What’s up with the UK’s fascination with CCTV and does it make the country safer?


Watch any English Crime Drama and you will quickly learn that the UK is full of CCTV cameras. The UK has an estimated 4-5 million CCTV cameras and the London Tube Network alone has more than 15,000 cameras. That is a lot of footage – but why? Where has the UK’s captivation of CCTV come from and does it make the country any safer?

 The proliferation of CCTV only began around the early 90s, prior to this, the number of CCTV cameras was fairly minimal. So what changed? Security Experts will point to two significant events that occurred in 1993 as being catalysts to the huge growth seen in this area.

In February 1993, two year old Jamie Bulger was led out of a Liverpool Shopping Centre by two 10 year old boys. He was tortured and ultimately killed in a horrific act which shocked and stunned the entire nation. It was CCTV footage from the shopping centre that led police to determine how he was abducted and ultimately helped in the prosecution of the two boys. Over 25 years later, the CCTV image of the little boy being led out of shopping centre is still etched into peoples minds.   Not long after this tragic event, in April 1993, the IRA (Irish Republican Army) blew up a truck loaded with fertiliser and diesel fuel in London’s financial district causing 350 million pounds worth of damage.  As the history books will tell you, London has been a prime target for terrorism and this particular event led to what is known as “The ring of steel” being erected around the city – consisting of reinforced barriers and lots of CCTV cameras. The system became very successful and became popular with local authorities all over the country and the use of CCTV sharply rose to the levels we now see.

But the question still stands – does it make UK citizens any safer?

There have been several studies into the effectiveness of CCTV and one conducted by the College of Policing’s Effects of CCTV on Crime  (2013 What Works? study) showed that CCTV is effective in being a deterrent for planned crime such as trespassing, burglary, car theft and other antisocial behaviour. Violent crime rates aren’t impacted – and this is likely due to the fact that violent crimes tend to be impulsive and spur of the moment. Whilst CCTV may not act as a deterrent to violent crime, research has shown that 7 out of 10 murders in the UK  are solved using footage captured by CCTV which means offenders are being taken off the streets. 

With advancements in technology such as facial recognition and automated analysis of the hundreds of hours of footage, in time it is likely that we will see much greater levels of sophistication of CCTV cameras in the UK. With such an extensive network of cameras, this will allow offenders and missing person’s to be tracked and an even more crimes solved.