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MARY ANN COTTON was one of the great Victorian poisoners. She probably killed three of her four husbands, a lover, her mother and 11 of her 13 children. Arsenic was her weapon of choice. As the deaths mounted, the authorities became suspicious. Only when they tested the empty medicine bottles that littered her house and found evidence of arsenic was Cotton caught. She was tried and hanged in 1873. Today murder by poison is rare—dangerous substances are more tightly controlled and the accuracy of autopsies makes the crime harder to pull off. In the year to March 2015 only 11 people were killed in this way. 

Poisoning is not the only offence almost to have disappeared. Since the mid-1990s Britain has seen a steady and dramatic decline in lawbreaking: the number of crimes has more than halved, according to the official Crime Survey for England and Wales. Vehicle theft has fallen by 86% and burglary by 71% since 1995. Violent crime has dropped by two-thirds and robberies by more than half. Even with the onset of the financial crisis in 2007 and the ensuing cuts to welfare and public services, including the police, Britain has grown ever...Continue reading

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