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‘I saw the man who killed Anna Lindh!’ An archival study of witnesses' offender descriptions

Pär A. Granhag, Karl Ask, Anna Rebelius, Lisa Öhman & Erik Mac Giolla

Psychology, Crime & Law; Volume 19, Issue 10, 2013, Pages: 921-931.

Abstract

An archival study was conducted using offender descriptions reported to the police by witnesses (N=29) of the murder of Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh in 2003. All descriptions had been collected within a month after the attack, and each witness had been interviewed between one and five times. Description accuracy was established using photographs of the perpetrator, captured by CCTV cameras minutes before the attack. Contrasting previous archival studies, offender descriptions were quite unreliable (42% of reported attributes were incorrect), and this pattern held for both basic features (e.g., height, age) and more detailed attributes (e.g., clothes). The completeness and accuracy of descriptions increased after (vs. before) images of the perpetrator had been published in the media, but only with regard to the perpetrators' clothes. We acknowledge the potential effects of co-witness influence and post-event information.  
 

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