December 20, 2022

Murder, police and the power of a second opinion

I have just listened to the BBC series “The boy in the wood”:  the tragic story of the murder of 6-year-old Ricky Neave in 1994.

The original police team early on “decided” that the mother was the prime suspect and then (maybe unwittingly, who knows) picked evidence that fitted their belief and ignored that which didn’t. Immersed in the pressure cooker of public outrage and the enormous demand to get a result, they took the more expedient route.

As a result, the murderer got away. For 20 years.

Once out of prison (for neglect, she wasn’t convicted of murder, the evidence wasn’t strong enough) his mother fought for justice for her son. The police eventually reopened the case.

What was interesting to me were two things. First, the neutral experts (eg the forensic scientists) had spotted the inconsistencies in the evidence but didn’t push their ideas forward, given the police weren’t paying attention to them. That crucial objective arms-length perspective, unaffected by the hothouse of the investigation was missed.

Second, thy new cold case review team brought in a totally objective and experienced fresh set of eyes (an experienced barrister) to review the evidence. His response was pretty quick: “it’s obvious”.  Looking without any axe to grind and without bias, he could see the so-called obvious staring at him from the evidence. The obvious thing that the original team did not. As a result, James Watson was convicted of the murder this year. Many years too late.

A fascinating story about how anyone can become blinkered under pressure. How our bias to confirm what we already decided can make us ignore other evidence. And crucially how important a fresh perspective can be in avoiding mistakes.

An interesting parallel to marketing decisions? Judging your own ad perhaps? Well worth a thought. And if a second opinion seems sensible. That’s what we are about here.


Roger Jackson

CEO of ShopperIntelligence

Founder of SenseCheck

Want some tips on avoiding marketing waste?

You may also want to read…

Want to know if your marketing idea works?
Get it SenseChecked!