My project

This long term project analysed the amount of people murdered in London in 2018 and gave comprehensive context to a year which saw London gain a notoriety of being a violent city.

I joined BBC News in November 2017 and was aware of violent deaths in London rising. But beyond the statistics of how many people had been killed, there was little extra details which told the story of a problem I felt was more to than headlines suggested. Particularly, I wanted to challenge presumptions that those being killed were teenagers or young men caught up in gangs or involved in knife crime.

I knew data was going to be crucial in order to expand any preconceived perceptions of who the victims in London might be. By the end of 2017 I couldn’t find any detailed data about individual homicides. So, from the start of 2018 I decided to keep a live recording of each homicide in London as and when it happened.

I spent months logging details of each victim, their age, how they were killed, where they were killed and the outcome of the court case. I also plotted the location of each death on a Google map in order to show how scattered the violence was across London. It required me keeping a constant record of dozens of murder investigations and court cases throughout 2018. By the end of the year I had gathered the data and what it showed was that London’s violence was an incredibly complex story to explain.

There were also aspects of myth busting which I came across during 2018. By April more than 50 people had been killed and London drew unfavourable comparisons to New York’s murder rate. This attracted media attention and stemmed from an article by The Times which used a small three-month sample to compare murder rates between the two cities. When researching New York’s murder rate, I noticed the NYPD published weekly homicide statistics. As I knew I would be writing an end-of-year summary I kept a record of this NYPD data every month in order to give a better context to comparisons of homicide rates between New York and London over the course of 2018.

I also put in a FOI to the Met Police to get historical homicide data. I found London was likely to have its highest amount of homicides for a decade – that was my headline. But, what this data also showed was that London’s murder rate was a lot higher at the start of the 21st century and had dropped each year more often than not. In that time London’s population had increased so I put the population and homicide data together to highlight a death per capita – giving more context to the historical murder rates.

When writing the article I knew the data was going to be key, but I needed powerful real life stories to hook the reader into reading the important parts of the article. So, combining the strong human interest stories, with sharp analysis, detailed graphics and the engaging interactive map demonstrated I believe I was able to give a more informed analysis of the issues around London’s violence in 2018.

What makes this project innovative?

The rigorous data collection is what made this project unique. At the beginning of the year there was very little indication as to what the article might be. It all depended on how many people were going to be killed in London and what the outcome of the many murder investigations would be. As 2018 wore on and attention from the public and the media turned to the rising amount of people being murdered in London - the database I was collecting became a useful resource for many platforms on BBC News. I was gathering comprehensive details of victims, their ages, where and how they died. This meant it was reliable stats for TV bulletins and radio packages as well as various online articles. Other media outlets published lists of homicide victims throughout the year, but it never appeared to follow each investigation through. For example, cases that would be discontinued or where trials of people accused of murder would be acquitted. What this meant, was that the ‘homicide total’ could go down, not just up - and I would keep track of these cases and remove them from the ‘total’ in order to give an accurate analysis. My database therefore was able to give a more informed analysis of the circumstances behind the killings in London. By the end of the year it meant close attention had to be paid to around 140 cases and I had to constantly check the status of many investigations up until the date of publication.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

The rigorous data collection is what made this project unique. At the beginning of the year there was very little indication as to what the article might be. It all depended on how many people were going to be killed in London and what the outcome of the many murder investigations would be. As 2018 wore on and attention from the public and the media turned to the rising amount of people being murdered in London - the database I was collecting became a useful resource for many platforms on BBC News. I was gathering comprehensive details of victims, their ages, where and how they died. This meant it was reliable stats for TV bulletins and radio packages as well as various online articles. Other media outlets published lists of homicide victims throughout the year, but it never appeared to follow each investigation through. For example, cases that would be discontinued or where trials of people accused of murder would be acquitted. What this meant, was that the ‘homicide total’ could go down, not just up - and I would keep track of these cases and remove them from the ‘total’ in order to give an accurate analysis. My database therefore was able to give a more informed analysis of the circumstances behind the killings in London. By the end of the year it meant close attention had to be paid to around 140 cases and I had to constantly check the status of many investigations up until the date of publication.

Source and methodology

Information was gathered and recorded every time the Met Police issued a press release about a murder investigation. I would log the details of the victim, their age, place of death and cause of death. I would follow the cases through court and take off any cases which would be discountinued, acquitted or not counted as murder any more. The location of each killings was plotted on a Google map. This was then put through an interactive Carto map with the help of the BBC Visual Journalism department. This map showed how scattered the violent deaths were across London as and when they happened over the course of 2018. An FOI was put into the Met Police to work out the yearly homicide totals for each calendar year since 2003. A simple graph was created to show this, but the data was also used against rising population figures to show a decrease per capita. From April, I also recorded statistics published by the New York Police Department each month to keep track of the \'murder rate\' in New York. I wanted to make fair comparisons over a 12-month period rather than the small three-month sample used by The Times in April.

Technologies Used

Excel, Google Maps, interactive Carto map, BBC IDT graphs.

Project members

Wesley Stephenson of BBC Visual Journalism department who helped put my Google map locations onto a Carto map programme.

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