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The British Gas Suicide Story and Its Criminological Implications

Ronald V. Clarke and Pat Mayhew
Crime and Justice
Vol. 10 (1988), pp. 79-116
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1147403
Page Count: 38
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
The British Gas Suicide Story and Its Criminological Implications
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Abstract

Between 1963 and 1975 the annual number of suicides in England and Wales showed a sudden, unexpected decline from 5,714 to 3,693 at a time when suicide continued to increase in most other European countries. This appears to be the result of the progressive removal of carbon monoxide from the public gas supply. Accounting for more than 40 percent of suicides in 1963, suicide by domestic gas was all but eliminated by 1975. Few of those prevented from using gas appear to have found some other way of killing themselves. These findings suggest that suicide is an intentional act designed to bring an end to deep, though sometimes transient, despair, chosen when moral restraints against the behavior are weakened and when the person has ready access to a means of death that is neither too difficult nor repugnant. This view of suicide has implications for its prevention and, by analogy, for the prevention of crime. That blocking opportunities, even for deeply motivated acts, does not inevitably result in displacement has not been so clearly shown before, and the demonstration considerably strengthens the case for opportunity-reducing or "situational" means of crime control.

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