6 True Crime Documentaries That Follow Infamous UK Cases

And how to stream them.

by Lara Williams and Alice Broster
Originally Published: 
'The Ripper' on Netflix
'The Ripper'/Netflix

Think of true crime and it’s more than likely you think of America. The Golden State Killer, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, Al Capone – the crimes of these famous figures are well documented across Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming sites. But did you know there’s also a wealth of British true crime shows available to watch too? If you're interested in some terrifying tales based on real events that took place in Great Britain, keep reading to find out about the best British true crime documentaries on offer.

Back in 2016 – around the time that true crime was hitting its peak with Making A Murderer, Serial, and the like – criminologist Scott A. Bonn published an article in Psychology Today about the science behind our obsession with gruesome stories. “People receive a jolt of adrenaline as a reward for witnessing the terrible deeds of a serial killer,” Bonn wrote. “The euphoric effect of serial killers on human emotions is similar to that of roller coasters or natural disasters.” Bonn also claimed that audiences enjoy playing the fun role of “armchair detective.”

In the years since Bonn wrote this article, our collective true crime has continued to grow and if you’re currently looking for your next true-crime-based adrenaline rush, then these documentaries may be for you.


The Ripper

The Yorkshire Ripper AKA Peter Sutcliffe is one of the most notorious serial killers in British true crime history. The former lorry driver from Bradford wrought terror across the north of England when he went on a killing spree in the 1970s. When he was caught, he was convicted of the murders of 13 women from Yorkshire and across the northwest, including the mother of his son.

The Ripper is a frank and up-to-date deep dive into Sutcliffe’s crimes and the police investigation which finally saw him convicted.

Watch on Netflix


The Disappearance Of Madeleine McCann

Ever since Madeleine McCann disappeared from her family’s room in Portugal when she was just three years old, the world has been obsessed by her case. Her story has been told again and again, making it hard to believe that there could be anymore to contribute to the case. However, Netflix’s The Disappearance Of Madeleine McCann offers a fresh approach on what happened on the day she went missing and where the case is now. The documentary features interviews with the police and private investigators that worked on the case as well as suspects. It shines a new light on what is a very well-known case.

Watch on Netflix


Sophie: A Murder In West Cork

Sophie Toscan Du Plantier was killed during a holiday to West Cork in Ireland in 1996. The French film and TV producer had gone to the rural cottage for some isolation and rest. However, when news got out that she’d died and under suspicious circumstances, it triggered an investigation that went global. In Sophie: A Murder In West Cork, Netflix speaks to the people that live in the surrounding area, the people that worked on the case, and those who were close to Sophie.

Watch on Netflix


The Investigator: A British Crime Story

This series is presented by former detective Mark Williams-Thomas, who directed the ITV documentary which, as the Guardian reported, kickstarted the unmasking of Jimmy Savile.

In this series, he digs into the unsolved case of a missing woman, Carole Packman, who disappeared in 1985. Her husband was convicted of the murder, but 30 years later, her body has still not been found. "In all my years as an investigator, I've never had a case like this," Williams-Thomas said. "As I look into this complex true story, I find twists at every turn."

This one will have you guessing until the end.

Watch on Netflix


Sex, Drugs & Murders

Sex, Drugs & Murders offers a candid look at the lives of sex workers in Leeds, who face issues such as drug addiction and domestic abuse.

The documentary was filmed in Holbeck, an area in Leeds dubbed by Vice as the UK's first legal red-light district, on account of an ongoing Leeds City Council initiative, under which prostitutes can work in certain areas without fear of arrest — as long as it's within designated hours and they abide by certain rules.

The documentary is led by the people who work and live in the area and covers issues of homelessness, difficult family relationships, and violence.

Watch on iPlayer


High Confessions

High Confessions is produced by the BBC and is a retelling of one of the most infamous stories of drug smuggling to hit headlines in the UK. Part-dramatisation and part-interview-based, this documentary centres on Northern Irish-born Michaella McCollum, who spoke to the BBC about how she became one half of the Peru Two. When she was just 20 years old she was caught trying to smuggle £1.5 million worth of cocaine through Lima airport. She outlines how her first holiday out of the UK by herself went from an Ibiza dream to a prison nightmare and how she got out.

Watch on iPlayer

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