The psychology behind rewards is largely based around breaking the silence of people with information who know they are at risk if they go to police, says professor of criminology Betsy Stanko.

“Often this is a family member, a friend or a business associate, someone who is close to the person who has committed the crime,” she says.

“This closeness often means a person fears they will be harmed if they speak to police. Rewards are about trying to get the information out of them.”


Sad though the abduction of Madeleine McCann certainly is, but what was the purpose of the ever growing reward to £2.5 million meant to actually achieve? Okay, so it is part of keeping the story in the news, but hasn’t it been regardless?

The rather callous point I’m making is this: at what reward point does someone who knows what went on come forward? Zero euros? A thousand? Ten thousand? A million? And so on. What is the financial tipping point that turns a tacit accomplice into an informant?

There may be reasons why someone might keep quiet. The suspect is a family member, for example, or there is the threat of violence, but at which stage in the bidding process would the money outweigh the other? What is it that turns the taciturn into the nark? Not the size of the purse, I suspect.

Meanwhile, the money pours in, from JK Rowling, Richard Branson, Simon Cowell, Wayne Rooney and Michael Vaughan among others.

So what do they get out of it? I can get even more callous here by saying that they have become odds-on bookies who know they will never have to pay out, but can feel good in the glare of publicity. I probably do them a disservice and there motives are purely pure….

But there is a real moral issue at stake here. Let’s assume that someone out there does know what happened and that that the someone is the wife or relative of the abductor. Let’s also say the reward has risen to £5 million and they cash in, the villain is caught and the reward is spent on an absolutely top-notch lawyer that gets the perpetrator gets off scott free or with a light sentence.

Money well spent? I don’t think so. A perverse incentive or a worthless gesture, I’d call it. And no doubt heartless on my part. Not true. Mine goes out to Maddie’s parents — I know how I’d feel.

But you can also tell that I’m reading Freakonomics. Wish I had before.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

2 comments… Add yours
  • Yorkshire Pudding 20th May 2007

    The Maddy thing has gone mad. I mean WHY show a Maddy video at the cup final for Chrissake? And I think you are spot on in your examination of the whole business of rewards for information… it is all so questionable and how often are rewards claimed anyway?

  • Son of Groucho 21st May 2007

    The Maddy abduction raises all sorts of interesting issues, some of which many people are reluctant to air publicly.

    Interestingly, I looked at the Freakonomics book in Waterstone’s on Saturday!


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