Crime podcasts are becoming even more popular in the UK. Check out our reviews of the best ones to listen to today!

It all started with Serial, the phenomenally popular podcast from the creators of This American Life, in which presenter Sarah Koenig delved deep into an old homicide case from 1999, questioning whether justice had truly been served. The tragic murder of teenager Hae Min Lee and the life imprisonment of her high school boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was complex and, seemingly, riddled with holes and unanswered questions. Koenig opened the series by saying, ‘For the last year I've spent every working day trying to figure out where a high school kid was for an hour after school one day in 1999’.



In the immediate term, it incited listeners to posit theories on the internet. In the longer term, it eventually saw the charges against Syed dropped in 2022 – albeit after serving 23 years in prison. The series argued that the original conviction had been racially biased. It also revealed that forensics could find no traces of his DNA on Min’s body at the time of the murder. Hae Lee Min’s family, meanwhile, maintains Syed’s guilt. As we said, it’s complex.

It is this kind of complexity that the best crime podcasts hold a mirror up to. Rather than reading fictional whodunnits and cozy crime that will, reassuringly, conclude with a big denouement that answers all of our questions, the best investigative podcasts present us with the problems and make us consider the intricacy and difficulties of the legal system. They may beckon us in one direction, lulling us into an idea of the truth, only to pull the rug out with the other side of the argument or, perhaps, with new evidence. The truth is, as they say, stranger than fiction.

These are the best crime podcasts in the UK right now. Case closed.

Red Handed





The enormously lively and likable Suruthi and Hannah present Red Handed which, in each episode, looks at new, head-scratching, and frequently dark cases. Garlanded as amongst the best UK crime podcasts, one of the reasons we like it so much is the fact that it looks at current cases as well as historic ones. Each week, there’s a new story; recently, they have delved deep into the ongoing horrific and mysterious case of the Idaho student murders (in which four University Of Idaho students – Maddie Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle, and Ethan Chapin – were found stabbed to death in their beds.) After a Ph.D. student, Bryan Christopher Kohberger, who lives some 2,500 miles away in Pennsylvania, was arrested, the duo presents the probable cause affidavit; shared the shocking evidence; and put together a timeline for the unfolding case. Other episodes include diving into why Princess Diana died, and why – given that 600 people disappear each year – Madeleine McCann’s disappearance has rarely been out of the headlines since it happened 15 years ago. But it’s not all murder and kidnapping; they also look into whether Stockholm Syndrome is real, as well as the ‘poisonous narrative’ of so-called ‘Patient Zero’ in the AIDS epidemic, which pointed the finger at a single Air Canada flight attendant. Listen here.

Bad People





‘Murderers. Fraudsters. Internet trolls. This is a podcast about people who do terrible things and the science of humanity’s dark side.’ That’s what the BBC’s Bad People weekly podcast promises. Unlike some crime podcasts in the UK, these episodes do not investigate cold or current cases as such. Rather it asks more philosophical questions about why – and how – people commit a crime. Episodes look at, for example, whether violence is genetic, citing the case of murderous identical twins. In the same vein, others ask if bad people are the result of bad blood and whether DNA editing is ever OK if it leads to ‘better people’ It questions whether criminals could ever ‘steal your face’ using a hyperreal mask; and what lengths are too far to go to the save the planet. This is a riveting and wide-ranging listen, and we particularly like the fact that it asks the bigger questions rather than solely poring over the details of cases (which, admittedly, we do like too). Listen here now.

UK True Crime Podcast





Host Adam has been running UK True Crime Podcast weekly since 2016. And what we like about this show is the fact that episodes focus on British cases, as opposed to those from across the pond. In this aspect, those listeners who do enjoy a Christie mystery will like this precisely for its Britishness. Let us illustrate. At the time of writing, the most recent episode was about a wedding reception. They say, ‘This wedding in Guilford, Surrey, was just like so many others until the Bride and Groom left the venue at about 10 pm. It was then that the violence started....’ Meanwhile in ‘The Remote Cottage’ episode, ‘The peace and remoteness of The Fens, in the east of England is a big draw to many. And it was to Connie and Janice Fenn, who enjoyed their life of solitude breeding whippets. So just why would anyone want to brutally murder them for no apparent reason?’ And in ‘The Sailing Club’, ‘Paul Longworth - the Commodore of the club - is increasingly cruel to his wife Tina, and openly nasty about her at the sailing club and with friends at work. On the day he celebrated his 37th birthday at the sailing club, Tina was found dead at their home, she was just 29. Had Tina taken her own life?’ Such settings and characters could easily have been lifted straight out of a ‘cozy’ crime novel. The fact that they are real, however, does tend to make them very much less cozy all of a sudden.Listen here today.

The Missing





Did you know that someone in Britain is reported missing every 90 seconds? Thankfully, 99 percent of such cases are solved quickly, and the ‘misper’ in question is found. The other one percent, however, remain missing twelve months on – and many for much longer, if not forever. This podcast, which is presented by journalist Pandora Sykes, is all about that one percent; the people who do not get reunited with loved ones and, instead, become statistics. As one of the best crime podcasts in the UK, it invites the listener to play an active role. As they say, ‘Each episode tells the story of a missing person – and gives you, the listener, the opportunity to join the conversation and look for the clues that might give families the answers they need. Every case COULD be solved, with your help.’ Every week, there is a different case, prompting the listener to ask how someone can possibly just vanish. Produced in association with charities Locate International and Missing People, do tune in and see if anything you hear sparks any form of recognition. The more listeners, the more chance of someone who is long-term missing being found. Check it here.

They Walk Among Us





The award-winning The Walk Among Us is a weekly podcast that looks at a new case episode by episode, the subject matter ranging from the surreal to the downright sinister. Presented by husband-and-wife team, Benjamin and Rosanna Fitton, the duo started out in 2016 and the pod has since gone on to become a number-one hit show. As they say, it delves ‘into the crimes that are close to home, the criminal that sleeps beside you, lives next door, or delivers your newspaper.’ Spooky. Sample episodes include the one about the manager of an amusement arcade who discovers a desperate situation in a locked storeroom; and, going way back to 1926, the story of ‘the maid to the Merrett family who found 55-year-old Bertha unconscious on the floor, with a pool of blood around her head. Bertha’s 17-year-old son, Donald, was standing next to her when Henrietta entered the room.’ Check it here today.

Who Killed Emma





Reviewing Who Killed Emma in The Guardian, Miranda Sawyer compares it favorably to the mother of crime podcasts: Serial. As she puts it, a ‘problem with many true crime shows is that they start promisingly, and then fizzle into “maybes” and ‘could haves’. Even Serial does this. Crimes are hard to solve, it turns out.
Who Killed Emma? is different. This eight-part podcast from BBC Radio Scotland is concerned with finding the killer of a woman, 27-year-old Emma Caldwell, but it never lets us forget who is central to the story.’ It’s a promising start indeed. What makes this one of the best crime podcasts in the UK for our money is, like Serial before it, its commitment to a single case. In this way, it doesn’t feel – like some of the less good crime shows in the UK do – like a gleeful raking over gruesome crimes. Instead, we are fully invested.

Journalist Sam Poling and producer Mona McAlinden have won awards for their investigation into this case, and rightly so. For what it does so well is, rather than simply treating the victim as little more than a featureless tragic figure around whom the intrigued may posit theories, it brings her to life. After all, murder is the most extreme act of dehumanizing there is, and so it is all the more important that an investigation into such a brutal death should show who the victim was; not simply that she was a victim. In the opening episode, Emma’s mother talks about her childhood, which was happy. As it goes on, we learn more about her adulthood, which was not. When her older sister died of cancer, Emma spiraled into addiction, taking heroin to numb her grief and falling into sex work to fund her illness. And then, one day in April 2005, she went missing. Five weeks later, her body was found in the woods in South Lanarkshire, 40 miles from where she worked. The police, however, missed many clues, apparently uninvested in a full investigation, and the podcast exposes the brutal lack of regard that the force has for prostitutes. It also redresses that terrible oversight, thanks to Poling’s extensive research. It culminates in an extremely tense episode in which she confronts a man who may have been implicated. The result? That man, Ian Packer, now stands accused of Emma’s murder, as well as physical and sexual assaults on 27 other women. He continues to plead not guilty. When you can, listen to one of the very best crime podcasts of 2023, which displays investigative journalism at its finest. However, do note, the podcast will be unavailable while the case is ongoing. Listen Who Killed Emma? here.

Blood Ties





If you’re looking for a podcast that blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction, Blood Ties might just be the one for you. The premise of the three-series show is that our family members are not always who we think they are. They say, ‘When Eleonore Richland exposed her father’s dark legacy, she vowed to clean up the family business – and hired her half-brother, Santino Reyes, to help her do it. But old habits die hard. In the shocking new third season, Eleonore reckons with what her father always taught her growing up: medicine is a bloody business.’

It’s a divisive one, this. Some people love the fact that, since it is, in fact, fiction presented as fact, it can be as twisty, pacey, and shocking as it likes. One of its key actors, Josh Gad, who co-stars alongside Gillian Jacobs as Michael and Eleonore Richland, says, it is ‘verging on the precipice of being so believable that you question whether it is real or not’. And for some people that is the appeal. For others, though, it is an annoying, gimmicky device designed to fool listeners into thinking that it is true crime, only to discover they have been duped. So, now you know, you decide: to listen or not to listen? If you pick the former, you can do so here.

Summary



From the long-running ones to the best new crime podcasts, there is a plethora of great, gripping listen, from those that delve deep into one case, and others that are more wide-ranging. Happily, you can avoid those that seemingly revels in gore and depravity and opt instead for the more sensitive listens to that place honoring victims at the core of what they do.

By Nancy Alsop
February 2023

Nancy Alsop

Editor

Nancy is a magpie for the best in design and culture.

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