How Safe Is London?

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 17 months ago
How Safe Is London?
Photo by Andy Thornley

How dangerous is London, really? This is something we keep getting asked on our Facebook page. People from around the world say they'd love to visit but are afraid. So we've looked at some other major cities to see how we compare.

Murder

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime published some figures a few years ago for the most populous cities in each country. The 'intentional homicide count' for London in 2011 was 100; see how that compares with other major cities and tourist hotspots.

And here's the homicide rate per 100,000 population for those same cities in 2011, which is a much fairer way of comparing cities of differing sizes.

So we can see that London may have had more actual murders than cities like Paris, Toronto and Berlin, but the chances of being a victim are roughly the same — based on population. Of course, your chances of being murdered — which are already tiny — are much more likely if you are: poor, in a gang, in a violent relationship or already involved in crime. The likelihood of being randomly stabbed or shot is much, much lower than these statistics indicate.

Robbery

This is probably higher on the list of concerns than being actually killed. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime can help us out here, too — though it should be noted that its figures include robbery with violence and bag-snatchings, but not pickpocketing.

You'll also note that these figures are by country. We've included the Metropolitan police's London robbery figures for the year to March 2016; the other figures are for 2013, which is the latest the UN has them.

That's not very helpful; how on earth do you compare enormous Russia with Singapore? Here's the robbery rate per 100,000 population instead.

Even then, comparing London to entire countries isn't very satisfactory. All this tells us is that you're more likely to get robbed in London than some small village in the Cotswolds, Siberia or North Dakota. Well, duh.

There's also an issue around what counts as robbery in each country. It's a lot easier to tell when someone's dead, but the UNODC has separate entries for 'robbery' and 'theft' and we suspect there's a large crossover between the two.

The reason we've had to resort to comparing countries is that, once you move away from homicide, city-specific crime statistics are quite hard to find. And then when you can find them, they aren't necessarily from the same years.

Categorisation issue also rears its head. When looking at an annual report from Toronto we used the 'Robberies (Other)' statistic, but it's not clear to us whether that includes violent robberies or whether they would fall under 'Crimes Against Person'.

Sources: London; New York; Berlin; Toronto; Sydney

Sexual assault

Being groped or something far, far worse may also play on the mind of someone (likely a woman) pondering a trip to London. So here are the rates of sexual assault and rape per 100,000 population.

Well, that looks fairly terrible. How about comparing some major cities again?

Bloody hell.

How on earth do we explain this? We're definitely coming up against problems of categorisation again — New York figures include rape, 'felony' and 'misdemeanour sex crimes'; Sydney covers sexual assault and 'acts of indecency'; UNODC figures for each country cover rape and sexual assault, including those on children. For some reason, there are no figures from the United States for all sexual assault, only rape, so that's what the first chart shows. And Germany doesn't separate out sexual assault by länder at all so we don't know the situation in Berlin.

With sexual assault comes another issue: under-reporting. Countries with a high stigma around rape, or where police forces may not be all that sympathetic to victims, are probably not recording the extent of the problem. Let's face it — we know it's happening here, so it's going to happen elsewhere, too. That does not, however, explain the far higher numbers in London than New York (population 8.4m), Toronto (population 2.6m) or Sydney (population 4.3m).

We asked the Metropolitan Police for a statement but given all the problems with categorisation and different time frames, the press office didn't feel it was appropriate to comment.

Last Updated 11 May 2016

mensan98th

Interesting. We in DC have a parallel problem, that of being a city that gets compared to states in all kinds of ways. We complain on DCist, but nothing ever gets done. ;)

Adam

There's also the issue of differences between reported crimes and actual crimes. Having spent a fair amount of time there, anyone who's been to Nairobi will tell you robbery and sexual assault are much bigger problems than they are in London, but they aren't necessarily reported or recorded..

Pete

I lived in Australia for eight years from 2007-15 in a town called the Gold Coast. This place touts itself as some kind of super-safe paradise with low crime etc. Let me tell you that London feels much safer. Robberies and assaults were extremely commonplace there (mainly due to drugs and alcohol). I would chose London any time (and I did) as a place to live and raise my children.
I am not saying London is the safest place in the world - and it's certainly not the London I grew up in - but it is still a remarkably civilised place given its size.

Chaoss

I've lived in Plymouth, Bristol, Leeds, Sheffield, Bedford, Brighton and London (in London I've lived in Lewisham, East Ham and now Islington). Out of all of those places the safest I've ever felt is here in Islington in London. Comparing 'London' to other cities also isn't fair as London is split up into boroughs which are like different cities in themselves. I wouldn't even think about walking through Tower Hamlets at 2am in the morning where as here I do it all the time.