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Former homicide detective reveals whether true crime fans really could help solve criminal cases

  • Research from The University of Law reveals 70% of true crime fans believe evidence sourced by “home detectives” should be used in live court cases

  • More than two in five aren’t aware how their online behaviours can jeopardise a case and lead to their prosecution

  • Former homicide detective warns against sharing speculation online relating to criminal cases

As 70% of true crime fans support the idea of “Internet sleuths” being used to solve crimes, a former homicide detective and lecturer in professional policing has explained how the genre could affect criminal justice in the real-world.

When asked whether evidence sourced by members of the public online should be used in court, only 8% of people polled disagreed. The findings come from the latest research by The University of Law (ULaw), which explores how the boom in true crime popularity is affecting the legal world.

According to the findings, while a large proportion of the public would support using evidence from “home detectives” in a criminal case, many are unaware of the risks involved with sharing details of a criminal case online.

More than one in five (44%) people polled by ULaw are unaware that sharing details of a court case online could lead to their own prosecution. Those who are fans of the crime genre are savvier, although a significant proportion (31%) are still running the risk of jeopardising a case or facing prosecution for being in contempt of court.

Ally White, lecturer in Professional Policing at The University of Law, explains: “It can be easy to watch the latest Netflix thriller and fancy yourself as a bit of an amateur detective, but these shows are far from the truth.

“We can see in this research that 49% of true crime fans believe their skills would be useful in a real-life case, which may well be true, but often this is based on highly dramatised examples that we must remember are created for entertainment purposes.

“The idea of taking evidence from amateur ‘Internet sleuths’ is concerning from a criminal justice perspective. There are so many ways in which this could be flawed – bias, false information, poor evidence handling to name just a few. In sharing information relating to a criminal case not only would you jeopardise the whole case, potentially risking a guilty party being let off, but you would also run the risk of your own prosecution or at least a hefty fine.”

So, could true crime fans really make better detectives, or is the genre creating a paranoid generation?

The research from ULaw would suggest the latter, as fans of true crime have been found to be much more likely to research conspiracy theories (17% of fans vs 6% non-fans), investigate their ex-partners (11% vs 5%) and spend time digging into unsolved crimes (10% vs. 3%).

What’s more, fans of true crime were found to be much more likely to have taken action for their personal protection in the past year, including installing CCTV (33%), home alarms (27%), changing their social media to private (25%) and even deleting social media all together (10%).

Ally White continues: “The boom in popularity of true crime may have created a little bit of paranoia among some, however if it helps people to stay vigilant then that’s a positive outcome.

“While most of what we see is dramatised, these documentaries and thrillers can occasionally present a useful lesson that can be applied to the real-world. We probably don’t need to start obsessing over conspiracy theories or thoroughly researching those around us, however a little more awareness and knowledge of what to do in an emergency can only be a good thing.”


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