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Q&A with Laura Richards

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What is criminal behavioural analysis and what does it involve on a day-to-day basis? Behavioural analysis can be applied in different ways to crime. It involves the study of patterns of behaviour and the characteristic psychology of perpetrators of extremely violent or repetitive crimes to help arrest them and prevent future crimes.One example is profiling sexual and violent crime. Previously I was a behavioural analyst in the Metropolitan Police Service and my role entailed analysing stranger rape, murder and abduction in London to support investigations, link potential offences and identify serial perpetrators as well as the type of offender who committed the crime(s). I was lucky to be trained and mentored by some of the leading lights in the UK and later by FBI profilers in the US.Throughout my career, using my psychology degrees, I have put a lot of time and energy into ensuring the learning is captured in tool kits, such as the Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Harassment and Honour Based Violence (DASH) Risk identification, Assessment and Management Model which was developed on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers and in partnership with Coordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse. This was informed by analysing murders, ‘near misses’ and lower level incidents along with piloting and reviewing and consultation with police officers, practitioners and victims whilst working with Professor Betsy Stanko, OBE.The DASH Risk Model is used by most police services and partner agencies for early identification, intervention and prevention and referral to MARACs. This changed the face of policing when responding to domestic abuse. Previously it was seen as ‘just a domestic’, not a matter for the police, provoking oftentimes a rather lack lustre reactive response. However, the DASH ensures a proactive response, asking the right questions at every incident in order to prevent something more serious escalating in the future. Training is vital on the tool in order to understand the behavioural dynamics of domestic abuse (it’s about power and control) and just how dangerous some of the offenders can be. Interestingly there has been a 58% reduction in domestic murder in London, the first police service to use it, across the last ten years.In my role as Head of the Homicide Prevention Unit we applied behavioural analysis to 15 portfolios of violent crime and homicide in order to identify risk factors and tool kits to intervene and prevent in future incidents. The analytical team worked alongside leading academics, researchers and innovative police officers.I was fortunate enough to be a specialist adviser to the All Party Parliamentary Stalking Law Reform Inquiry. I created an online survey and analysed stalking cases and the ‘victims voice’ in order to understand more about the nature of stalking and what happened when people reported stalking to the criminal justice system. This analysis was submitted to the Inquiry along with other compelling evidence from police and probation officers, victims and their families and specialist charities such as Women’s Aid highlighting that a specific stalking offence was needed. A number of us from the All Party Inquiry were invited to meet the Prime Minster on March 8 2012 and brief him on stalking. Afterwards he declared stalking would become a criminal offence.

Present day I am the Chief Executive of Paladin, the National Stalking Advocacy Service. The team of Independent Stalking Advocacy Caseworkers (ISACs) provide advocacy and support to high risk victims of stalking with the key aim of co-ordinating and working with other agencies to keep victims safe.There is no typical day in my current role, or indeed across my career. Sometimes I might be advising on a case, writing a report for court, other times training police and/or other agencies, speaking to or lobbying an MP or giving an interview to the media, attending meetings, writing briefing papers on stalking for ACPO, the Home office or Parliament or campaigning for changes to better protect victims. Every day is different and I feel honoured and privileged to do the work that I do.

Why did you pursue this career? I started out profiling crime and found it was quite reactive. I would now much rather try and help people and keep them safe, advocating on their behalf, as well as ensuring we change the criminal justice system where necessary to protect future victims. Of the cases featured in the series, which proved the most challenging to work on and why?They are all challenging and complex for different reasons and all can be distressing. In my work the devil is in the detail and sometimes when some of that detail is missing, it is very hard to understand what has happened and why. What lessons can we learn from the cases we investigate in Britain’s Darkest Taboos?Violence does not happen in a vacuum. It happens on a continuum and it is important to understand that pattern of behaviour in order to spot the warning signs. If the right questions are asked, the warning signs are understood and there is an intervention aimed at those risk factors, I strongly believe many murders can be prevented.Why do you think it is important for these stories to be shared?It’s important to honour people’s lives and learn from their deaths. Some families need a platform and some I have worked with feel driven to ensure that it does not happen to someone else’s loved one. Britain's Darkest Taboos gives them a platform to share their story in the hope others will learn.

How does your work help the victims’ families and loved ones come to terms with the crime?Most families, in the wake of such a tragedy, need to understand what and why it happened. Sometimes I have advocated on behalf of families to ensure their voice is heard in the system, other times I have tried to help by providing some insight into what happened, as well as helping them understand how the Criminal Justice System works and/or what needs to change. Some families have come into training sessions with me to train police and/or other agencies.I have worked closely with a number of amazing and inspirational victims and families across my career and I have learned so much from them. I have tried to help and support them where I can. Sometimes it might entail giving them a voice in terms of organising and attending with them key meetings with senior police officers, professionals and/or Parliamentarians to highlight what happened to their loved one, as well as key changes that are needed to better protect others in the future. Other times it might be providing a platform to lobby for change and spearheading key campaigns such as the call for the register for serial stalkers and DV perpetrators. I am always hugely humbled by their humility in wanting to help protect others in the wake of such tragedy.

What advice would you give anyone suffering stalking or domestic abuse or suspects a loved one is suffering?Do not suffer in silence. There are many specialist agencies who can help, and the police can too. Tell someone you trust what is happening to you. It is not your fault and you are not alone. The first step is identifying what is happening to you and reaching out for help.Call Paladin, National Stalking Advocacy Service 0207 840 8960Call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 or you suspect someone is being abused – again look at specialist websites or call the Helplines for advice. Do not judge the person. Ensure they know you are there for when they feel able to talk to you.