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Contemporary Issues in Forensic Investigation

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”Major investigations may contain many
complexes but crucial investigative aspects and issues. Critically analyse some
of these differing facets and the impact they may have upon an investigation.”




It’s fundamentally essential for any investigator
to understand the importance of a wide range of processes that are present in a
major investigation. The Senior Investigating Officer plays a fundamental role
in an investigation leading and directing all aspects of the investigation
making strategic decisions with regards to the direction of enquiries. In
addition, these decisions may be based and influenced by ethical issues that
may arise ultimately directing the investigators’ understanding and ultimately
affecting the decisions made regarding the case. There are many areas of
complexity that can impact and influence a major police investigation.
Evidently, SIOs need to be aware of developing contemporary issues that can
affect and impact an investigation. There are consistent principles that an SIO
should follow in order to provide an effective investigation furthermore they
need to be greatly aware of the developing investigation and consider each case
of the wide range factors and information that are presented in them. An SIO essentially
needs to effectively manage the opportunities and challenges which may be
presented in the investigation. There are many challenges within a mass of
cases that illustrate these areas of complexities, showing the degree of the intricacy
and how they are able to impact an investigation as a result.


The investigative process:


A crucial
aspect of the investigation is the investigative process requires the SIO to
efficiently and effect??ivy manage the initial response to the investigation. The
response process begins with an initial crime scene assessment where potential
evidence is gathered and identified and then evaluated in regarding its
relevance to case (Smith and
Flanagan, 2000). Within in the initial crime scene assessment stage
there are many complex’s and developments that can arise from sourcing
potential evidence.  The SIO of the
investigation needs to have the aptitude and capability to understand
information from the scene. Bentham memorably stated that ” The field of evidence is
the field of knowledge” (Bentham and Bowring,
1843), what this implies that our existing knowledge makes sense of
evidence which then facilitates its operative state for a legal purpose. This
stage is crucial for any investigation as it foundation building blocks for any
investigation. Every single crime that is committed is differentiated from one
another and no two are the same as every crime is different and has a unique
collection and distribution of evidence.


The integrity of evidence
plays a fundamental aspect of the is understood now that
criminal investigation is usually the only chance to identify and collect the
material that’s required by courts to hear a case. Physical material enables
investigators to narrow down the possibilities and construct a hypothesis of
what has occurred. If material is not identified during an investigation, it is
improbable that it can later be recuperated. If an investigator fails to identify
and detect material during the investigation phase it is doubtful that these
materials will be available later on as a result it may cause difficulties
later on in the case as courts may find it problematic to assess the quality of
material presented later on (Stelfox,



The investigators need to try
to establish what has occurred, while at the same time preserving and managing
the scene and ensuring that the correct individuals have been alerted e.g. Scenes
of crime officer (SOCO) and a pathologist (Smith
and Flanagan, 2000). Making sure that all protocols are being
followed throughout, especially when concerning in Identification and preservation of evidence in order
to maintain its integrity. Assimilating
relevant information at this stage is imperative, the SIO can begin to attempt
build a picture, forming various hypotheses testing each one and choosing which
hypothesis is most likely to have occurred and looking at its justifications as
to why. The hypothesis formulated at this stage of the investigation must be capable
of being turned into appropriate lines of enquiry, recognising which
information may act as a source of potential evidence and forming the ‘story’
to case. It is the story that is presented, the position can be justified and the
ultimate probanda proved.


Maguire and Norris suggested in 1992 that police
investigations were conducted and characterized by case construction rather
than truth finding. Cases were then constructed based on the hypothesis that
were formed as soon as an individual was suspected. The investigation proceedings
then soon focused on information that will support that suspicion rather than a
continuing the search focused on what really occurred (Maguire and Norris, 1992).  As a result, there have been several
cases that consequently lead to miscarriages of justice due to investigators precipitous
decisions making. A study was conducted in 1992 by the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice from the research conducted the
most occurring type of error in crime investigation was that of decisions
making within the investigations (Irving and Dunnighan, 1993).  


In the Lesley
Molseed cases is a great example of miscarriage of justice due to the descions
made at the beginning of the investigation. Stefan Kiszko who was an intellectually
disabled man was wrongfully convicted for the murder of Lesley Molseed and
served 16 years prison sentence. West Yorkshire Police immediately framed that
Kiszko fitted their profile of the kind of individual liable to have murdered
Lesley Molseed despite the fact that he had never been persecuted by the law.
In addition, he had the mental and emotional age of 12 and had no social life
beyond his mother (BBC NEWS, 2007).
Consequently, due to the hypothesis made on the based on three young girls
reported that he indecently exposed himself just days before Lesley was
murdered due to this information the police became doubtful of Kiszko’s unique
lifestyle. Furthermore, Kiszko had a strange hobby of writing down registration
numbers of cars that infuriated him coincidently he had written down the number
of a car later discovered in close proximate to the crime scene. West Yorkshire
Police pursued evidence that would incriminate him as they convinced that he
was the prime and only suspect while ignoring other potential leads that might
have resulted in a different outcome to the investigation. This contributed to
his wrongful conviction, this particular case is a great illustration of a case
being conducted and characterized by case construction rather than truth
finding. Hypothesis that are formed are crucial for the development of the
investigation which can change the direction of the case altogether.


The investigative
process is flawed as it to opaque due to the fact the investigators develop
their options and bias as the case develops over time. During the initial
crime scene assessment stage the materials that  are obtained help interpret, shape and
construct the case. If sufficient information has been gathered then the
verdict is set in stone however if the fundamental evidence isn’t presented in
time can be disastrous for the defending party. There are many factors that can
contribute the conviction of an innocent individual which include confirmatory
bias in police conducting the investigation, false confessions due to investigators
applying huge amount of pressure on the individual for a confession, dishonest
reports/witnesses statement made, non-disclosure of exculpatory evidence, cognitive
biases and prejudices of juries and also finally the media input in the
investigation which helps form the decisions made by juries. All of these errors
were present in the Lesley Molseed cases. Evidence
was suppressed in Kiszko’s favour wrongly convicting him of murder as he was
seen as unusual individual who was a social misfit that suffered from minor
behavioural abnormalities. Police applied pressure for a confession which was
later understood that pleaded guilty under duress.



The role of the media:


Over the past decade the mass media has become an
important aspect in major criminal investigations. Investigators encourage
publicity and exposure for on-going case in order to support and assist them
with acquiring more knowledge. A result it could be a crucial part of the
investigation weather that is identifying an individual or help them comprehend
how the crime occurred, investigators strategically utilise the media to their
advantage. The
SIO of the investigation     needs to
have the aptitude and capability to efficiently, ensure
that media strategy for the investigation is robust enough to ensure that they
remain in charge of press releases and that they maintain ownership and


Investigators acknowledge the power of the media as
a result utilised the power it holds. Most investigators view the media as a
mixed blessing (Stelfox, 2009).
The relationship between the police and the media is “an enduring, if not ecstatically happy, marriage” as Sir Robert
mark the commissioner of the metropolitan police stated in 1971. Most media
outlets are just interested acquiring material to provide information that is
perceived as worthy news. That modern news is influenced by entertainment
industry and that they are driven by visualising deviance as “Deviance is the defining characteristic of
what journalists regard as newsworthy” (Ericson et al., 1987). Ericson and his collages
conducting the study on visualising deviance, stated that the high proportion
of news that is portrayed about deviance and control. The media portrays a distorted
image of crime through their selection of certain stories which are dedicated
to deviance.


Murder cases especially those that contain
suspicious death remain the most common crime that is portrayed in media and
highly likely to attract intense media and public interest. Violent acts will
strong visual graphical impact are highly likely to tract the media interest. Correspondingly,
the trends in the media imply a progressively threatening image of crime in
news stories. This is compounded by the more negative and destructive
representations of the police (Mason,


In most major criminal investigations, credible
material is accumulated at an in the initial crime scene assessment stage,
which later on provides a clear focus for the line enquiries of the
investigation. Evidently cases that accumulate relevant materials in the early
stages are distinguished relatively quickly. Only a minority of investigations
are complex when materials aren’t composed in the early stages. Then next
initial stage for the investigation is to use the media as an investigative
tool and release information, frequently this is last possibility when all
other inquiries have been exhausted. Using the media is often an advantage when
investigator have limited information initially at the early stage where
investigators release information in order for the investigation to progress. In
the James Bulger case 1993,
investigators asked the public for assistance in identifying the
two young boys and released
CCTV footage, exhibiting James being led away by two young boys. Emphasis was
placed on James last movements and enhanced the grainy footage. Information
from the public begins to flood in and less than a week of James disappearance,
crucial information was given which led to the identification of 10 year olds Jon Venables and Robert Thompson. This case
illustrated the advantages of using the media when investigators have limited


However, there is no assurance that a story will be
reported in ways that has a positive impact to the investigation. There have
been incidents where a story has been reported in an uncooperative and
disobliging manner regarding the investigation. Simply due to the fact that it constructs
a better story and is news worthy or isn’t reported at all because its
considered as ordinary and mundane. There is a danger when realising
information to the media as the case may be sensualised in ways that ultimately
misconstrue the level of threat and the investigation.


The Stephan Lawrence case is a great example how
the role of the media impacted the investigation. The media highlighted many
complexities within the case and issues within the metropolitan police at the
time of the investigation. The case caused widespread controversy and became
one of the highest profile racial killings in UK history, evidently changing attitudes
on racism and the police, as well as the legal landscape and police practice
all together. The media highlighted the issues of racism, professional
incompetence, and institutional racism that was evident in the investigation. The
media’s coverage of the Stephen Lawrence case was positive impact to the
investigation which allowed issue of race to be investigated. Stephan Lawrence
was an 18-year-old black man who was murdered in a racially motivated
unprovoked attack while he waited for a bus in 1993.


The Daily Mail accused and branded five white men
of the murder on its front page in 1997 which caused controversy, as it was an uncommon
practice in journalistic reporting to accuse individuals of murder after the
court has failed to do so. This act by the paper violated the journalistic
ethics however this was an advantage to investigation as it launched a campaign
for justice ever since the paper published the article. The article received attention
of the country which applied pressure on the investigators uncover more evidence
which lead to a full trial and the conviction of the suspected killers.


may use media strategies to acquire more information from the general public in
order to advance their investigation. Strategies such as press confesses, reconstruction,
appeals and publication of images to attract publicity on the investigation and
maintain the story in medias eye. In many missing children cases media coverage
is a vital tool for the progression of the case. In the Sarah Payne case media
appeals and reconstructions were used in efforts to help encourage possible witnesses
to come forward with any information. Police receive 270 calls following a
Crimewatch appeal on BBC as well as receiving 20,000 calls following a publication
of an e-fit image of a man that investigators still wanted in for questioning (BBC NEWS, 2001). Eventually
lead to conviction of a convicted sex offender Roy Whiting. Julie Dart and Stephanie
Slater case is another great example where it exemplifies the advantages of investigators
publishing information and secured a conviction. In January 1992 estate agent Stephanie
Slater was kidnapped and hidden in a coffin for eight days by a man posing
as a house buyer. Crimewatch TV appeal broadcasted a voice recording of the
kidnapper, the BBC received a call from the kidnapper ex-wife confirming his identity
as Michael Sams (BBC NEWS, 2017). After his arrest, forensic
evidence linked him to the kidnap and murdered teenage prostitute Julie Dart. To
conclude all these cases, illustrate the power and advantage that the media
holds in providing facts for successful just case.


Despite this the media interest has grown in
serious crime investigations, so has public criticism of some investigators.
There have been strong criticisms of investigators in high profile cases on how
they may have conducted and structured a case. Investigators perceive
themselves as the subject of criticism as Sir Robert stated in 1974 “Without
doubt the most abused, the most unfairly criticised and the most silent
minority in this country (Chibnall,
1979)”. SIO can’t afford to make any mistakes and need to be able to
efficiently manage the investigative process effectively also account an
awareness of a number of issues or complexities that may arise during the
investigation. Additionally, investigations must fundamentally be investigated
to a high standard in accordance with national guidelines (ACPO, 2006).


The question is whether the media is an appropriate
tool for major investigation. In the Laissez-Faire model, it states that the
media is driven by demand economic with an emphasis on sensationalising and
covering stories to meet the public demands. Though, it it’s safe to state that
police and the media have a complicated and complex relationship and need to
work together in order to achieve their objectives, as both to work together and
depend on each other for information; that being the media creating stories and
investigators gaining additional information that was intended from realising
information to the public. However, there is a risk when involving the media can’t
control the public opinion nor the media which in many murder cases sparks
intense attention and pressure promoting a media frenzy and jeopardising the
case as result. Which evidently can lead to the sensualisation of case to help
the dramatization for the general public. In conclusions is seems that the
media hold primitive hold against the investigation. SIO must have effective
communication and implement a media and internal communication strategy.


Finance and its impact:


financing of investigation is one of the main aspects that SIO needs to consider
when conducting cases. Major investigations can acquire large amount of money
when conducting them. There are 45 police forces in the United Kingdom, 39 in
England, 4 in Wales, and single forces each covering Scotland and Northern
Ireland. In England and wales they receive their main source of income in the
form of central government grant which is made available through the annual Home
Office Police Grant Report (House
of Commons Library, 2016). Each force is able to increase funds
through council tax bills.


of the main responsibilities of an SIO is being able manage a range of human
resources that are request for a single investigation. The range of human recourses
include specialists such as crime scene examiners, pathologists, forensic
scientist, forensic submissions officers, analysts, intelligence officers, press
officers, FLOs, covert resources and experts in various fields (ACPO, 2006).


the recent years there have been major policing funding cuts which resulted in
less resources available and as a result the number of officers have declined
since the cuts were made. Evidently this will impact Scotland Yard being unable
to provide some services as they will face financial pressures as figures will
drop by 2020. The Metropolitan police are the largest force in the UK are going
to discontinue investigating lower level crimes such as burglaries, thefts and some
assaults. This is as a result of pressures on their resources as its not
practical for investigators accumulate a substantial amount of time in
investigating these crimes where the extent of damage or the item that is stolen
under £50, or the victim is not willing to support a prosecution (Rawlinson, 2017).  The deputy assistant commissioner Mark
Simmons stated that that they must prioritise the recourses that are available
to them so that they are able to cope with the demand, henceforth for officers are
able to be right place at the right time to help the public (Rawlinson, 2017).


profile cases that have a large media coverage require an extensive amount of
time, money and resources dedicated to investigation. The Shannon Matthews case
is a great illustration on the differing investigative aspects that can affect
an investigation. Aspects such as the media coverage and investigators were eager
to harness media interest in order to elicit the help gain information on what
happened (NPIA, 2009). Due
to the absence of information more than 300 police officers were involved and
the operation, more than 800 CCTV tapes and computer hard drives were examined,
all available police dog handlers, firearms officers, special constables and rescue
workers were involved consequently costing the West Yorkshire Police £3.2
million (BBC NEWS, 2008). 

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