MURDERS have fallen to what is believed to be a Scottish all-time low as knives stay out of fashion.

New national numbers show the country - often wrongly dubbed Europe's violent crime capital - now has a homicide rate firmly in line with neighbours like Ireland, Denmark and England.

Hardened crime-fighters believe the statistics come after a decade of concerted efforts, led by the Violence Reduction Unit at Police Scotland, to wean the country off booze and blades.

There were only 49 murders in 2015-2016, six fewer than the year before and the lowest ever measured on current crime-recording standards in use since the 1970s. It is thought this is the first time in modern Scotland when there have been fewer than 50 murders. The total number of homicides, including culpable homicides, was 57.

That produces a homicide rate of just over one killing per 100,000 people, still a smidgeon above England, where numbers have been rising, but now in line with neighbouring countries rather than far ahead of them.

John Carnochan, a former senior detective who helped to found the Violence Reduction Unit, said: "Obviously this is good news but what we are seeing is knives being removed meaning lower fatalities in violent incidents. So the message that knives are unacceptable to use as a society is so important.

"But murder can be a happenstance and progress is fragile. It only takes somebody to decide that knifes are cool again for things to change."

Mr Carnochan stressed the need for further progressive and smart policies on penal reform, with a strong focus on rehabilitation for the young men who are still mostly likely to be both the perpetrators and victims of violent crime.

Overall serious violent crime - so-called Group 1 offences - rose in the year, at least partly because more assaults are being counted as serious rather than common. Sex crimes are also continuing the steady increases they have made in recent years, by 6.2 per cent. That number, police said, masked that two out of five reported rapes took place before the year concerned and are "historic". The number of rapes reported to haven taken place in the year was down, by 6.5 per cent.

Iain Livingstone, Scotland's deputy chief constable, said: "There were fewer than 50 murders last year across the whole of the country with Major Investigation teams working closely with local policing officers to detect those crimes and manage the impact in communities.

"The loss of any life is a tragedy and we will continue to do all we can to reduce violent crime.

“In continuing to tackle sexual crime, we have committed significant resources to the investigation of non-recent sexual abuse, domestic abuse, rape and other sexual offending with a focus on victim-centred investigations.

"We aim to use intelligence and the latest investigative techniques to ensure offenders are caught. Preventative and awareness work has also taken place with partners as part of our violence prevention strategy to impact on those who would commit such crimes in a way that changes and challenges their behaviour."

Detectives once focused on violence and murders are now bringing their skills to investigate crimes such as rape and domestic abuse. Detections have risen, by one per cent. The detection rate for murder was 98 per cent. It was nearly as high for attempted murder. That is not the same as the conviction rate, which will be published later.

Overall crime dipped some 3.2 per cent, mostly thanks to crimes of dishonesty such as theft and housebreaking, going down. Fraud, often thought to be under-reported, rose, with police stressing their focus on cybercrime, which includes both financial and sex crime.

Mr Livingstone said: "The past 12 months have continued to present challenges for policing in Scotland; the emergence of cyber-related crime is being closely monitored as we move forward."