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Understanding investigative errors in major crime investigations

Project Description

This project will focus on the investigation of major crimes (such as homicide, attempted homicide, serious sexual violence) exploring the context surrounding the investigative decision-making, to understand the cultural, situational, personnel and organisational factors influencing decision-making. Decision-making is at the heart of investigative success and despite increasing regulatory guidance to assist the decision-making process cases go cold and miscarriages of justice occur. This can result in victims of crime not receiving justice, justice being delayed, and innocent people being wrongly convicted. The focus of the project is to establish the systemic errors resulting in investigative failures. Included within this there is the scope to explore the role of investigative experience and knowledge, the impact of official guidance in investigative decision-making, the problems of technology and the overload of information and, where appropriate, the role of expert evidence in the investigations.

The aim of this project is to map the diverse kinds of ‘errors’ and omissions that seem to characterise investigative failures and to understand their impact upon investigations to prevent them from happening in the future. Crucial to this is an understanding of the context surrounding the decisions being made.

Methodology and Innovations

The research methodology will be predominantly qualitative consisting of: ethnographic non-participant observations of detectives as they investigate and review major crime (such as homicide, attempted homicide, serious sexual violence); interviews with detectives involved in these investigations and experts and practitioners drawn on to help in the investigations. Case file analysis of solved and unsolved crimes will likely complement these methods. There is scope within the project to analyse all of the paperwork from the original investigation into the murders committed by Peter Sutcliffe the Yorkshire Ripper, an early example of numerous investigative failings including poor communication within the investigating team and flawed decision making.


Applicants must apply using the online form on the University Alliance website at Full details of the programme, eligibility details and a list of available research projects can be seen at

The final deadline for application is 12 April 2019.

Funding Notes

DTA3/COFUND participants will be employed for 36 months with a minimum salary of (approximately) £20,989 per annum. Tuition fees will waived for DTA3/COFUND participants who will also be able to access an annual DTA elective bursary to enable attendance at DTA training events and interact with colleagues across the Doctoral Training Alliance(s).

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 801604.

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