Do the right thing. It's Self Evident.

Drawing on the last full British Crime Survey, this paper shows that in 2010/11 there were 1,206,000 incidents of street violence in England and Wales. With a clear up rate of 9%, nobody was brought to justice in a million of these crimes. 

With the public's fear of being mugged or attacked by a stranger running at seven times the actual risk, this is a problem that politicians and policy makers cannot afford to overlook any longer.

In a ground breaking analysis, the paper demonstrates that the public's fear of crime is related to the incidence of public space or street violence as news of such incidents travels far and wide through informal networks of family, friends and colleagues and is rarely reported in the media.



This Paper draws on the last full British Crime Survey and shows that in 2010/11 there were 1,206,000 incidents of street violence in England and Wales. With a clear up rate of 9%, the offenders were not brought to justice in a million of these crimes.  With the public's fear of being mugged or attacked by a stranger running at seven times the actual risk, this is a problem that Britain cannot afford to overlook any longer.


The detailed picture given here about the scale and nature of street violence[i] comes from the 2010/11 British Crime Survey (BCS) – which is widely assumed to produce the most reliable evidence about crime in Britain.The Survey is based on answers given by 40,000 people each year about their experiences of crime, whether or not the incident was reported to the police.It should also be noted that (a) this BCS data used here excludes stranger attacks and muggings where the victim was under 16, and (b) relates only to crimes that occurred in England & Wales.




The scale and nature of the problem

The British Crime Survey shows that almost 1,206,000 people were mugged or attacked by a stranger last year.The published figures are that there were 885,000 stranger attacks and 321,000 muggings[ii].




Table 1 below shows the proportions of cases of street violence (a) where the victim was injured and the proportions that (b) needed medical treatment and those that led to the victim (c) being hospitalised for one or more night.[iii]




Stranger attacks







No injury




Physical injury




Medical attention




Hospital stay




Table 1. Street violence - injuries sustained



To put these figures into a ready perspective, they indicate that every day last year 1,500 people were injured as a result of of street violence, of whom 400 needed medical attention.   At the most serious end,  50 people were hospitalised every day because of street violence.




The BCS shows that in 85% of stranger attacks and 87% of muggings the perpetrators were men and in 7% of stranger attacks and 9% of muggings they were women.  In the remaining incidents the perpetrators included both men and women.[iv]


Alcohol & drugs

In 49% all incidents of street violence, the victims thought the perpetrators were under the influence of alcohol and in a further 18% they thought the perpetrator was under the influence of drugs.[v]



As to the victims, the BCS estimated in 2009/10 that women were the victims in 25% of the incidents of street violence.[vi]




Reporting to the police

Table 2 below shows the number of incidents of street violence that were reported to the police in 2009/10.




Stranger attacks







Reported to police[vii]




% unreported




Table 2. Street violence – incidents reported to the police



This suggests that 700,000 incidents of street violence that were not reported to the police.  The BCS collects data on why people do not formally report violent crimes[viii]and the three main reasons given were:

a)44% - trivial / no loss / police would not / could not do anything,

b)33% - private / dealt with themselves, and

c)9% - reported to other authorities



This summary data published by the Home Office, however, is not broken down by type of violence (domestic, acquaintance, stranger, mugging).As to the 33% of victims who viewed the violence as a private matter or felt able to deal with it him or herself, it seems most unlikely these will have been victims of stranger attacks or muggings.As to the 9% who reported it to some other authority, it also seems unlikely that these will have been victims of street violence.[ix]



On this basis and subject to an analysis of the original dataset, the main reason why street violence is not reported is likely to be the first category – that the incident was trivial or caused no loss or that the police could not or would not do anything. This category contains two distinct reasons - (a) the victim viewed it as minor and (b) the victim had little confidence the police would be able to do anything. As Table 7.4 of the Oct 2011 Analysis records, in 82% of stranger attacks and 92% of muggings the victims told BCS that they had been emotionally affected by the crime, it is unlikely these people will have viewed the incident as  trivial or suffering no loss.  As such it seems probable that lack of confidence in the ability of the police to do anything will be the dominant reason why incidents of street violence are not reported.




Bringing the offenders to justice

To gauge whether and how far such a lack of confidence may be justified, one needs to look at the clear-up rates for those crimes of street violence that are reported to the police.It should be noted that for an offence to be ‘cleared-up’ within Home Office rules, at the very least (i) a suspect needs to have been identified to the police, (ii) the police need to have told the suspect that they hold him or her responsible, and (iii) the police need to impose a sanction [x] on the suspect.


Clear-up data is collected separately from the BCS and relates to criminal offences and so violent assaults are not broken down by stranger, acquaintance and domestic.The aggregated clear-up rate for all three offences of violence is given as 44%.However, muggings or 'personal robbery' are a distinct criminal offence that is recorded separately and for these the most recently available clear-up rate is 20%.[xi]





It is self-evident in every case of domestic or acquaintance violence that has been reported to the police, the identification of the suspect can be taken for granted.By contrast, in street violence where the suspect is a stranger, his or her identification will be the highest hurdle facing the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.On the reasonable assumption that the clear up rate for stranger attacks is the same as that for personal robbery, then this means that 9% of offenders were brought to justice last year in incidents of street violence (amounting to slightly more than 100,000 offences) - seetable 3.




Stranger attacks



No. of incidents




% reported to police




% of reported that are ‘cleared up’ by police[xii]




% of all incidents that were brought to justice or 'cleared up'




Table 3.Street Violence – clear-up as % of all incidents


On this analysis, it appears that last year in Britain in over 1 million incidents of street violence the offender was not brought to justice.


As to the 8,499 who were convicted of robbery in 2010, Ministry of Justice records state that 58% left court to go to prison while the other 42% returned home to serve their sentence. 




Fuelling fear

It is clear from the above that the scale and nature of street violence is a serious problem and one that the criminal justice system is unable to address on its own.  As serious a problem is the fact that the fear of street violence runs seven times greater than the actual risk.This is apparent from the Home Office’s supplementary analysis of the 2009/10 British Crime Survey published last November[xiii]that 15% of people said they were fairly or very worried that they would be mugged or attacked by a stranger in the next twelve months.[xiv].This compares with actual risks shown in the main BCS of being attacked by a stranger at 1.4% and of being mugged at 0.7%.[xv]

This shows that the policy of downplaying or overlooking the problem of street violence has fuelled rather than stilled the public's fear about it.  This has meant that the acute problem that street violence is has also become a chronic problem in that - with the fear factor running seven times higher than the actual risk - it is causing real damage to people's sense of community and well-being.  Street violence, more than any other crime,  has the widest impact on the public's fear. This is because as stranger attacks and muggings are random, people rationally recognise that the victim could have been them. Secondly, because these crimes mostly happen in public, more people will witness them and so talk to others about them. Thirdly, while victims of domestic violence may not want friends or family to know through a sense of shame, and victims of acquaintance violence may say little about the attack through a sense of responsibility, no similar factors inhibit the spread of news of stranger attacks or muggings.As a result, word of street violence will travel far and wide through informal networks.


When news of each incident of street violence is communicated to someone, it will increase fear more than news of any other violent crime.As an illustration, if I assault my wife, it will not mean that our female friends then fear that their husbands or partners will do the same to them. Equally if my wife is attacked by a colleague at work, this will not cause me, our family and friends to fear our own work-mates.However, if my wife is attacked or mugged by a stranger when going to the local shops then our friends and acquaintances will reasonably fear that they might too be at risk of such random violence.



Damaging confidence

Street violence also has a greater impact than any other offence on people’s confidence in the Government’s policy on and success in tackling crime.In 2007 the British Crime Survey observed:

“Analysis based on the 2002/03 BCS showed the following perception measures to be strongly independently associated with perceiving the national crime rate to have increased ‘a lot’: thinking that the criminal justice system was not effective in reducing crime and being fairly or very worried about being attacked by a stranger.” [xvi]



This finding about the particular significance of street violence does much to explain the public’s lack of confidence in the success that there has been in tackling crime over the past decade or more.While the levels of domestic and acquaintance violence since 1995 have fallen by 60% and 63% respectively, the level of muggings had fallen by 23% and the level of stranger attacks by 12%.[xvii]



This analysis makes it clear that the public will have little confidence in the steps being taken to curb crime or cut violence, while the level of stranger attacks and muggings remains so high, while the clear up rate remains so low and while the fear factor remains seven times greater than the actual risk.




The way forward

All this shows that unless people who witness street violence are encouraged and given the confidence to engage - be it by taking a stand, by photographing the suspect on a camera phone, by reporting the crime - it is difficult to see how those who mug or attack strangers in our streets can be identified.This is a critical issue because where the suspect is not identified, he or she cannot be deterred, punished or rehabilitated.



In the contexts of the Big Society, the Good Society, the Big State and the Good State it is clear that the serious problem of street violence is one that the criminal justice system is unable to address on its own. What is required is a concerted attempt in communities to give those who witness street violence the confidence to be a good neighbour and the confidence to engage with the criminal justice system.


For our part at Witness Confident, we are trying to do this by taking the stand for the eye-witness.  Our street violence map will make it much easier for witnesses and victims to engage with the police and people to see the progress that can be made in curbing street violence; our research and policy work will urge the criminal justice system to welcome witnesses and pay them more consideration; our SPARKLE campaign across the community and in schools will help people to separate myth from reality and to lead by example when the see street violence; and our free legal advice will help give witnesses confidence.


If you want to help or find out more, please visit



[i] In this paper, street violence refers to incidents classified by the British Crime Survey as muggings and stranger attacks, some of which will have happened on the street or in public (e.g. at or around the workplace, home, a pub or club or on public transport). This definition excludes attacks by spouses, partners and acquaintances some of which will also occur on the street or in public.
[ii] Crime in England & Wales (2010/11) BCS Jul 2011, page 39. Table 2.01.
[iii] Nature of Violent crime (2010/11), BCS Oct 2011, Table 7.7
[iv] Ibid, Table 7.1.
[v] Ibid, Table 7.10
[vi] Crime in England & Wales (2009/10) , page 61, Table 3.01 – In 21% of stranger attacks and 32% of muggings in 2009/10 the victims were women.  As to the comparative risks, table 3.05 said the risk of a woman being a victim of domestic violence was 0.4%, of a stranger attack 0.6% and of a mugging 0.5%. (The BCS  have not so far published this data on the gender of the victims from the 2010/11 survey).
[vii] Note ii p 54, Table 2.11.
[viii] Ibid, Page 55, Table 2.12
[ix] As victims under 16 are excluded from the BCS, schools would not have been seen as an authority. Insofar as the victim might have been attacked at work and raised it with a superior, it is unlikely this would not have triggered a report to the police unless the attack caused no harm.
[x] These sanctions are being charged, cautioned, reprimanded or where when the person is convicted of another crime this offence is taken into consideration.
[xi] Crimes detected in England & Wales 2010/11, Table 1, item 34B.
[xii] Ibid. If for stranger attacks one uses the 44% clear-up rate for all offences of violence against the person instead of the 20% rate for robbery of the person, then the figures in the bottom line of the Table would read 17%, 9% and 15%.
[xiv] Ibid, page 44
[xv] Note vi, page 65, Table 3.05. 
[xvi] Crime in England & Wales (2007/8), page 130.
[xvii] Note ii Table 2.01