Open Access Research article

Fear of crime and the environment: systematic review of UK qualitative evidence

Theo Lorenc1*, Mark Petticrew1, Margaret Whitehead2, David Neary2, Stephen Clayton2, Kath Wright3, Hilary Thomson4, Steven Cummins15, Amanda Sowden3 and Adrian Renton6

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Social and Environmental Health Research, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK

2 Department of Public Health and Policy, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK

3 Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, University of York, York, UK

4 MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, Glasgow, UK

5 Department of Social and Environmental Health Research, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK

6 Institute for Health and Human Development, University of East London, London, UK

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:496  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-496

Published: 24 May 2013



The fear of crime may have negative consequences for health and wellbeing. It is influenced by factors in the physical and social environment. This study aimed to review and synthesize qualitative evidence from the UK on fear of crime and the environment.


Eighteen databases were searched, including crime, health and social science databases. Qualitative studies conducted in the UK which presented data on fear of crime and the environment were included. Quality was assessed using Hawker et al.’s framework. Data were synthesized thematically.


A total of 40 studies were included in the review. Several factors in the physical environment are perceived to impact on fear of crime, including visibility and signs of neglect. However, factors in the local social environment appear to be more important as drivers of fear of crime, including social networks and familiarity. Broader social factors appear to be of limited relevance. There is considerable evidence for limitations on physical activity as a result of fear of crime, but less for mental health impacts.


Fear of crime represents a complex set of responses to the environment. It may play a role in mediating environmental impacts on health and wellbeing.

Crime/psychology; Fear; Review; Environment design; Qualitative research