With the tragic and chilling news that the bodies of five women have been found in woodland near Ipswich in the UK, forensic psychology has featured heavily in the news as the police hunt to catch the killer intensifies.
Forensic psychology is psychology applied to the law or legal system. For example, it can involve treating mentally ill prisoners, assessing people for court evidence, working with legal staff, or, in this case, analysing crime patterns to build up a profile of the likely offender.
In the current cases, the forensic psychologists are likely to be looking carefully at the evidence and seeing how well it matches known psychological characteristics of similar cases in the past.
While TV usually portrays this as giving a ‘personality profile’ of possible suspect or suspects, it could also suggest lifestyle, occupation or motivations.
This might not be enough to describe a single person, but might significantly reduce the field or allow the police to eliminate a number of suspects.
The Times had a short article yesterday, which includes audio (mp3) of forensic psychologist Dr David Nias discussing possible motivations of the killer.
However, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this and many of the other press stories are based on interviews with individual forensic psychologists who probably only have access to information from the media, and so are best considered as professional speculation.
New Scientist seems to have the best coverage and discusses the limitations and difficulties of offender profiling as well as its potential contributions to the ongoing investigation.
In light of the tragic circumstances, we can only wish the best for the investigation and the victims’ friends and families.
Link to NewSci article ‘Forensic psychologists tackle UK serial killer’.
One thought on “Forensic psychologists tackle Ipswich murder cases”
Totally agree with your contention that any psychological take on the case is just professional speculation at present. The most sensible comments to date have come from Professor David Canter, who quite rightly pointed out on newsnight that there were simply too few details yet to form a detailed profile of the suspect and that it was far more likely that the case would be solved through police records attempting to ascertain where the suspect may be based (geographic profiling) rather than building an intense personal description of the offender (criminal profiling).
For anybody interested in this area I recently launched the website All About Forensic Psychology (http://www.all-about-forensic-psychology.com/)
The website was originally based on a series of lectures and group work sessions I devised for undergraduate psychology students but has since grown to include various information resources and contributions from experts in the field.
David Webb BSc (hons), MSc