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SIO Corner: Physical Evidence Collection And Crime Scene Release

This week we look at considerations needed when collecting physical evidence and releasing a crime scene

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).

Collection of Physical Evidence

There are general rules that apply regarding the collection and seizure of physical evidence from a crime scene (or from any other place not so specifically designated).

These are as follows:


Proving continuity, chain of custody, and safeguarding the integrity of all exhibits by clear audit trails is of paramount importance. If useful trace evidence is found and relied upon in evidence, this is an area that will come under close scrutiny in any subsequent proceedings. Each and every item recovered from a crime scene (or elsewhere) must have an exhibit label attached that is clearly marked and signed/dated by all those coming into contact with it.

Releasing a Crime Scene

A crime scene should be retained as long as is necessary to allow for all potential searches and forensic examinations to take place. Any decision to release a scene must be very carefully considered. There are undoubtedly important practical and resource implications to consider when deciding how long a crime scene should be retained (particularly if it is a large one outdoors and/or located in a residential or urban area).

The SIO and CSM should work closely together to make this decision, taking all relevant circumstances into account. For example, a review of the scene searching and examination strategy should first be made to ensure sufficient time has been given so that nothing can have been missed, both from a prosecution and a defence perspective (ie in compliance with CPIA rules).

The problem with releasing a scene too early is that new information might come to light afterwards that requires different or fresh considerations. A primary crime scene should not be released before the initial high-priority main lines of enquiry have been completed, such as interviewing significant witnesses, viewing vital CCTV, or interviewing a suspect who has been quickly arrested. This is because new information may be forthcoming that has to be contextualized at the crime scene while still in its preserved state.

An SIO must be shrewd enough to plan and prepare for all eventualities. This includes changes in information that can develop in the early stages. For example, new witnesses may come forward who provide information requiring further examination of the scene; or suspects may say things in interviews that require clarification; or forensic experts may want to revisit the scene, etc.

Once a scene is released, its sterility and integrity have been lost. Scene examinations need to be conducted painstakingly and thoroughly so the rule needs to be repeated: never release a scene too early.


1. Some crime scenes may present health and safety hazards for members of the public. If so, they cannot be released until they have been thoroughly cleansed and deemed fit for use.
2. Before any scene is released the SIO and CSM should conduct a ‘walk through’. This is a satisfaction check that all investigative opportunities have been considered and the evidence retrieval harvest has been thorough and complete.

Some crime scenes, eg household premises can become a magnet for thieves and vandals once police security has been removed. The owner must therefore be encouraged to acknowledge responsibility for security and may need some appropriate crime prevention advice.

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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