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Crime: `Cracker' profiling dismissed as ineffective

The use of psychologists to provide "offender profiles" in police investigation has been called into question after a study has concluded that most are inaccurate and many are useless.

Less than 3 per cent lead to the identification of the criminal and only 15 per cent provide new lines of inquiry.

Almost every police force in the country now uses offender profiles, which have gained an almost mystical reputation with the public through television dramas such as Cracker, yet until now no-one has assessed whether they do any good.

A five-year project supported by the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers has found huge differences between the different "experts" some of whom have very poor track records.

Researchers questioned 184 officers who had used a profiler in an investigation and discovered that 2.7 per cent lead to an identification of the offender, although 84 per cent said it had been "useful".

The "Coals to Newcastle" project was headed by Detective Chief Inspector Gary Copson of the Metropolitan Police. "You may as well toss a coin for some", he said.

He added that some of the profiles he examined were "riddled with inaccuracies and inconsistencies which suggest they didn't really do any good." Presenting his findings at the British Psychological Society's annual conference in Cambridge, DCI Copson argued that profiles should come with a strong warning to police officers that they are not cure-alls.

Supporters of offender profiles will be angry at the new report, which they believe is unfairly critical of pychologists.