The merger of Scotland’s police force is under scrutiny as it reaches five years old, with media and politicians debating whether the move had been worthwhile.

A number of politicians took to social media in defence of Police Scotland, highlighting successes since the force was unified.

Ferret Fact Service | Scotlands impartial fact check project

Paul Wheelhouse MSP cited a Scottish Sun interview with Detective Chief Superintendent Gareth Blair on the number of murders that had been solved since 2013, when Police Scotland was formed.

Ferret Fact Service took a look at the claim that all 301 murders since 2013 had been solved, and found it to be Half True.

Evidence

Murders in Scotland are counted in a few different ways, usually by cases or by victims.

The latest statistics available on the number of murder victims only cover up to April 2017, which recorded that 246 victims of murder had been identified since Police Scotland formed.

Police Scotland told Ferret Fact Service that the 301 quoted in the Scottish Sun was the overall number of victims from April 2013 up until January 2018, when the interview took place.

The current overall figure sits at 320 as of March 31, 2018.

However, this figure includes a number of unexplained deaths which were at one point investigated as murders. These later turned out not to be homicides.

With those deaths taken out, the total was 292 at the time of the interview, and sits at 302 as of March 31, 2018.

There is now one case as yet unsolved, the death of Paul Mathieson who died in Renfrew on January 20, 2018.

It is important to note that the definition of a ‘solved’ murder is not what many people may think.

The definition used by Police Scotland is explained in the homicide statistics.

It reads: “The distinction between ‘solved’ and ‘unsolved’ homicide cases is where an accused individual is attached to it (solved) and where an accused individual has not been identified (unsolved).”

The police do not regularly use ‘solved’ as a definition, preferring to refer to murder cases having been ‘detected’. This means they have identified a person or people in connection with the murder.

The decision to prosecute is then brought forward by the Procurator Fiscal. The overall figure cited by The Scottish Sun and Mr Wheelhouse includes cases which were prosecuted as culpable homicide, not murder.

Culpable homicide differs from murder in Scots Law as “unlike murder, there need not be any specific intention to harm the victim, indeed, the main distinction is the absence of an intent to kill.”

This is also considered where the accused is found to be of “diminished responsibility” because of mental illness, or where there was provocation.

Once someone has been identified and a case has been brought against them, Police Scotland’s records consider the investigation complete. So it is not clear how many of these ‘detections’ resulted in convictions, or how many were culpable homicides. Furthermore, because it can take some time for cases to come to court, not all the murder cases ‘detected’ by Police Scotland will have been considered in court.

The Scottish Government and the Crown Office do not publish specific statistics on how many of these homicides resulted in murder convictions, so there is no reliable measure of how many of those considered ‘detected’ by Police Scotland ended up with convictions.

However, they do measure overall conviction rates for homicides (including culpable homicide) per year. The conviction rate is the proportion of people who had their charges proved as a proportion of people who were proceeded against for a specific crime.

Since the merger of Police Scotland in 2013, this has hovered between 73 and 83 per cent. This an average of around 8 in 10 murder proceedings result in conviction.

The number of murder victims recorded in Scotland has reduced over the last ten years by 54 per cent, but has remained broadly static since the start of the single force.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Half True

It is accurate that Police Scotland have ‘solved’, according to its own definition, all of the murders that have taken place since the formation of the single force in 2013. However, Police Scotland’s definition of solved does not mean that the perpetrator has been found and prosecuted, it means the force has identified a person thought to be responsible for the crime. The overall figure also includes deaths which turned out not to be murders, and those which were prosecuted as culpable homicide.

This claim is half true.

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, working to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Want to suggest a fact check? Email us at factcheck@theferret.scot or join our community forum.

Contributions

  1. Is it possible to get a gendered breakdown and further information about the context of solved/half-solved/unsolved murders?
    It’s of further concern that cases involving domestic abuse are likely to be hidden within these statistics. How many are women who have retaliated and unintentionally killed their partners?
    Any advice for getting more detailed information? Thankyou

  2. johndug says:

    The claim is quite obviously True and not Half True. You may not like the breakdown of intent to kill or convictions but they were All solved. Which is the claim. For it to be half true could you point out examples which are unsolved.

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