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Inside the minds of Britain's 5,000 killers
Updated: 2004-07-20 09:00

Commander Andy Baker wants to get inside the mind of every convicted killer in Britain.

London's top murder investigator is preparing to interview them and analyze their backgrounds, personality traits, murder methods and motives to piece together a catalog of killer profiles in an attempt to prevent future crimes.

"We'd like eventually to interview every person convicted of murder," Baker told Reuters in an interview.

The daunting task falls to Baker's new Homicide Protection Unit (HPU) at London's Metropolitan police headquarters, Scotland Yard. Latest figures show more than 5,000 people are in jail in Britain for homicide, manslaughter or attempted murder.

Teams of police investigators, academics and analysts will interview the killers, analyze their psychological profiles and combine this information with the circumstances, location and method of murder to try to find a pattern.


"We want to know not just the who, what, when, where, why. But how did they evade capture? And what was the investigation team's hypothesis? Then we will be able to see the gaps," Baker said.

"If that saves one life, if just one person gives us one gem of better insight, then this will all be worth it."

The teams will work on 11 specific areas: Ritual murders, contract killings, stranger attacks on lone females, murder of sex workers, homophobic murders, murders involving mental health issues, honor killings, murders of elderly people, serial killers, domestic violence murders and murder where arson is a weapon.

"We reckon that for some groups it will take two years, and for others it may be five years or more," says Baker.

Psychological profiling of murderers and serial killers was pioneered by America's FBI in the 1970s, but Baker's is the first British police unit set up to try to use it to stop killings.

Baker cites infamous British serial killers such as Fred and Rosemary West, who killed and dismembered at least 10 young women and girls, and Anthony Hardy, who was jailed for life last year for the murder of three sex workers in north London.

The Wests repeatedly befriended young women and lured them to their home while Hardy had a 20-year history of mental illness, serious domestic violence and an obsession with prostitutes.


"We need to ask how do we prevent another Fred West becoming a serial killer? Or how do we stop the next Tony Hardy before he starts killing prostitutes?" Baker said.

"It may be that these kinds of people have been stalking, or perhaps they've been involved in attacks on women in the past. Our plan would be to incorporate them into a public protection plan and put them onto some kind of risk register. We do it with pedophiles, so we should learn from that."

"What's the difference between attacking a 15-year-old and attacking a 19-year-old?"

Human rights campaigners are wary of Baker's new unit, fearful that it will begin trying to predict who might commit murder and seek to register or restrict them even if they have done nothing wrong.

"In general, if there are going to be more registers and risk assessments made they should not be done in a blanket manner and ... the police should not be responsible for them," said Gareth Crossman, director of policy at the rights campaign group Liberty in London.

Baker is dismissive of such fears and insists the HPU is about prevention not prediction.

"You can't predict, all you can do is prevent. If we could predict we wouldn't have a crime problem in the first place.

"We're not trying to come up with any outcomes yet -- our job is to say this is what we have found and this is what we think, now let's engage to find solutions," he said.

Baker says some convicted killers have already expressed an eagerness to talk to the research teams, but he acknowledges that others may not be keen.

He favors a proposal that would make talking to his Homicide Unit a condition of release from prison for convicted murderers.

"These people have been convicted of murder. We're not talking about shop-lifters here, we're talking about murderers.

"I want to see that good comes out of bad," he said.

"Civil liberties campaigners would say this is wrong and say we are restricting prisoners' freedom by forcing them to talk to us, but haven't we got that right? Hasn't the public got a right to protect itself?"

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