True crime pays, or at least it does for the many viewers and readers of the genre. Almost every channel and every bookshelf has programmes galore and books abounding on the subject of real-life murders and all the other terrible deeds we seem incapable of eradicating. And with our endless fascination with those who commit these crimes comes our equally desperate need to understand why they do the terrible things they do. Is it because we need assuring that these people really are not like us and the more we know about them, the better prepared we’ll be to stop
Psyching out the psycho killers
Perhaps. Given Kerry Daynes knows more than most about the ‘why’ or even the ‘what’ makes these criminals act as they do, it’s not surprising that she stars in one of the most successful true crime shows on television and is a Sunday Times best-selling author on the subject of human psychology. And with over 25 years as a forensic psychologist working across a spectrum of psychological practice in the NHS and the criminal justice system, which encompasses the prison and secure psychiatric services, Kerry has come across many of those people who simultaneously terrify and fascinate us… most probably in equal measure.
Let me entertain… and educate you
As the ‘profiler’ on Faking It: Tears of a Crime, one of the Discovery Channel’s most-watched shows and now onto its seventh series, Kerry shares her insight and experience with us as she reveals the ‘psychology’ that helped expose and ultimately convict some of the most notorious criminals of recent times. Jeremy Bamber, Dennis Nilsen and Ian Brady are among the murderers and serial killers she’s either encountered in person or had professional contact with. Not a list many of us could stomach, but for Kerry, and especially so on Faking It, it’s all food for thought as we try to understand why these killers acted as they did and hopefully, gain insight that may help prevent similar future crimes.
‘Tell’… and show
Kerry’s wide and extensive experience and her professional status as an established and well-respected forensic psychologist positions her as one of the top practitioners of this science (for it is based on science and not feelings) allows her to both work amidst such terrible events and achieve the success she has. So, what’s the secret? Just exactly how does Kerry catch her subjects out in a lie? How does she know when they’re lying? Well, it’s all in the ‘tell’, among other indicators, and the ‘tell’ tells the story. And what is a ‘tell’? Well, it’s a sign or a behavioural trait – such as a verbal slip or a drop in volume when they speak, or even sometimes an out of place gesture – which someone performs when they’re telling a lie. Of course, just one of these alone doesn’t suffice, so they look for a cluster of ‘tells’ over a seven-second period and in
at least two channels, for example, eye movement or speech. Kerry tells us that Ian Huntley displayed at least 12 ‘tells’ while lying in a police interview. But, of course, it takes a professional like Kerry to spot the ‘tell’ and show the lie.
Shaking Ian Brady’s hand stopped Kerry in her tracks and made her think about the terrible things that hand had done. Which, for us, may seem a bridge too far; for how could anyone, we might reason, even shake the hand of a person like Ian Brady? Someone evil and barely human?
Kerry argues that to understand the psychology of people like Ian Brady, we must treat them as humans first and foremost and not as some ‘evil’ entity that just appeared among us from nowhere. Evil is a word she dislikes because it trivialises or masks the underlying causes of what makes these people act as they do. She believes it serves no useful purpose to slap that label on something unspeakably horrible while in many other aspects of their life, these so-called ‘evil’ people act as we do.
Tough on the sources of crime… and punishment
However, Kerry is no soft touch. She believes firmly in both the punishment fitting the crime and the redemptive power of rehabilitation, though that isn’t possible in all cases. She’s a passionate advocate for penal reform, tempered by her many years working within a system that has needed reforming for almost as long as she’s worked within it. She cites Charles Bronson, whom she has met and worked with, as a sad example of how society and the criminal justice system can utterly fail some of those needing the most help.
With a new book in the pipeline and a growing audience keen to be horrified and assured, Kerry Daynes will be busy for the foreseeable future. Let’s hope her valuable experience helps, at least, to mitigate some of the terrible crimes she’s devoted her life to understanding and preventing. Without her insight, we’d all be in a darker place.
Words: Mark Kureishy