The disappearance of Becky Watts captured the attention of the country as people saw images of the shy and pretty 16 year old in the media. As a Forensic Psychologist I looked at the images and hoped it was a case of a missing girl.
The statistics on missing people reveal that in 2011/12 in England, Wales & Scotland 313,019 people went missing. The 15-17 years age group are reported missing most frequently (35% of all missing people cases). Thus, there were initial feelings of hope when Becky was reported missing. However, research tells us that 70% of people who go missing return or are found within 16 hours of the initial report, with only 2% outstanding for longer than a week. Therefore, after a couple of days I watched with dread, increasingly suspecting the news that was to come.
Becky was a shy and introverted girl according to reports, with a boyfriend and a loving family and thus did not fit the profile of a girl who would intentionally go missing. She left home with her mobile phone, her lap-top and tablet computer but with no change of clothes or money. These facts added to the risk that the outcome was to be one that no one wanted to hear.
Two weeks after going missing body parts identified as Becky were found at a house and later her step-brother was charged with her murder. The devastating news that Becky had been murdered further compounded by the horrific detail of her body being in parts. Murder is rare in the UK and Becky does not fit the profile of a high risk victim.
We know from the Home Office Homicide Index that in 2012/13 there were 551 homicides in the UK. With the exception of under one year olds (the highest victimisation category), the majority of homicide victims are male (69%). When the victim is female it is much more likely that they are killed by someone known to them (75% compared to 49% when the victim is male). Females are killed by a partner or ex-partner in 45% of cases (4% for males) and ‘other’ family member in 23% of cases (10% for males). In less than 11% of cases are females killed by a stranger. Thus, once again as a professional working in the area of crime
I watched the news unfold anticipating the arrest of someone known to Becky.
Of course, murders by strangers do happen – Alice Gross was 14 when she went missing and was murdered by Arnis Zalkalns. However, with a knowledge of the statistics I was expecting the suspect to be acquainted to Becky. This is a fact that is completely devastating to families involved, they have their loved one snatched away from them in the most horrific, violent manner and then have to go through the questioning and torment that someone they know could be responsible. The police are now conducting a massive, painstaking investigation to piece together the events that led to Becky’s violent death. Only when that is complete and the court case heard will we know the motives and circumstances that ended Becky’s life.
Discussion point: Do these statistics surprise people? Do they accurately justify fear the public may have for their children?