08 Apr 2010

Eyewitness: Could you recall the face of a murderer? Ground breaking new series explores human memory

Members of the public take part in this ground-breaking series

Members of the public take part in this ground-breaking series

TX: Sunday 18 April, 10.50pm, BBC TWO, 3 x 60 minutes

Many of us will be a witness to a violent crime in our lifetime and recalling the event to the police isn’t as easy as you might think – because our own memory plays tricks on us. In Eyewitness, an audacious and groundbreaking new three-part series on BBC Two produced in partnership with The Open University, members of the public witness two violent mock crimes and have to rely on their own powers of recall to help Greater Manchester Police piece together events.

Ten volunteers were recruited to take part in the series and become bystanders to two elaborate crimes set up by the production team using actors and secret cameras filming proceedings. The volunteers become key witnesses in the police investigation, and discover for themselves how unreliable their own memories can be. Greater Manchester Police, which gave the series unprecedented access to its criminal investigation procedures, treats each crime scenario as if it were real, testing its own interview techniques and piecing together what officers think happened.

Eye witness expert and academic advisor to the series, Dr Graham Pike of The Open University, says that eye witness identifications are a crucial factor in both securing convictions and overturning them, but that memories are incredibly fragile: “However fallible human memory is, it’s often the only thing police have to go on and many legal verdicts have been decided on the basis of witness testimony. But our recollection of what happened in the crime and who committed it are not as sound as you might think and in the past, eye witness accounts have resulted in innocent people being jailed. This series is going to expose the fragile nature of our powers of recall and provide some compelling television, as we follow our volunteers through the dramatic crime scenarios and the police investigations that follow.”

Eyewitness uses a combination of drama, secret filming, psychological tests and interviews to show the difference between what witnesses think happened and what actually took place. Throughout, psychologists unpick the vulnerable areas of our memory, and expert interviewers outline the development of techniques used to draw out information in today’s sophisticated police interview.

In episode one, a pub brawl ends in a fatal stabbing – but can our witnesses give an accurate account of what they saw? Episode two brings a bungled robbery with one witness kidnapped at gunpoint; state of the art eye tracker glasses allow us to experience events exactly as they were seen by the witnesses. How will they do at identifying the robbers? Episode three focuses on real witnesses and their own stories of being an eyewitness and the victim.

Dr Pike continued: “Staging a crime can reveal a great deal about how the memory of a witness experiencing a real crime might work. Our volunteers were surprised at their own memory’s failings – and you can find out more about your own capabilities with online tests and a mock-crime video and ID parade at www.open2.net/eyewitness.”

Dr Graham Pike is joined on screen by Professor Martin Conway, a cognitive psychologist from the University of Leeds, and Dr Becky Milne, a chartered forensic psychologist and Principal Lecturer at the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Portsmouth.

To continue the learning journey with The Open University, visit www.open2.net/eyewitness.

- ENDS -

Editor’s Notes
For images please go to www.bbcpictures.com
Eye Witness is a co-production between The Open University and the BBC.
The Executive Producer is Tina Fletcher; the Series Producer is Kate Shiers.
BBC Commissioning Executive for The Open University is Emma De’Ath.
The Broadcast and Learning Executive for The Open University is Caroline Ogilvie.
The Open University academic for the series is Dr Graham Pike

The OU and the BBC have been in partnership for forty years, providing educational programming to a mass audience. In recent times this partnership has evolved from late night programming for delivering courses to peak-time programmes with a broad appeal, to encourage wider participation in learning.

Course Links
Y163 Starting with Psychology
DD101 Introducing the Social Sciences
DSE141 Discovering Psychology
W100 An Introduction to Law: Rules, Rights and Justice
DSE212 Exploring Psychology
B48 BA/BSc (HONS) Criminology and Psychological Studies
B07 BSc (HONS) Psychology
F49 MSc in Forensic Psychology and Criminology
E34 Postgraduate Diploma in Forensic Psychological Studies

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