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The media as an investigative resource: reflections from English cold-case units

Kirsty Bennett (Department of Human and Health Sciences, University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, UK)

Journal of Criminal Psychology

ISSN: 2009-3829

Article publication date: 4 May 2020

Issue publication date: 5 May 2020




The use of the media in live cases has been explored in terms of its use and value to an investigation. However, it is unclear as to whether engaging with the media in cold-case investigations results in a positive or negative reception, and what impact this can have on a case’s possibility for progression. Because of the passage of time and a lack of, or a failed, prosecution means that the approach to media use needs to be different. The purpose of this paper is to explore how the media could be used as an investigative resource for cold cases.


This study is a result of a 7-month observation period with a 2-force collaborative cold-case team in England, and supplemented with interviews with 12 experienced cold-case detectives. Using inductive thematic analysis, the themes identified allow an exploration of detectives’ use of the media and the effect that this has on progressing cases. Further, there is discussion as to whether the media’s involvement is positive or negative.


The overarching theme is that when using the media, cold-case detectives are met with a positive reception and interest. The media can be used to obtain information, particularly in cases with minimal information, and it is important to use murder-anniversaries to obtain help from the public. However, this needs to be a carefully managed strategy as the media coverage can be negative, including inaccurate or inappropriate reporting which can be of detriment to the investigation.


To the best of the author’s knowledge, this is the first paper to explore how cold-case detectives have used the media to progress cases, and the findings demonstrate that when the public are encouraged to come forward with information, there is a better chance of case progression. Further research is required to explore how all cold cases can receive appropriate coverage.



Bennett, K. (2020), "The media as an investigative resource: reflections from English cold-case units", Journal of Criminal Psychology, Vol. 10 No. 2, pp. 145-166.



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