The most dangerous cities to live in the UK

Returning to Crime+Investigation this autumn is the gripping and grisly Katherine Kelly-fronted Murdertown. This second series is due to explore some of the infamous unlawful killings that shocked British towns and cities such as Portsmouth, Greenock, Darlington, Wexham and Grimsby (amongst others).

If the first run of Murdertown taught us anything, it’s that murder and other violent crimes aren’t reserved for the big cities alone. But while the likes of Middlesbrough and Ipswich aren’t immune from big crimes, they can be considered almost as safe havens compared to the most dangerous cities in the UK…

We commissioned a survey into this subject ourselves here at Crime+Investigation, instructing pollsters to conduct a study and find out which cities were the least safe in terms of crime. The information is based on the responses of more than 2,000 residents of British urban locations.

Those taking part all live in large metropolitan areas across the UK and were asked how threatened and endangered they felt living where they did. Before we get to those cities that residents deem the most worrying, let's take a very quick look at the top 5 safest UK cities, shall we?

The Safest Cities in Britain

5. Cambridge

A cyclist’s dream, this affluent city is absolutely jam-packed full of students, bicycles and students on bicycles. There’s very little to fear on the unmean streets of Cambridge. Except perhaps being run over by a student on a bicycle, of course.

4. Southampton

The south coast city of Southampton has some very relaxed locals, very few of whom fear violence or crime where they live. In fact, the only fear most residents there have is being knocked out of the FA Cup by Portsmouth.

3. Brighton & Hove

Brighton can get pretty lively, especially at night. But of those living there that were polled, very few expressed concerns over safety or violent crime. It has been quite a few years since the mods and rockers last clashed on Brighton Beach, we suppose.

2. Bristol

Bristolians aren’t afraid to walk home alone at night. Despite the south western city being big and hectic, crime isn’t too much of an issue. There’s also a long history of progressive left-leaning thinking in Bristol, so perhaps the people that live there are just very forgiving and liberal about crime and criminals. 

1. Edinburgh

Despite the (fictional) events of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting taking place in the Scottish capital, a whopping 82% of those that live in the city claim to feel safe there and would recommend the place as safe to others. A cultural hub and tourist hotspot, the student population is high and the crime rate is low.

Now let’s get into the more interesting UK cities. Those that are deemed the most dangerous places to live by the people that know them best… Those that actually live there.

The Most Dangerous Cities in Britain

5. Sheffield

Think of Sheffield and what comes to mind? Steel, Snooker and Sean Bean, perhaps. Maybe Pulp or The Full Monty, at a push. What you might not think of is crime. And you’d be right not to. Only this South Yorkshire city isn’t exactly rife with serious violent crime. What it does have, however, is antisocial crime. And lots of it.

More than 575,000 people call Sheffield home. With a large bustling city centre and two huge universities, nightlife is plentiful there. As is the kind of antisocial behaviour you might attach to that. In fact, a whopping 44% of all crimes there between April 2016 and March 2017 were antisocial in nature.

More than 5,000 people attended hospitals in (London) due to stabbings

These kinds of crimes might not be ‘significant’ sat next to tales of murder and other violent crimes, but in large quantities lead to a very real - and quantifiable - feeling of danger to the people that live there.

4. London

London is synonymous with - in the past few years at least - serious knife crime. There’s an epidemic in the capital. Of course, a city of some nine million people is always going to have crime. And, for its size, London doesn’t ranked (globally) as a ‘problem city’. But in the context of this country, it’s - quite understandably - considered a pretty dangerous place. There were a recorded 168 offences involving a knife for every 100,000 Londoners in 2018. More than 5,000 people attended hospitals in the city due to stabbings. 268 murders using 'a sharp instrument' were recorded in that same year. These kinds of stats are at record highs. Other violent crimes exist in London too, of course. But it’s the gang-related stabbings that really stand out to the casual observer. They simply must affect how safe those people living in London feel.

3. Manchester

Greater Manchester Police receives around 200,000 reports of crime each and every year. As with most cities, the majority of these calls are to report more minor offences such as antisocial behaviour and criminal damage. But while the home of The Stone Roses and cotton might not be The Wild West, serious crime exists there. The city sees, on average, a murder a week. And some 125,000 violent crimes a year. 'Violence against the person' accounts for a total of 17% of all crimes committed there. Manchester has a notably higher-than-average crime rate when compared to most other UK cities. The areas to really avoid are Moss Side and Rusholme, especially if you're the kind of person who generally likes to avoid being the victim of gun crime.

2. Leicester

Perhaps the most surprising place to appear on the list is the East Midlands city of Leicester. With a population of around 350,000, the county town of Leicestershire is the 11th most populous city in England and sits in pretty much the dead centre of the country. Other than its football team’s shock Premier League win a few years back, there’s not much remarkable or outstanding about the place. Which is why it’s so odd to see it ranked second here.

Look at the nationwide statistics and it soon becomes clear that Leicester is a pretty average city. Crime rates are as you might expect. So just what it is about living there that makes residents feel so unsafe? Perhaps crimes go unreported there. Or there’s a culture of fear in the city for some reason. Intriguing.

1. Birmingham

A not inconsiderable 44% of Brummies would rule out the notion of recommending their home city as a safe place to live to someone else. Residents no longer have to fear the Peaky Blinders, but there is still significant organised crime in the city that’s the work of gangs. Birmingham natives and foreign nationals from countries such as Albania regularly fight for turf in drug-dealing, gun-running and modern slavery operations.

West Midlands Police claim that there are over 40 Organised Crime Gangs (or 'OCGs' to use Line of Duty - and police - parlance) operating in Birmingham at any one time. Gangs that comprise approximately 400 members. And that's not counting those smaller mobs that are classified as 'Urban Street Gangs'.

Does any of this prove that any of these cities are inherently better than any other? No, of course not. Those five ‘most dangerous’ cities there have plenty going for them: London is one of the most visited places on the planet, Birmingham is England’s second city and Manchester is one of the world’s greatest sporting and musical hubs. These cities are still all great in their own ways. They’re just, well, a little ‘colourful’, shall we say?

Danger, safety and crime rates can be plotted on scales and graphs. But serious violent crime happens all over the country. In fact, absolutely anywhere can become a Murdertown... 

To see how UK crime compares to the rest of the planet, read our article on global crime rates.

Watch the highly-anticipated second series of Murdertown Mondays at 9pm.

By Steve Charnock