 2010. The UNODC data placed it 17th that year, and this source of information represents a selection of European cities; there are non listed cities with rates higher than Belfast’s.

Since 2010, the homicide rate in Belfast has markedly decreased. In 2019, it was 1.5 per 100,000 population, which was the same rate for Northern Ireland overall.


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