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SIO Corner: Premises Searching

This week we look at issues to consider when searching premises

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).

Premises Searching

It is highly likely during the course of an investigation that there will be a requirement to conduct extensive searches of premises that may or may not constitute crime scenes but should be approached as such until proven otherwise. These may be as crime scene searches or as part of an arrest or general search strategy. In most cases premises searches are simpler because they are easier to contain and secure; they may not present the same challenges as some outdoor scenes, eg rural and remote searches.

If an in-depth and thorough search of premises is required then a PolSA-led team should be considered. This will ensure a high assurance search is conducted once the forensic teams have finished. The SIO should also consider involving experienced detectives and maybe even a supervisory detective of sergeant or inspector rank who, although would not physically search, would at least be on hand to advise and guide the search team through their more extensive knowledge of the case. An exhibits officer will also be required.

Even if the search is not forming part of a designated crime scene, a CSI should, whenever possible, be deployed with search teams to accurately record and sometimes photograph the evidence and advise on the appropriate recovery, packaging, transportation, and storage of items.

The type of premises and incident under investigation will determine what the search strategy should entail. For example, bathrooms and kitchens are popular places to wash away forensic traces or dismember bodies. Therefore, baths, sinks, and shower traps should be examined for blood or flesh deposits, together with towels, soap, and shampoo bottles. Checking for any signs of a struggle or disturbance may also be important.

When recovering clothing and items against set criteria there needs to be a clear policy to determine what should/should not be seized. For example, if checking footwear, it is advisable to take photographs or drawings to compare against otherwise seizing too many exhibits may result. Also important is working to a clear examination and retrieval strategy.

For instance, when recovering clothing that is to be forensically packaged and sealed, best practice is to have it photographed in situ prior to recovery, and then front and back photographs prior to packaging.

Although time-consuming, this negates the need to submit numerous items for assessment to the forensic service providers, and allows the SIO to prioritize certain items. This is because items are difficult to see or describe once in bags that should be opened only under laboratory conditions.


1. A useful technique to consider is using someone who is familiar with the premises to go through them with the SIO (or nominated person) bit by bit (being careful about any possible contamination issues). They can help identify anything that is out of place, missing, unusual, or suspicious or any factors inconsistent with the lifestyle of the victim.

2. Some areas of premises may require specialist equipment to search below floors or behind walls, eg geophysical instruments.

If searching dwellings where there may be innocent third parties and occupants it may be worth considering a displacement plan. Sometimes people who have nothing to do with criminality get caught up in traumatic events because of their unfortunate association with or in relation to suspects and offenders. It is worthwhile anticipating this in advance and having a plan to minimize the disruptive effects of searches where they impact on others.

Note: This may also provide a suitable opportunity to speak to people who may be able to assist the enquiry.

Checklist—Primary crime scene search of premises(ie scene (1))

(Note: Not all these may be applicable, depending on the requirements of the search, and the list is not exhaustive.)

Case study—House search evidence

During an enquiry into a missing person who had a criminal background, a house search was conducted at an address linked to a criminal associate. The officers conducting the search were briefed to look for any items that might belong to the missing person, eg mobile phone, jewellery, personal belongings, or any evidence of a struggle or fight.

The search team was provided with a full briefing as to the circumstances of the enquiry. During the search, one officer found a length of rope beneath the kitchen sink which he seized as an exhibit. He believed it might have been used for incapacitation, although there had been no specific information to suggest this had occurred.

When the body of the victim was found six weeks later, his hands were tied in front with a short piece of rope. The cut ends were discovered to be an exact microscopic match to those on the rope found during the earlier house search, from which the piece had been cut. This proved a damning piece of evidence against the offender who was convicted after a lengthy Crown Court trial and sentenced to life imprisonment.

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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