In our digital age, there is usually at least one mobile phone present at the scene of a crime. The presence of mobile phones can be used to trace an individual’s movements using cell site analysis, and mobile phone analysis can hold the key to uncovering what actually happened and the events which precede it. When this evidence is examined but not handled correctly, there is potential for miscarriages of justice to take place.
In the cases of two criminal trials which collapsed this week, crucial digital evidence which would undermine the prosecution case was only brought to light during the trial. This has been a humiliating blow to the Metropolitan Police, and has prompted questions about how the police handle evidence which may help the defence case.
Liam Allen had the charges against him dropped after text messages between the complainant and her friends which cast doubt on the prosecution case were only disclosed late in the trial. He claims that the whole process of being accused and facing trial was ‘mental torture’ and he now intends to sue the Metropolitan Police over their handling of the case.
Police have a duty to log all evidence they do not use during an investigation and pass it to the defence if it could help their case or undermine the prosecution case. In Allen’s case, the police and prosecutors withheld important evidence because they considered that ‘there was no longer a realistic chance of prosecution’. Chair of the Criminal Bar Association, Angela Rafferty has accused the police of acting with ‘unconscious bias’ in many cases of rape and sexual assault, affirming that ‘it is not the job of the police or the CPS to judge the truthfulness or otherwise of any allegation made’.
The problem of late disclosure of evidence is much more widespread than these two incidents. Barristers have claimed that this happens very frequently, and it is a problem which needs to be urgently addressed. Unnecessary delays are caused when evidence which calls the prosecution case into question is not presented to the defence, leading to the process of justice becoming especially distressing for all involved. Missing or incomplete evidence can undermine the process of a fair trial, meaning that innocent people can be convicted while genuine offenders are not prosecuted.
The Metropolitan Police are conducting a review into how these cases are handled and what specifically led to this particular failure to disclose evidence. Jerry Hayes, the prosecuting barrister in Allen’s trial has claimed that increasing pressure and chronic underfunding of the police and the CPS has led to investigating officers not following protocol. Excessive workloads and limited resources could have had a negative impact on the police’s ability to investigate cases fully.
30 other cases due to go to trial and many others currently being investigated are now being reviewed in order to ensure all digital evidence has been properly examined, documented, and shared with all relevant legal teams. It is hoped that this review will highlight what went wrong and allow the police to learn from their failings in these two cases.
When evidence is disclosed late or not at all, the consequences can be disastrous. If you are working on a case in which the police have failed to disclose evidence which could cast doubt over a conviction, we can provide former detectives and senior police officers to assist with investigations, and forensic IT expert witnesses to provide an expert opinion in court on digital evidence. Get in touch for help with any expert witness or investigation requirements you have.