Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Can You Identify The Suspect, Madam?

You can..?! Oh, bugger:
When Tracy Ryan spotted a suspected burglar emerging from the dog sanctuary where she works, she thought she would have little problem pointing him out to police.

After all, he had a large port-wine stain on his face.

But when police set up an identity parade, they refused to take the man's distinctive birthmark into account - in case it infringed his human rights.
Wait, what..?

Incredible as it sounds, if a suspect is too identifiable, that’s bad news…
An officer from the Nottinghamshire force explained that the mark was too rare to be included in a profile of the burglar when it was entered into a computer database.

It would leave only a small pool of potential suspects in the electronic ID parade, he said, breaking police rules.
So, whereas 40 years ago, Dixon of Dock Green would be round sharpish, rubbing his hands at the prospect of an easy collar, today’s modern crim has nothing to fear from the PC PCs…

No wonder most of the good ones are leaving these shores, and the rest of us are thinking about joining them:
Under laws designed to take into account 'the rights and freedoms of the public', witnesses must be shown a minimum of 12 photographs before they are allowed to identify a suspect.
So, if you have a really, really horrible, disfiguring disease or accident, welcome to your new life of crime!

You won’t need a mask…
It was on August 25 that £300 in charity donations was stolen from the Crossing Cottage Greyhound Sanctuary in Sutton on Trent, Nottinghamshire.

Mrs Ryan noted that, apart from his birthmark, the suspected culprit was tall and wore a white tracksuit. She also took his car registration number.

Police have subsequently made an arrest and Mrs Ryan is due to attend a second identification parade which will include the suspect, who is on bail.

He will be pictured alongside 11 people of a similar appearance. But if he has a birthmark, it will still be kept secret.

The suspected thief and the other participants will be made to cover one side of their face.
So, his most distinguishing feature, the one that will enable him to be identified, is to be removed…

In order to be ‘fair and impartial’.

Unsurprisingly, the witness and the victim aren’t impressed:
Mrs Ryan said: 'Surely an unusual characteristic like a big birthmark should help a police investigation?

'If there were just four or five people on the database with such marks, all the better.

'I understand police have to follow procedures, but to me the
rules are flawed and amount to a pretty lame excuse
Too true.
Her boss John Morton, who manages the home for 30 former racing dogs as part of the Retired Greyhound Trust, said: 'The police are saying they can't infringe human rights. But what about our human rights?

'We are law-abiding people who have been victims of crime, and the police have a responsibility to maximise their chances of solving that crime. If this is the law, it has to be changed.'
So, where does this law come from?
Joanne Hall, of Nottinghamshire Police, said the force had to abide by the rules of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

She said: 'The witness had to be shown not less than 12 photographs at a time. PACE sets out to strike the right balance between the powers of the police and the rights and freedoms of the public.'
Note the date of that act.

Can’t blame NuLab for this one, can we..?

Update: Thanks to Moriarty, captainff and TDK in the comments, it appears we can...


Letters From A Tory said...

So the fact that he is an easily identifiable criminal has worked in his favour?

Longrider said...

That's about the sum of it.

Moriarty said...

Can’t blame NuLab for this one, can we..?

Oh, I think that we can. I just looked up the part of PACE that deals with this, and lo and behold, on the title page -



Commencement - Transitional Arrangements

This code has effect in relation to any identification procedure carried out after midnight on 31 January 2008

January '08? Looks like this is one of those laws New Labour has been fiddling with, and within the last couple of years too.

manwiddicombe said...

^^ Page 176 of the code (Jan 2005 on the front of my copy of the pdf)

10. If the suspect has an unusual physical feature, e.g., a facial scar, tattoo or distinctive
hairstyle or hair colour which cannot be replicated on other members of the
identification parade, steps may be taken to conceal the location of that feature on the
suspect and the other members of the identification parade if the suspect and their
solicitor, or appropriate adult, agree.For example, by use of a plaster or a hat, so that
all members of the identification parade resemble each other in general appearance.

John Levett said...

If a birthmark is prejudicial to the cause of identifying a suspect because its uniqueness compromises the suspect's human rights , where does that leave the legality of collecting our DNA?

Old BE said...

Presumably this ridiculous scenario was intended to protect innocent people with similar identifiable features from being wrongly accused? Innocent people must match the description of criminals all the time.

TDK said...

As Moriarty said

PACE is a framework act. The act provides for the Home Office to provide the actual code of conduct and as indicated, the current code D came into force in 2008.

The relevant sections are page 10 (pdf)

Identification parade
3.7 An ‘identification parade’ is when the witness sees the suspect in a line of others who
resemble the suspect.
3.8 Identification parades must be carried out in accordance with Annex B.

and pages 39-41 (pdf)

Annex B
9. The identification parade shall consist of at least eight people (in addition to the
suspect) who, so far as possible, resemble the suspect in age, height, general
appearance and position in life.Only one suspect shall be included in an identification
parade unless there are two suspects of roughly similar appearance, in which case
they may be paraded together with at least twelve other people. In no circumstances
shall more than two suspects be included in one identification parade and where
there are separate identification parades, they shall be made up of different people.
10. If the suspect has an unusual physical feature, e.g., a facial scar, tattoo or distinctive
hairstyle or hair colour which cannot be replicated on other members of the identification parade, steps may be taken to conceal the location of that feature on the
suspect and the other members of the identification parade if the suspect and their
solicitor, or appropriate adult, agree. For example, by use of a plaster or a hat, so that
all members of the identification parade resemble each other in general appearance.

TDK said...

Now, of course, the previous administration may have had similar clauses in place. If so your point is restored.

Roue le Jour said...


I had a read through the doc and there doesn't seem to be any provision for the suspect to have a genuinely unique appearance, e.g. seven foot albino. Obviously such persons wouldn't turn to crime because they're too easily picked out... wait a minute...

I also note that contrary to what the police spokesperson says, the requirement is eight dummies plus the suspect to lineup not twelve.

I was in a lineup once. I was pulled off the street on my way to work by a copper and asked to take part. Myself and the other volunteers lined up after being reassured that if the witness picked us out we wouldn't be nicked. Then they brought the suspect in who was indeed the same height, age and colouring as us, but a couple of stone heavier and of a bouncer-ish appearance. Also, none of us office worker drones had callouses on the backs of our knuckles from where they dragged on the ground. The witness had no difficulty identifying the suspect.

That was in the days of "Sweeney", so presumably coppering was a bit more straightforward then.

TDK said...

I think you need to get this in perspective. In this case the police have other evidence to identify the suspect. It sounds like they want a positive ID as reinforcement rather than the critical evidence.

Let's imagine a scenario where the police have nothing to go on except the visual identification of a man with a port wine stain.

The problem for the police is that if they put one man that fits the profile in a parade with eleven people lacking such marks then they can't know if the witness really identified the suspect or just narrowed down to one using the port wine stain. In other words the witness might not actually identify the suspect. The criminal law is not about balance of probabilities but "proof beyond doubt". We have to be sure that the right man with a port wine stain is convicted, not just the first man who matches the profile.

I think you'd agree that if the police asked a witness, who having seen an incident involving a black man, was asked to identify him in a parade with 11 whites and 1 black, then we would rightly be suspicious.

It's clearer here because, based upon the frequency of black men, we know there is lots of potential for convicting the wrong person. The relative rarity of men with port wine stains shouldn't make us dismiss this basic principle.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

So if you're ever arrested on DNA evidence, can you insist that your DNA be compared only with similar DNA, otherwise your human rights might have been infringed?

Does it apply to fingerprints too? Only fingerprints similar to mine should be examined, otherwise it's unfair?

This is beyond stupid.

Mark Wadsworth said...

That's how low Gorbachev has sunk!

JuliaM said...

Cheers all. I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised that Labour's sticky fingers do seem to be all over this one regardless of the original act, should I?

TDK said...

We don't definitely know that it's Labour because Code D may be substantially the same as in 1997. If someone digs out earlier code Ds we'll know for sure.

Just for interest, here are
two pages showing research about this issue.

Some extracts: In 20% of identity parade line-ups studied by Wright and McDaid (1996) the witness identified an innocent foil whom the police had chosen to stand with the suspect. Note that doesn't mean the other 80% were correct because the witness sometimes identifies no one.

Another study shows that the number of people correctly identifying a (filmed) robber reduces from 51 per cent in 18-19-year-olds to 25 per cent in 60-72-year-olds

Pertinent to this discussion is Any foils which can be immediately rejected (because their appearance does not match the description) may just as well not be there at all, as their rejection will be almost automatic.

in practice, the witness may actually narrow down the possibilities by rejecting those which are the most dissimilar to their memory of the accused and eventually select the one whose appear­ance is most similar to the image in their memory (Thomson, 1995)

Von Spreuth. said...

Note the date of that act.

Can’t blame NuLab for this one, can we..?

Welll. In a roundabout way.

As I recall, "PACE was brought in as a kneejerk reaction to massive pressure from the then "Labour" party and their cronys in the press, and "civil rights" groups" protesting about the "Sus" laws, after the riots in Toxteth, Brixton, and another hundred towns around the U.K, in 1981.

So although they were THEN not "NEW Labour" they WERE the same scumbags that BECAME "New Labour".

staybryte said...

Quick story. When I was at university the police would often come round the Union bar looking for young men to take part in parades at the nearby station. It was usually worth a tenner and plenty of people went along.
My mate, a six-foot, very pale skinned strawberry blonde, was a bit taken aback when he took his place in the lineup to find all the others were black.

Moriarty said...

Found a copy of the original act, seems to be no mention of identity parades in it at all. (PDF here)

Can't see when the act was ammended about this though.

TDK said...


There won't necessarily be an amendment - this is a framework act, where the finer details are provided by the Home Office of the day. Think of this as similar to an enabling act.

66. The Secretary of State shall issue codes of practice in
practice. connection with-
(a) the exercise by police officers of statutory powers-
(b) the detention, treatment, questioning and identification
of persons by police officers ;

The bill is meaningless without the codes of practice.