User:This is Paul/Articles concerning criminal acts

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The following essay is a set of notes for dealing with the creation of articles that concern criminal acts, particularly cases of murder, or deaths in suspicious circumstances.

It's a fact that many criminal cases – and in particular those involving suspicious deaths – that receive more than a couple of days worth of blanket news coverage often turn up on Wikipedia fairly soon afterwards, usually before the full story is known. A good proportion of these end up in the AFD process because they are frequently not of encyclopaedic content, or are regarded as not having enduring notability. This essay attempts to set out when it is appropriate to create such an article, and when not; and if followed should hopefully enable you to avoid losing your hard work because your article was deemed to be unsuitable.

Criminal acts and news cycles[edit]

Wikipedia:Notability (events)#criminal acts says:

Articles about criminal acts, particularly those that fall within the category of "breaking news", are frequently the subject of deletion discussions. As with other events, media coverage can confer notability on a high-profile criminal act, provided such coverage meets the ... [Wikipedia:Notability (events)] guidelines and those regarding reliable sources.

Many criminal cases receive blanket media coverage, but this does not automatically make them suitable for inclusion in an encyclopaedia. Generally most murders will receive little more than a few column inches in a local or regional newspaper, but depending on the circumstances the coverage can reach national (or even international) level. Of those that do attract wider attention, many will be the subject of a relatively short news cycle as police investigate events surrounding the crime and appeal to the public for information. A case may attract the attention of the wider media community for a variety of reasons, whether it be because the victim was young and attractive,[1] or because the nature of the murder was particularly violent.[2] More often than not, once a suspect is arrested media attention moves on to other news stories.

The notability guidelines concerning events advise the following criteria should be taken into consideration:

  • "Most crimes, accidents, deaths ... - whether or not tragic or widely reported at the time - are usually not notable unless something further gives them additional enduring significance"
  • "Coverage of an event nationally or internationally makes notability more likely, but does not automatically assure it"
  • "Events that are only covered in sources published during or immediately after an event, without further analysis or discussion, are likely not suitable for an encyclopedia article"

How and when do I decide if a subject I wish to write about has passed a relatively short news cycle?[edit]

It is difficult to identify an exact point in time when something passes the threshold, but usually for a "Murder" or "Death of X" article to be notable enough, there would normally be a public interest issue (public interest in the sense of public well-being), or such intense and protracted news coverage that it would be hard to ignore.[3] The question is whether there is enduring notability – whether the death and its consequences will still be an issue for the public in several years' time.[4] Sometimes a criminal case may become notable relatively quickly,[5] whereas on other occasions its importance may not become apparent for several years.[6] Cases can also be notable because they mark a particular milestone in the legal history of a country.[7]

While a criminal investigation and any subsequent legal proceedings are still ongoing, the facts of the crime itself cannot be established. There are restrictions on what can be reported, witnesses have no business relating what they know, and of course those who know most about it, i.e., the perpetrators, will either have concealed the truth or in some cases deliberately spread misinformation. Even at trial, the rules of evidence may mean that the full picture does not emerge in open court. In any case of disappearance and murder there will be a lot of interest and speculation and the mere fact that secondary sources have covered it does not raise it above the routine.

Police inquiries and media speculation[edit]

Because of the restrictions on what can be reported, the media have been known to engage in speculation about aspects of a case, possibly delving into the personal lives of the victim(s) or suspect(s) or interviewing people associated with the above to produce sensational stories and shock headlines.[8] More often than not this kind of reporting cannot be relied upon for accuracy, and should not be used as a source for an encyclopaedic article. When writing a crime-related article for Wikipedia reliable sources, such as broadsheet and quality newspapers,[9] as well as other trusted media outlets,[10] should be used.[11]

Media outlets will often quote a "source close to the investigation" when reporting on a murder inquiry, but it is often unclear from who or where the information originates. As mentioned in the above paragraph there can be a lot of speculation, particularly with a high-profile case, and at such an early stage of the proceedings it can be difficult to sift out the true facts. Speculative material should be avoided on Wikipedia. To quote a fictional detective from a well-known U.S. crime series from the 1950s, "All we want are the facts."[12]

Sub judice[edit]

A note here on the rule of sub judice. In certain countries, notably England and Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, India, Pakistan, Canada, Sri Lanka, and Israel, it is generally considered inappropriate to comment publicly on cases sub judice, i.e., a case or matter currently under trial or being considered by a judge or court. Offering comment on such cases can be an offence in itself, leading to contempt of court proceedings. This is particularly true in criminal cases, where publicly discussing cases sub judice may constitute interference with due process. Therefore, when writing about a particular case, it is important to familiarise yourself with the laws of the land in which the events took place, particularly if you are a resident of that country.

Biographies vs Events[edit]

Remember that an article concerning the "Murder of" or "Death of" an individual is not a biography. Although it may contain a brief biographical summary of the life of the victim, its primary focus should be on the crime that occurred to that person and its repercussions.[13] An article of this type may also contain material that relates to living persons, such as friends and family of a deceased person, or living people involved in the subject matter.[14]

Editors must take particular care when adding information about living persons to any Wikipedia page. Such material requires a high degree of sensitivity, and must adhere strictly to all applicable laws in the United States, to this policy, and to Wikipedia's three core content policies:

Essentially, the details must be as accurate as possible, so the use of high-quality sources is paramount. Controversial material about living people that is unsourced or poorly sourced must be removed immediately. If such material is re-inserted repeatedly, or if there are other concerns related to this policy, the matter should be mentioned at the Biographies of living persons noticeboard for further attention.

Any biographical information that is added should be written conservatively and with regard for the subject's privacy. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a tabloid: it is not Wikipedia's job to be sensationalist, or to be the primary vehicle for the spread of titillating claims about people's lives: the possibility of harm to living subjects must always be considered when exercising editorial judgment.

Verification[edit]

Just because something is repeated does not necessarily make it true. The mere fact that a normally reliable source has reported something should not automatically mean that it can be relied upon in Wikipedia. Even quality newspapers can err on occasion, and in terms of criminal cases, where several versions of events may be presented by different parties, they can never be in a position to know the full facts.

Wikipedia:Verifiability offers the following advice on the topic:

In Wikipedia, verifiability means that people reading and editing the encyclopedia can check that information comes from a reliable source. Wikipedia does not publish original research. Its content is determined by previously published information rather than by the personal beliefs or experiences of its editors. Even if you're sure something is true, it must be verifiable before you can add it. When reliable sources disagree, their conflict should be presented from a neutral point of view, giving each side its due weight.

All the material in Wikipedia mainspace, including everything in articles, lists and captions, must be verifiable. All quotations and any material whose verifiability has been challenged or is likely to be challenged, must include an inline citation that directly supports the material. Any material that requires a source but does not have one may be removed, and unsourced contentious material about living people must be removed immediately. For how to write citations, see Citing sources. Verifiability, No original research and Neutral point of view are Wikipedia's core content policies. They work together to determine content, so editors should understand the key points of all three. Articles must also comply with the copyright policy.

Naming of suspects and other individuals[edit]

It should be remembered that any person accused of a crime is regarded as being innocent until proven guilty, and caution should therefore be taken in naming any individuals connected with a case. Ideally, any jurors sitting at a trial are not supposed to have formed an opinion about the case before hearing the evidence.[15] Because of Wikipedia's popularity it is possible that an individual sitting on a jury may read an entry concerning a case they will hear, thus colouring their opinion before the evidence has been presented. Therefore, the inclusion of details of suspects, or even lengthy descriptions of events surrounding the case, could potentially jeopardise the trial.[16]

Care should also be taken with the naming of other individuals connected with a case, unless they have a significant role in the events being discussed. It would be unfair, for example, to identify the partner or children of a perpetrator unless there was good reason to do so, such as them being an accessory after the fact.[17] Similarly, identifying friends and relatives of murder victims should also be handled with caution.

Depending on the nature of a criminal case, individuals involved in legal proceedings, particularly those under the age of majority and the victims of sexual offences, may be the subject of an anonymity order preventing them from being named by the media. This rule particularly applies under English law, where naming an individual who is subject to such an order is a criminal offence that can lead to prosecution.[18] Identifying the victim of a sexual offence is itself considered to be a sexual offence in some jurisdictions. Editors are therefore advised not to name anyone who is subject to such an anonymity order.

I believe a recent criminal case is notable. When should I write my article?[edit]

If you believe a case meets the criteria for inclusion in Wikipedia, but proceedings are at an early stage or still ongoing, it's probably best to hold fire for a while, and wait to see how matters develop. Time will tell whether or not a murder case has lasting notability, and once any legal proceedings have ended a clearer picture of events is likely to emerge. However, there is nothing to stop you making notes and collecting information and references in the meantime. If and when the time comes for you to write your article you will have the relevant information to hand, so it will make the job of putting your article together much easier.

If you feel a criminal case is of significant notability to warrant an article creation while proceedings are still ongoing, it may still be worth waiting for a while. Events-related articles have appeared on Wikipedia within hours of their occurrence, when the story is still developing and many of the facts are unclear. Waiting a few weeks may allow time for a more accurate picture to emerge. Time gives information the chance to be scrutinised and not just thrown in with a "what the hell for the consequencies" attitude being displayed.[19] As a general rule of thumb, when thinking about the start date of an article, consider waiting at least three weeks, and bear in mind the following equation for such articles – Date of Crime (doc) + 21 Days (tod) = More True Sources (mts).

Alternatively, you might like to consider writing about an older case where proceedings are at an end, and media coverage has established more of the facts. There are plenty of notable cases dating back into history that are currently absent from this encyclopedia.

Examples of notable cases[edit]

As well as those listed in the notes at the foot of the page, other examples of notable criminal cases include:

  • The 1953 Derek Bentley case, where the subject was convicted and hanged under the rule of joint enterprise after his under-age accomplice shot and killed a police officer. This has enduring notability because of its circumstances, and the long-running campaign to clear Bentley's name following his execution. The case has also been the subject of numerous books, and a 1991 film.
  • The 2010 murder of Suzanne Pilley can also be regarded as notable since it saw a rare example of television cameras being allowed into a British court to film the sentencing process.
  • The 1983 murder of Colette Aram was the first case to be featured on the BBC television series Crimewatch when the programme began airing the following year. It was solved in 2009 after advances in DNA technology identified a suspect.
  • The 1995 murder of Celine Figard prompted the UK's first national DNA screening programme in the hunt for a suspect.
  • The 1961 murder of Jacqueline Thomas, where a suspect was identified four decades on from the crime.
  • The 1983 Brink's-MAT robbery, in which six robbers broke into the Brink's-MAT warehouse at Heathrow Airport, London, and stole £26 million worth of gold, diamonds and cash. At the time, it was described as "the crime of the century".
  • The case of Ronald Ryan, who in 1967 became the last person to be hanged in Australia.
  • The case of Brenda Hodge, the last person to be sentenced to death in Australia before that country's final abolition of capital punishment in 1984. Her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and she was paroled in 1995.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ As in the case of Chandra Levy, an American intern at the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D.C., who disappeared in May 2001, and was presumed murdered after her skeletal remains were found in May 2002.
  2. ^ An example being the 1981 Ashland tragedy which saw the violent murder of three teenagers in Ashland, Kentucky.
  3. ^ For example, the September 11 attacks.
  4. ^ See the 1930 case of Victor Betts and Herbert Ridley, a case in the United Kingdom which established that to be convicted of a crime under the doctrine of Common purpose, it was not necessary for an accessory to actually be present when the offence was carried out.
  5. ^ An example here would be the 1987 Hungerford massacre which, at the time it occurred was the worst criminal atrocity involving firearms in British history.
  6. ^ See the Andrew Evans case, where a murder conviction was deemed to have been a miscarriage of justice two decades after the original trial.
  7. ^ For examples, see the 1948 murder of June Anne Devaney where mass fingerprinting was first employed to trace a suspect, and the 1964 murder of John Alan West which lead to the convictions of the last two people to be hanged in the United Kingdom before capital punishment was abolished there in 1965.
  8. ^ See Murder of Joanna Yeates, where legal proceedings were launched against several British newspapers after they published sensational articles about the private life of a suspect.
  9. ^ Examples here include The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Globe and Mail, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph and The Sydney Morning Herald.
  10. ^ Sources here would include BBC News, ABC News (USA), ABC News (Australia), CBC News, RTÉ News, The Economist and others.
  11. ^ Generally, tabloid newspapers – whose focus can often be sensationalist in nature – should be avoided.
  12. ^ Attributed to Sergeant Joe Friday from Dragnet.
  13. ^ Police investigation, trial, etc
  14. ^ In this case the perpetrator, any potential witnesses and murder investigators.
  15. ^ This is so the defendant can receive a fair trial.
  16. ^ It has even been known for law enforcement authorities to request information appertaining to a case be removed for this reason.
  17. ^ As in the case of Maxine Carr, who gave Ian Huntley a false alibi during the Soham murders investigation, and was sent to prison for perverting the course of justice.
  18. ^ An important case here is R v Evans and McDonald (2012) where several people were later fined after naming the victim of a rape on Twitter and other social media websites.
  19. ^ Here, compare Disappearance of Ben Needham with Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, two articles about British children who dissapeared while on holiday in Europe. The cases occurred in 1991 and 2007 respectively, but the impact of the internet coverage between the two is enormous. The Needham case occurred in an era without the internet and instant news coverage, while the McCann case happened in a "media age" and was the subject of much speculation in multiple sources. The history of their respective Wikipedia articles should also be noted. While the Needham case did not appear until 2007 when much of the speculation as to its circumstances was far into the past, the McCann case had an article within two days of its occcurrence, while the resulting media frenzy was in full swing.