08 November 2009

Grave doubts

I'm grateful to my friend Phil for drawing to my attention a story in Wednesday's Sun about a North Wales Police murder investigation that wasted £20,000 following up leads given by psychics (story here). An apparently straightforward suicide case was re-opened after information supplied by psychics was passed to the police by the suicide's family, and twenty large later it was confirmed as cobblers by the rather more conventional method of a second post-mortem examination. The police should, according to The Sun, have dismissed the psychics as "cranks" - a commendably sober judgement, undermined somewhat by the stories sitting next to it on The Sun's website: "Jacko's ghost at Neverland"; "Derek Acorah 'talks to Jacko' at Seance". Not to mention the horoscopes.

The police often accuse members of the public of mixing up fiction and real life when it comes to understanding police procedures, but it would seem that, on this occasion, they themselves have been guilty of one too many X-Files episodes. What makes this case unusual is it is normally a last resort rather than an opening line of enquiry that seems to have been done to satisfy the wishes of the family who were said to be "grateful". Touching as this is, I was not aware this was a service the police performed: wasting public money out of sympathy for the family rather than satisfying the rest of us there is some sort of process involved in investigating a death, not just a plan based upon whatever was on telly the night before.

Maybe they were confused after catching a show on Living2 that I stumbled across called Sensing Murder. It is a New Zealand TV show that re-opens cold cases and invites psychics to bring their powers to bear, in an attempt to get fresh insights into unsolved murders. It is also one of the funniest shows I have seen on TV in a long time - even funnier than Masterchef: The Professionals or The West Wing. It's a tricky act to balance - making the psychics' guesses carry some weight to make the show interesting, while trying to appear detached, to make it credible. Amazingly, for an "acclaimed" and award-winning show, they manage neither of these things, allowing the psychics to perform cold-reading techniques that wouldn't fool a child all the while failing to turn up any new evidence that helps solve a case.

So far there have been 27 episodes of the show in New Zealand, leading to a grand total of zero cases being solved. But, to be fair to the Kiwis, the show is based upon a Danish format, and they didn't solve any crimes either. In fact, in every country in the world in which the show has been created, not one psychic lead has ever produced any result. Not that you'd get that impression from the show itself or its website, which is more keen to tell you about the number of reality TV awards it has won. So maybe the cops in Dyfed shouldn't feel so bad about their recent bad publicity; they might be able to recoup the money from New Zealand TV, as the 2009 series of Sensing Murder is currently in production. And maybe by the time Ninox Television has recut it, it will turn out to be murder after all.

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