Real-life Crackers are 'worthless' and hamper investigations
Criminal profilers such as portrayed in television's Cracker are no better at catching serial killers than fortune tellers, it was claimed today.
The self-styled behavioural experts, who say they get into the mind of offenders, employed techniques that were more "fantasy than science", said a leading psychologist.
He said that the profession, which he claims has yet to solve a crime, was dangerous because it could lead to wasted police time and miscarriages of justice.
The attack came from the consultant psychologist Dr Craig Jackson, co-author of a damning critique of the profession soon to be published in a legal journal.
He argues that criminal profiling may be surrounded by a media-driven mystique but is unscientific and potentially harmful.
"Behavioural profiling has never led to the direct apprehension of a serial killer or murderer, so it seems to have no real-world value," said Dr Jackson.
"It's given too much credibility as a scientific discipline and I think this is a serious issue. It is showbiz science that sells books but does not solve crimes."
Offender profiling involves building up a picture of an as-yet unidentified suspect from their methods, choice of victim, and clues left at the crime scene.
Criminal profiler is Paul Britton, known as the real Cracker, who has been involved in high profile cases such as the Fred and Rose West killings, and the murders of James Bulger, schoolgirl Naomi Smith and Rachel Nickell.
In 2002 Mr Britton was cleared of professional misconduct by the British Psychological Society after the collapse of the case against Nickell suspect Colin Stagg.
The serial rapist Robert Napper eventually admitted murdering Ms Nickell on Wimbledon Common, south-west London, in 1992.
Dr Jackson voiced his criticisms at the British Science Festival, which opened today at Aston University in Birmingham.
The technique of behavioural profiling was first adopted by the FBI in 1972 and had been "going non-stop ever since", he said.
But although it had provided colourful material for newspapers, movies and TV programmes, there was no evidence that profiling did any good, he said.
"This is an appeal to use better science in this field, otherwise it will go the same way as parapsychology and reading tea leaves or tarot cards," said Dr Jackson, of Birmingham City University.
"It is fantasy, it is not science. It results in miscarriages of justice and serial killers that carry on killing for longer."
He said that typically criminal profilers portrayed themselves more as witch doctors than scientists; people with unusual special gifts that were both a blessing and a burden.
"They bring themselves forward as if they are shamans cursed with the nightmares of dead people," said Dr Jackson. "It almost takes us back to primitivism. It isn't a good advert for science."
In reality behavioural profiling had grown out of "spurious loose science" from the 1950s and 1960s, he said.
It was based on "small data sets, limited numbers and a biased sample" – that is, interviews with killers in captivity which he said were worthless.
The opposite view is expressed in the novel and film The Silence Of The Lambs, in which a rookie FBI agent relies on one serial killer – the ruthless psychopath Hannibal Lecter – to help her catch another.
Dr Jackson and his co-authors, a criminologist and an organisational psychiatrist, focus their attention on criminal profiling pioneer and ex-FBI agent John E. Douglas – who inspired the Jack Crawford character in Thomas Harris's Hannibal Lecter novels.
Their paper will appear in the journal Amicas next month.
Douglas was involved in the hunt for American serial killer Dennis Rader, known by the nickname he gave himself, BTK (bind, torture, kill).
The "BTK strangler" murdered 10 victims in Wichita, Kansas, between 1974 and 1991 before being brought to justice.
The role Douglas played in the investigation was outlined in his bestselling book Inside The Mind Of BTK: The True Story Behind The 30 Year Hunt For The Notorious Wichita Serial Killer.
But according to Dr Jackson and his fellow experts, Rader's profile contributed little as they were so vague and often contradictory.
In the end Rader trapped himself after taunting police by sending them a message on a computer floppy disk and challenging them to trace it.
Dr Jackson said profiling was "routinely used" in murder inquires in the UK. Practitioners had to be members of the British Psychological Society, have their names on a Home Office register and attend a Home Office-approved training course.
"If you could bring me one serial killer apprehended as a result of a behavioural profile I would have some faith in it, but so far there has been no recorded case anywhere," he said.