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SIO Corner: Exhibits, Forensic Submission And Reviews

This week we look at issues relating to exhibits and forensic submission and the review process

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).

Exhibit And Forensic Submission and Review Process

It is the responsibility of the SIO, exhibits officer, and CSM to keep all seized exhibits under continuous review. This is best achieved by adopting a screening process at regular review meetings whereby each exhibit is rated for both forensic potential and priority. In practice, the exhibits officer usually prints off a list of all exhibits and along with the SIO each one is scored as follows:

F— shows whether the exhibit has forensic potential, then graded with a score of '1–3', 1 being high priority, 2 medium, and 3 low priority.
P—fingerprint examination required.
O/D—other document or exhibit for disclosure only.
O/R—other document or exhibit for research.
O/C—other document or exhibit required for court.

The results of the exhibits review are then entered into HOLMES2 as a registered document. This is a process that requires regular reviews and revisits as the enquiry progresses.

All exhibits graded ‘F1’ should be discussed at a forensic strategy meeting in order to ensure the appropriate examination is considered. The meeting should be held at an early stage in the investigation and should include the SIO, the management team, the CSM, a representative from the fingerprint unit, the forensic scientists (if applicable), and any forensic submissions officer (if applicable), who often holds the forensic budget. In view of the high costs of forensic examination it is essential that care is taken to prioritize only those items that may provide a result of significant evidential value.

Further review meetings should be held throughout the investigation to ensure all priority exhibits are fully considered for forensic examination. Minutes of all meetings should be recorded on the HOLMES2 database. Reasons why exhibits were sent for examination or why they were not should be noted, along with a full rationale and explanation for all decisions made.

Minutes should be cross-referenced in the SIO’s policy file and any submission (for examination) form should clearly indicate what the SIO expects the forensic scientist to prove scientifically.

In some cases the early retrieval of evidence from seized exhibits becomes time critical, for example when suspects are in custody pre-charge. In such circumstances it may be of use to consider the use of an exhibits assessment (or review) team, who can be tasked with checking, reviewing, prioritizing, and exploiting evidential opportunities for all items seized (eg identifying fast-track items).

This is particularly useful when there are a large number of exhibits such as documents, computers, or mobile phones (and SIM cards) etc and a conventional exhibits strategy meeting would create an unacceptable time delay.

The review team may include experts who can examine items such as computers and telephones.

Note: Such a system if utilized should not be allowed to bypass the MIR process and a rigorous method of ensuring all appropriate entries on decisions and movement of exhibits are properly recorded onto HOLMES2.

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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