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SIO Corner: Displacement And Legal Powers To Enter

This week we look at the issues surrounding the displacement of residents and vehicles, and also at the legal powers to enter and secure crime scenes

In this series we look at various aspects of life as an SIO. This includes the necessary skill sets for the successful SIO, the management of serious crime investigation and specific elements of investigative practice from initial response through crime scene examination and investigative strategies to dealing with suspects and the media. The articles are excerpts from the 2nd edition of Blackstone's, the 'Senior Investigating Officers' Handbook', written by two highly experienced SIOs (see 'About the Authors' at the end of the article).

Displaced residents and vehicles

Some scenes are located in areas difficult to contain. These may be where residents have possessions or vehicles that get stranded inside a cordon, or even residences or business premises where the placing and security of cordons means that innocent people become effectively displaced and their lives disrupted.

An example is when cordons are placed in streets within residential areas. Residents can become trapped or displaced, together with their vehicles, inside the cordon and sensible solutions are the answer. Freedom of movement can be facilitated by devising and recording (in consultation with the CSM), an appropriate strategy, e.g. utilizing protective clothing or, in the case of vehicles, having them examined by a CSI, and recording or photographing their position.

When satisfied there is no link to the crime, supervised removal can be arranged. Residents can sometimes be permitted to use their rear doors as opposed to front, and if necessary put into protective suits to allow access in and out of the cordon. A protectively suited officer can visit each address to explain to residents the arrangements for their movements and the reasons, with an explanatory note from the SIO and/or local police commander apologizing for the inconvenience. This should be recorded in the ‘community impact assessment’ (CIA) document.

Legal Powers—Entering and Securing Crime Scenes

The vast majority of the law-abiding public are quite willing to cooperate with the police and allow access to and examination of scenes of crime. Clearly it is sensible for them to follow police advice which may be supported by other agencies such as the fire and rescue service, health professionals, or local authority representatives. There are also legal powers conferred in ss 8, 18, and 32 of PACE to secure premises for the purpose of a search. However, there may still be some lingering doubts over general crime scenes, particularly those on private property.

In the case of DPP v Morrison QBD, 4.4.03; (Telegraph, 17.4.03; The Times, 21.4.03), a decision confirmed that under common law the police do have a power to erect a cordon in order to preserve the scene of a crime. The Divisional Court upheld this rule in this case and, given the importance of this function in investigating serious crime, it would have been highly surprising had it done otherwise. It is probably because of the ruling in this case that no legal power has, to date, been enacted.

The case of Rice v Connolly (1966) QB P414 had previously re-affirmed long established principles that have not been challenged. It was confirmed that the police are entitled to take all reasonable steps to keep the peace, prevent and detect crime, and bring offenders to justice. It is within these principles that the police are entitled to secure scenes of crime for examination by specialists, forensic scientists, etc.

It follows that, if any individual were to frustrate, hinder, or obstruct the securing of a crime scene, that person would commit an offence of obstructing a police officer in the execution of their duty. This would include any civilian police employee such as a crime scene investigator who is regarded as an investigator under the provisions of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 (CPIA).

The Murder Investigation Manual also provides some useful advice: Where a scene is on private property, SIOs will need to negotiate access with those in control of the premises. Considerable tact and diplomacy will often be necessary for this, particularly where the scene is occupied or controlled by a suspect’s family or associates or where the scene requires to be searched for objects suspected of being buried or concealed. If necessary, alternative arrangements should be made for their accommodation until the scene is released. Where a crime scene is likely to have a significant impact on commerce, SIOs should consult their force legal department for advice about the length of time it can be held. [Murder Investigation Manual (ACPO Centrex), 136].

Note: If the incident under investigation is terrorist related the police have powers to impose and enforce cordons under sections 33-36 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

About the Authors:

Detective Superintendent Tony Cook was a CID officer with Greater Manchester Police for over 31 years until his retirement in 2009. During his time as an SIO, he led a number of high profile investigations including operations into gangland violence at Moss Side, the Bolton murder of a teenage girl in 2002, and the Denton strangling case. He was a trained assessor for promotion and a qualified Authorising Officer under RIPA. Tony received 14 commendations and a first-class BSc Honours degree in social sciences and a Diploma in Social Policy & Criminology from the Open University.

Andy Tattersall, formerly Detective Superintendent in Greater Manchester Police on the Force Major Incident Team, retired in 2007 after 33 years service and became the first ever Support Staff SIO in charge of a new Homicide Support Unit. With over 29 years in CID at all ranks Andy received the Homicide Working Group National Award for his Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Homicide in November 2006.

To see more details about the Senior Investigating Officers' Handbook, or to purchase a copy, click here.

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