Police practice in cases of sudden and unexpected child death in England and Wales: an investigative deficit?

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The investigation of Sudden Unexpected Child Death is complex because whilst most children who die suddenly do so because of natural causes, it is sometimes difficult to detect when a child has, in fact, been unlawfully killed. The system in England and Wales involves a joint agency response to child death and for various reasons the police contribution to that investigation is sometimes inadequate. The arguments presented in the paper are made on the basis of empirically derived findings, drawing from original research based upon qualitative interviews with nine senior detectives working in the areas of child abuse or major crime, as well as focus groups of senior detectives, and a limited contribution from pathologists. This paper explores whether there is an investigative deficit in respect of potential child homicide when compared to an adult domestic homicide and it concludes that in some areas the most vulnerable people in society may be at risk because of issues such as inadequate training, inflexible force policies, and under-resourced police investigation of child death. The findings reveal important implications for police investigative training and a clear and significant deficit in the investigative resources available to the lead investigator on a child death investigation which may or may not be a homicide, compared with the resources available to the senior investigating officer on a straightforward domestic homicide when the victim is an adult.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)202-214
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sept 2019


  • homicide
  • Justice
  • Evidence based practice
  • child death
  • Training/professionalisation
  • Policing
  • investigation


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