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Cold Case Unit
A team of students at Leeds Beckett University have reviewed investigations into people who have been missing for several years. The cold case unit helped victim’s families by potentially identifying new lines of enquiries for police to explore. The project offered our students an opportunity to experience and contribute to real life criminal investigations.
When a loved one goes missing, the hope is to find them alive and well. Yet, 5,000 people remain missing for longer than 12 months. The families have no answers as to their whereabouts.
With rising crime rates and diminishing resources, police forces must prioritise the people that go missing today. For the families of those 5,000, the case is still a priority. Although investigated thoroughly at the time, the case has gone cold. Cases often wait for new information, or a body to be found, in order for it to be progressed.
The challenge was to:
- Aid families and law enforcement agencies with the reviews of long-term, often suspicious, missing person cases.
- Understand the issue of long-term missing persons and develop a research base to support both families and law enforcement
- Develop communities of student volunteers to actively assist their local communities
The Cold Case Unit worked collaboratively with law enforcement agencies and other educational institutions. We provided support to forces in a concerted approach, with recognition of their current and past investigations. In collaboration with Locate International, the Unit extended its support to those who request help.
Offering a unique opportunity to our students, the Unit drew on student volunteers, who work with former detectives and major crime review experts, as well as forensic specialists during the review process. We engaged in crowd sourcing, through Locate International’s forum, to bring together experts from various disciplines to provide holistic support to families.
The Unit considered all information provided by families and the police to conduct a thorough review of someone’s disappearance. Students reviewed the cases at the request of a family or police force (either in the UK or internationally), under guidance from those with previous experience. Cases that we reviewed include:
- Long-term missing persons
- Suspected no body murders
- Cold case murders
Cases are older than 12 months, but no case was considered too old to be reviewed by the Unit.
Even thorough investigations often remain unsolved, sometimes a fresh pair of eyes or more time than the police can give it can be the difference between success and another unsolved case.
Too many victims run the risk of being a low priority. Whether that be by the police, the media, or society as a whole. Attention is drawn to the people who disappear, or are murdered, today.
We worked collectively with other experts to ensure that this does not happen.
The Unit, developed alongside Locate International, was the first of its kind in the UK. Families had another option for the investigations of their loved one’s case. They were supported, with clear expectations, during the entire review process, and they were supported to engage with various media platforms to highlight their stories.
Students could understand the complex nature of these investigations, whilst developing numerous skills. They could develop their research and analytical skills, as well as recognizing the plight of a challenged sector of society. These skills allowed them to help the families within their communities whilst students, but also when they embark on their careers.
Our goal was to help find pieces of the puzzle in someone’s disappearance: this does not always lead to a resolution of the case.
The Cold Case Unit operated at Leeds Beckett University until December 2022.
Using established police processes and the expertise of volunteers from Locate International, students have the opportunity to explore the case file, provide reports, and generate further lines of inquiry from their own research.
Outputs and recognition
- The Daily Mirror: Ex-Murder Detective helping families
- The Times: A mother's tale: my son has been missing for 31 years, where is he?
- The Sun article
- The Daily Mail: Fresh hope in hunt for British backpacker who vanished in Canada 31 years ago
- Yorkshire Evening Post: Criminology students at Leeds university review missing people cold cases alongside families
- Yorkshire Post: Mother of missing Yorkshire man who vanished in 1989 given fresh hope in unsolved case
We have a strong commitment to research led teaching and to supporting the development of our students as critical, creative and capable individuals, able to contribute to society as active and enterprising citizens and pursue successful careers.
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