Police, fire and forensic liaison in West Yorkshire

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<ul><li><p>PROCEEDINGS </p><p>Police, fire and forensic liaison in West Yorkshire </p><p>AF BROWN </p><p>West Yorkshire Police, Wood St, Wakefield WFI 2HJ, United Kingdom and </p><p>RF CUNNINGHAM </p><p>West Yorkshire Fire Service, Oakroyd Hall, Birkenshaw, Bradford BDll 202 United Kingdom </p><p>This paper was presented at the SocietyS Spring Meeting 1996, at Llandudno, Wales on the theme of Grave Matters and Burning Issues. </p><p>'The successful investigation of deliberate fires including the prosecution of suspected offenders requires the closest possible liaison, cooperation and mutual assistance between the Police, Fire and Forensic Science Services.' (Home Office Circular, November 1992). The above statement clearly identifies what should take place in practice, yet such ideals are not always achievable when large organisations are involved and the personnel responsible for investigations differs on each occasion. Whilst police and fire service regulations attempt to cater for these situations and lay down guidelines for correct pro- cedures, it must be recognised that each has different roles, responsibility and reporting methods. </p><p>The West Yorkshire Fire Service, clearly conscious of their role, established a Fire Investigation Team with specific officers being appointed. Since their inception, group liai- son meetings between them, the Police and the forensic Science Service have taken place on a regular basis with a view to establishing a strong operational link between the three agencies in pursuit of a teamwork approach to fire investigation. </p><p>West Yorkshire Police and Fire and Civil Defence Authority share an area of 203,558 hectares, have a population of 2,200,000 and around 50 stations each throughout the metropolitan county of West Yorkshire. </p><p>The Fire Service recognised the growth in fire incidents and made its first steps to improve the quality of fire investiga- tion by forming their first fire investigation team in 1989. This quickly reaped rewards in that a higher standard of investigation was conducted and greater experience of detailed investigation was gained by the officers. </p><p>In 1992 the Chief Fire Officer recognised the benefits </p><p>Science &amp; Justice 1998; 38(1): 53-54 </p><p>gained by the enhanced expertise of the fire investigator and recommended that a dedicated Fire Investigation Team be established. The team was created in June 1994 with the appointment of four officers, one of which would be on duty at all times and would provide cover not just as an operational officer but also as the Fire Investigation Officer. </p><p>The principal tasks were: </p><p>Investigating causes of fire </p><p>Preparing fire investigation reports </p><p>Dealing with requests for assistance from Coroner, Police, Forensic and Insurance. </p><p>Attending Inquests and other courts </p><p>Compiling and analysing statistics </p><p>Photography at scenes of fire investigation. </p><p>The size of the task soon increased as more and more requests for various statistics came into the office from all quarters of not just the Brigade and other agencies but also from members of the public. It soon became apparent that to perform these functions successfully a detailed database was required. </p><p>The Brigade utilised their Oracle database system adding various extra fields such as injuries and smoke alarms and they are now able to compile useful statistics. The system is parochial and a National Database would be of enormous use to everyone involved with reducing fires and it is cer- tainly hoped that one day in the not too distant future utopia will arrive. </p><p>Although the causes of fires which result in injuries and deaths are the major concern they are not the only concern. Malicious fires account for over 50% of all fires within West Yorkshire. To ascertain the cause of such fires is diffi- cult enough and therefore the investigation needs to com- mence at the earliest stage possible which is as soon as the </p><p>53 </p></li><li><p>Proceedings </p><p>first crews arrive. The training of fire crews in fire investi- gation is a task that the Fire Investigation Team has recog- nised and is undertaking. </p><p>The prompt arrival of the Fire Investigation Officer is cru- cial. He begins to gather and record vital information whilst the fire is still being fought and this early information can be vital in determining the cause, because the longer the fire rages the greater the loss of any helpful evidence. </p><p>This early evidence is also of help to other agencies such as insurance companies and loss adjusters, who attend at a later time to complete their own investigations. It also results in the early involvement of the Police should the fire be suspected as one of having a doubtful origin. </p><p>- - </p><p>The Police within West Yorkshire have in the past relied upon the Fire Service for an initial analysis of the fire scene and some indication of whether or not it was ARSON or suspected ARSON. If the Fire Service considered the fire to be malicious or if it involved deaths or high value losses, then a forensic scientist would be called to the scene. </p><p>The Home Office Circular (November 1992) on fire inves- tigation to the Police and Fire Services endorses this approach making it clear that 'expert testimony' was clear- ly the domain of the forensic scientist and not the Fire Investigator. However it should be noted that Fire Investigators have been regarded by Courts throughout the country as 'Experts' through experience. An argument exists which suggests the Home Office Circular provides guidelines only and that Fire Investigators are without doubt 'Experts' in accordance with the Rules of Evidence. </p><p>Who then analyses the debris for accelerant? Perhaps there is a demarcation line dependent upon the severity of the offence about when to involve a forensic scientist and when to rely upon the Fire Investigator, but there would appear to be a divergence in practice throughout the United Kingdom. </p><p>The problem with statistics best highlights the difference between the two Services. The Fire Service are required by the Home Office to state the probable cause of every fire they attend. The Police, however, do not formally record suspected offences on their crime recording systems, com- monly now computerised. Indeed, there is often very little recorded by the Police for fires they attend when the cause of ignition is not known. This is not unusual as they do not record suspected burglaries or suspected thefts. They record actual crimes. Obviously there is a need to share data as it is only with such knowledge that problems can be identified and strategies created to address those problems. The Liaison Group provides the forum to address such issues. </p><p>They have monitored national initiatives considering their application to West Yorkshire and, perhaps more important- ly, addressed any problems that have arisen on a practical level. They have addressed a host of issues including, evi- dence presentation and collection, disclosure of Fire Officers' contemporaneous notes, training of scenes of crime officers, use of video evidence, fire and police statis- tics and media appeals. </p><p>The benefits of this teamwork approach have already been shown in an arson and homicide investigation in Leeds. The Senior Investigation Officer for the enquiry had a focal point through which requests for information and inter- views could be directed and the assistance and cooperation between the agencies contributed significantly to a success- ful investigation and two people were subsequently con- victed at Leeds Crown Court. </p><p>The continuance of the liaison group is seen as a must for all three agencies as it is only with the adoption of a team- work approach and a clear understanding of each other's roles that all can progress on a practical basis and tackle the problems of arson investigation. </p><p>Science &amp; Justice 1998; 38(1): 53-54 </p></li></ul>

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