A Critical Exploration of Changes to the Investigation of Homicide in England and Wales from the 1980s to the Present Day

  • Sophie Pike

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The six-year investigation by West Yorkshire Police to apprehend Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, in the late 1970s and early 1980s was roundly criticised and led to a public inquiry that called for wide-ranging changes to homicide investigation. With a history already marred by corruption and miscarriages of justice, it was a pivotal case, which triggered a process of reform that has continued to the present day. Yet, flawed investigations continue, suggesting that the investigation of homicide remains fallible. Moreover, the homicide detection rate has declined since the 1960s. Despite this, homicide investigation is a topic that has been subject to minimal academic scrutiny. This study addresses this gap by exploring how and why the investigation of homicide in England and Wales has changed since the 1980s and what has been lost and/or gained as a consequence.
    Adopting a qualitative approach, the research is based on in-depth interviews with twenty-seven former and serving homicide detectives, the analysis of three police murder files from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, and observations of homicide investigation and detective training. Original documentation from the Yorkshire Ripper investigation was also examined.
    This research has established that homicide investigation has changed almost beyond all recognition across the last four decades. This is the consequence of four central drivers: a growing preoccupation with risk; the changing political economy; reactions to miscarriages of justice or problematic cases; and advances in science and technology. The impact of change has been considerable and whilst there have been benefits, today’s more risk averse homicide detectives face new challenges that are compounded by cuts to police budgets and prioritisation of other crimes such as terrorism.
    Date of AwardMay 2018
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorFiona Brookman (Supervisor) & Mike Maguire (Supervisor)

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