Murder map plots history of homicide in London

By Andy Dangerfield
BBC News, London

Image caption,
Murder Map uses Google Maps software to plot more than 400 killings

From the butchery of Jack the Ripper to the organised crime of the Krays, an ambitious project is under way to map every London murder case since the 19th Century.

Murder Map's founders Nick Cullen, 27, and Peter Stubley, 33, are plotting this macabre visualisation, which could prove gruesome and grossly insensitive to some, but fascinating and potentially useful to others.

The website, which launched in May, uses web application Google Maps to plot more than 400 homicide cases, based on news agency Central News' court reports and the Old Bailey's archives.

But charity Victim Support says the tool is insensitive to families of murder victims.

"This website has a gruesome and unnecessary amount of detail," a charity spokesperson said.

"It is grossly insensitive to people who have been bereaved in such tragic circumstances."

However, Barry Mizen, whose 16-year-old son Jimmy Mizen bled to death after being attacked in Lee, in south east London, in 2008, said: "I do not have a problem with the site.

"The facts are public knowledge, so I don't think anyone who disagreed could force the issue.

"Ideally to ask the family would be courteous but victim's families' details are not public knowledge so it would be difficult contacting them to ask for permission," he added.

'Callous society'

Mr Cullen defended the site, saying: "We don't want to upset people but want to report cases as accurately as possible.

"You wouldn't have asked a reporter not to report on the 7/7 bombings because it was an important story.

"Equally, it is important that every murder is reported.

"If murders are just forgotten about, it's a sign of a callous society that doesn't care about bloodshed happening in its midst."

Other websites map crime levels by area, which has led some to question whether this new tool is necessary.

A spokeswoman for Victim Support said: "Police and government websites already allow anyone to check local crime levels in a much more appropriate way, so it is hard to see any justification for this site."

Image caption,
Murder Map allows users to search by the number of 16 to 19-year-olds who died from being stabbed

But the website's founders, who are not yet making a profit but admit they "might do so eventually", believe Murder Map is useful in many ways.

"We're unique in mapping actual court reports, following each case through to sentencing," said Mr Cullen.

Murder Map's founders say they set up the website because they were "frustrated to see a lot of murder cases that were not reported in some of the national media".

"This website redresses the balance with all cases in one place, with equal weight," said Mr Cullen.

Mr Mizen agrees, saying: "We all too easily become complacent if homicides do not make the news."

"So making known every homicide would at least give people the facts."

Street gangs

If Murder Map develops to a stage at which decades of homicides are plotted, the website could also provide insight into shifts in crime patterns and its producers think this could influence policy makers.

"We want the site to be useful for lawyers, police and anyone interested in making the city a safer place to live," said Mr Cullen.

Image caption,
London Street Gangs maps what it claims are territories of street gangs in the capital

The Metropolitan Police said: "It is not for us to criticise or endorse the website."

Murder Map's producers say they have not found a similar website for any other city.

"If there was, you could make very interesting comparisons," Mr Cullen said.

This is not the first time Google Maps has been used to map controversial subject matter.

London Street Gangs plots what it claims are the names and territories of more than 100 gangs in the capital.

Meanwhile, the Green Party's Jenny Jones thinks the tool could be put to better use.

"Why not map the road deaths in London?" she asked.

"There are far more than there are murders and they are concentrated in areas with high crime levels."

But for now, Murder Map's producers have their work cut out working through the Old Bailey's astonishing archives to map killings.

"Once that's done, then we might look into other crime," Mr Cullen said.

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