On May 10 not too far from the National Theatre on the South Bank a remarkable stage scene will be set up at the BPP Law University. A room with walls spattered with blood, a potential murder weapon and clues galore.
But this dramatic scene is not part of a rerun Agatha Christie play or some avant garde production on a pre West End theatre debut..
Instead of actors there will be two forensic scientists Tracy Alexander, Director of Forensic Services at City of London Police and Jo Millington, Senior Forensic Scientist at Millington Hingley both of whom featured in BBC’s Conviction: Murder at the Station.
They will take the audience through how you investigate a murder going into detail of how the evidence is gathered using the latest modern methods.
As Tracy Alexander tells the audience: “If you’ve seen Silent Witness you’ll know that Emilia Fox attends the crime scene, examines the corpse, looks for clues, performs the post-mortem, comforts the family of the victim, interviews suspects and sleeps with the senior investigating officer, all in the same nice suit without transferring vital evidence from one to the other. I can’t do all those things myself – well, not in an hour.”
The demonstration is put on by Inside Justice, a charity which investigates alleged miscarriages of justice particularly where a fresh examination of forensic evidence can make a difference and only when they are convinced that the person usually serving a long jail sentence is innocent.
The charity’s director is Louise Shorter. She is best known for her 10 years as a producer/director of the BBC’s long-running miscarriage of justice TV series Rough Justice. Sadly with reduced media budgets such programmes are no longer made.
The last programme she made about the wrongful murder convictions of Barri White and Keith Hyatt led directly to new evidence being found which resulted in their convictions being quashed. In 2013, Shahidul Ahmed, the real killer in this case was convicted following a cold-case review led by Inside Justice Advisory Panel member Tracy Alexander.
The charity’s panel which is largely composed of forensic scientists has since then taken up a series of cases – though faces a difficult battle in persuading police forces to release all the forensic evidence it holds to re-investigate cases.
The fact that Inside Justice exists is particularly important because of two issues- which are potentially conflicting. One is the march of forensic science which is now miles ahead of itself. The other is the effects of privatisation and cuts in police manpower and budgets.
As Louise explained to me new developments in forensic science mean that a minute level of DNA is enough to trace one person to a spot even if he or she wasn’t there.
As she put it: ” Supposing we shake hands and I go off to the ladies toilet. I then touch something in the toilet and a trace of your DNA as well as mine is left there. Supposing unknown to either of us a crime is committed there two hours later. When the police arrive they will find a trace of your DNA at the crime scene. It is now possible to do this and you could become a murder suspect.”
Now this high level of DNA detection is good for crime detection but not so good if a hard pressed police force is anxious to get a quick conviction and you do not have an alibi. Given the growing concern about wrongful police convictions – from recent rape cases where the defence were not given all the evidence – this is not good news.
But in the meantime it is obviously a fascinating experience to see how forensic science can help solve real murders.
There are two performances at the BPP Law University at 137 Stamford Street
London SE1 9NN. It is five minutes walk from Waterloo station. Tickets for the event can be obtained from Eventbrite. GO TO WWW.EVENTBRITE.CO.UK
AND SEARCH FOR ‘CRIME LIVE’