SCOTLAND'S murder rate has reached its highest level for a decade.

The number of victims of murder and culpable homicide north of the border soared more than 25percent to 137 last year.

A knife or other sharp instrument was the most common murderweapon, accounting for 72 victims, also the highest figure for 10 years.

Seventy years on from the era of the city's razor gangs, Glasgow has one of the highest murder rates of any western European city, with 55 victims per million people, compared with 22 for Scotland overall.

Last year there were 137murders in Scotland, almost twothirds of them in the Strathclyde Police area. This was 29 more than the previous year and the highest since 1995.

The figures last night reignited the debate about how to tackle the booze-and-blade culture in the west of Scotland.

In the 127 cases where the state of the alleged killer was known, 45percent were drunk, 15percent were drunk and on drugs, and 10percent were on drugs. In threequarters of all homicides, the killerwas known to the victim, and 18percent involved strangers.

The figures follow a report from the World Health Organisation this year indicating that Scotland has the second highest murder rate in western Europe, although the Scottish Executive said the study did not compare the same figures between different countries.

A UN study published in September labelled Scotland as one of the most violent developed countries. The study, based on phone interviews with victims of crime in 21 countries, found that more than 2000 people in Scotland are attacked every week, almost 10 times police figures.

The crimes covered by the study include assaults, but exclude street muggings, sexual violence, and murder. The research revealed that 3percent of people in Scotland had been victims of assault. The second highest figure was recorded in England and Wales, at 2.8percent, compared with 2percent in America, and 0.1percent in Japan.

The problem is so serious that Strathclyde Police, which last year reported 82 homicides and covers an area with a murder rate higher than Belfast, has set up Britain's first violence reduction unit to bring the killing under control.

Almost 90percent of the murders were committed by men, but the men and women use different methods.

More than 50percent of men used a sharp instrument and just 4percent used strangulation and drowning to murder their victims. One in five women used strangulation or drowning and 29percent used a sharp instrument. More than half the cases have resulted in a conviction for murder or culpable homicide.

The figures prompted Cathy Jamieson, the justice minister, to detail measures already underway and pledge to tackle public acceptance of violent behaviour in some communities. Measures in place include expanding Strathclyde's violence reduction unit into a national "centre of excellence" for violence prevention.

An executive-led working group will include leading policy-makers and experts on tackling violence.

Ms Jamieson also listed new laws such as tougher penalties for carrying knives and licensing curbs on binge drinking.

"For too long, violence has been a fact of life - cutting short too many young lives and undermining our collective hopes to create a safer, stronger Scotland, " she said. "While this problem is neither new nor unique to Scotland, it is one which must be addressed. .

"Violence which, as the homicide statistics remind us, often involves a victim and attacker who know each other, is often carried out by young men between the ages of 16 and 24, mostly occurs between 6pm and midnight at the weekend, and too often is fuelled by drink."

Ms Jamieson added: "Tackling this problem is not just about greater efforts by government, police and other public services. It is also for individuals and their families to set standards of behaviour for themselves and the people they know, and to create a climate in which respect is earned by the way a person carries out their life - and not what they carry in their pocket. Where communities look up to strong men and women - not just socalled 'hard men'."

Kenny MacAskill, the SNP justice spokesman, said: "What is truly staggering is that Glasgow's homicide rate is higher than Belfast's and is more than double the Scotland-wide rate. The fact that Scotland's homicide rate is the highest in almost a decade is also clearly alarming.

"Drink, drugs, and deprivation clearly play a role, however this does not detract from the simple fact that it is still completely unacceptable. The knife culture must be stamped out and a growing gun culture nipped in the bud. The underlying causes of crime need targeted, but, there must be no mercy shown to those who use guns, knives or otherweapons randomly or indiscriminately."

The Tories described the figures as "very worrying". Margaret Mitchell, the party's justice spokeswoman, said: "Cathy Jamieson has made it a priority to tackle violent crime, and again we are seeing it rise. The criminal justice system is haemorrhaging due to a lack of police on our streets and the operation of automatic early release. We can see that some of the homicides are committed by those who should still be in prison.

"I am calling on the executive to ditch the rhetoric, to act now, and to abolish automatic early release ."


Homicide rates per million population 2000-2002

Glasgow 62.9

Dundee 29.9

Aberdeen 15.8

Edinburgh 15.6

Belfast 62.4

London 26.7

Northern Ireland 28.5

Scotland 22.7

England & Wales 17.5

Moscow 117.9

Tallinn 94.3

Vilnius 88.8

New York 80.8

Warsaw 32.3

Amsterdam 31.3

Berlin 21.7

Paris 18.1

Sydney 15.3

Homicide victims and method of killing 1995/96-2004/5

Male victims

Shooting 6percent

Other 11percent

Fire 2percent

Strangulation, drowning 4percent

Hitting and kicking 17percent

Blunt instrument 9 percent

Sharp instrument 52percent

Female victims

Sharp instrument 29percent

Blunt instrument 11percent

Hitting and kicking 9percent

Fire 4percent

Shooting 7percent

Strangulation, drowning 20percent