Investigating the Murder File: A Biographical Analysis of Creation, Survival and Impact

Sutton-Vane, Angela (2021). Investigating the Murder File: A Biographical Analysis of Creation, Survival and Impact. PhD thesis The Open University.



During a specific period of time, from the 1900s to the 1980s, a small number of files created during murder investigations by UK Criminal Investigation Departments found their way into the public domain and currently sit in record offices. By treating these murder files as objects with a biography, their lives have been mapped through creation and use, to after life in the record office. Concentrating on the records of regional police forces in England and Wales which have a much less clearly defined biography than their Metropolitan or Scottish counterparts, three interlinking research questions have been examined around the perceived gaps in regional policing history caused by a loss of historical documentation; the development of the role of the detective, his culture and his attitude towards his work and how this contributed to the preservation of the murder file and, last, the murder file’s contribution towards our knowledge of the link between collective memory and archives. To answer these questions, interdisciplinary research employed material culture, archival studies and history in order to triangulate quantitative and qualitative methods using surveys of online catalogues, interviews with retired detectives and police museum curators, and direct access to ten murder files. The results have been shaped into narratives around the file’s liminality and protean nature as it moved from a working record to a historical text via often unregulated removal from the police force bureaucratic processes. This research also examines the importance of collective memory in the detective’s life, and the role of the file as a lieu de mémoire. The biography of a murder file enables us to better understand wider debates around how paperwork was used as a form of institutional control, in addition to the problems associated with the preservation of policing history given the potential lacunae of research material caused by developing technologies, practice and legislation. Ultimately, this research contributes a new understanding of the historic murder file in the context of the wider issue of the preservation of criminal justice history.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions