Features

Take it from a QC – you won’t get away with murder

19 March 2016

9:00 AM

19 March 2016

9:00 AM

My first courtroom murder case could have come straight from one of Andrew Taylor’s novels. A gruesome crime — the death of a child. And the murderer was brought to justice by exquisite detective work: police established that the killer had dug a grave but then abandoned it. They also found a witness. That was 20 years ago. The prosecution for cases that I’m involved in now have changed beyond recognition.

Take number-plate-recognition technology. Most murderers drive to their victim, but now cars are tracked by cameras across the country. The police can list vehicles seen near a crime scene, then trace them back. That’s how, in 2006, they caught Steve Wright, the man who killed five prostitutes in Ipswich. I had a case recently where the murderer claimed she hadn’t visited her ex-boyfriend’s house when it was set ablaze. The police gave her car key to BMW, and the company ran some tests. This established what time the car had been started, and the distance it had been driven: the details correlated exactly with the murder.


Or consider the idea of a ‘dirty’ phone, used for nefarious purposes. Criminals think, wrongly, that unless the phone itself ends up with the police, they can get away with their misdeeds. Not any more. Police can look at data and track phones as they move about. If they spot a suspected dirty phone, they can examine its calls, find out when it was used and see if that correlates with the suspect’s known movements. If it’s a match, the jury will hear about it.

Then you have forensic technology, which is advancing at an incredible pace. It’s now very difficult not to leave a trace of DNA at a murder scene. Even if a murderer wears gloves, there’s usually some DNA transfer. I remember a post-office heist in which thieves broke in through the shop next door and stole everything from a caged area. It was a pretty clean job. But they had smoked a couple of cigarettes earlier, and thrown them away at the scene. The police scraped DNA from the butts.

There was also a case last week of a man who killed his wife, then confessed immediately by calling 999. You can see why: going on the run may prolong capture, but not for long. It has never been harder to get away with murder.

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Show comments
  • Tamerlane

    Surely if someone gets way with murder then by definition they get away with murder which renders this article redundant…

    • KingEric

      The point of the article was to show how rare it is these days, not to say it is can not be done. Therefore, whether someone does get away with murder or not, it does not change the fact that it is much harder to do and much less likely.

      • Tamerlane

        To which my point was that if people get away with it then by definition you can never know how rare or common it is so in turn you can not possibly know if it is indeed ‘much harder to do and much less likely’ only that if you do do it and it is detected then you are less likely to get away with it perhaps but since you can not know an unknown any more than you can know how many people scream into an empty room so you can never know if it is harder to get away with murder since by definition you can never know how many murders are never detected.

        • KingEric

          I understand what you are saying but it still doesn’t refute the assertion of the article that it is harder. All the CCTV cameras, DNA fingerprinting, electronic surveillance in mobiles, etc make it harder than if these techniques were still unavailable to detectives. I’m not saying it is impossible to get clean away but it certainly is a lot harder.

          • Father Todd Unctious

            There are now thirteen times as many suicides as murders in the UK. When walking home late at night the footsteps you should be afraid of ,statistically, are your own. You are far more likely to kill yourself.

          • Tamerlane

            Amazing how many people are killing themselves since we joined the EU. Thanks for that stat (it’s like you want me to catch you out).

          • Father Todd Unctious

            Not so of course. The same numbers commit suicide, fewer are murdered. Hence the ratio twixt the twain rises.
            It is an interesting insight into your obsessive mental state that you seek to catch me out.

          • Tamerlane

            It’s almost beautiful reading your efforts to wriggle off the hooks you make for yourself.

          • Father Todd Unctious

            It is hilarious watching you flounder about trying to gainsay solid fact.

          • Tamerlane

            And still you wriggle Yvonne/Barry.

          • Father Todd Unctious

            And still you are desperate to oppose me, even when you have nothing to say.
            It is an illness Tammy. Get some therapy. The inability to take criticism is a recognised mental debility.
            Sadly you have it in buckets.

          • Tamerlane

            You would know.

          • Father Todd Unctious

            I do. I just said it.

          • WarriorPrincess111111

            As may be – but you are both an entertaining read!

          • SunnyD

            seconded – in fact, I came on here this Monday morning looking for some mirth and found it by following the comments on Father’s profile :^)

        • Father Todd Unctious

          But we know how many murders there are. 517 last year in the UK. Your are assuming many others take place for which no body is found. These would be in the missing persons stats, like Lord Lucan.
          There has been a massive decline in violence across most of the World since about 1500. It has accelerated since the mid 1950s. The EU being yet another institution that is helping this benign trend.

          • Sipu

            I suspect that there are a lot of deaths that are deemed natural when they are in fact murder.

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            Lucan is not a good example.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Must be hard to relax, always waiting for that knock on the door.

  • Zalacain

    It is very difficult to commit murder in a state dominated by Big Brother. Unless you are Big Brother, of course.

    • Tom M

      Jean Charles de Menezes et al.

      • Father Todd Unctious

        And Dr David Kelly.

        • Tamerlane

          What about him?

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            State sponsored killing, aka murder.

    • Father Todd Unctious

      Dr David Kelly.

      • Tamerlane

        What about him?

        • Father Todd Unctious

          Yikes. Did you miss the point again?

          • Tamerlane

            No, your original post, before you changed it in that immature way you do. read ‘David Kelly’, hence I replied with ‘what about him?’ now You’ve changed it to some sort of drivel about China because, as ever, you’re a sad little ma who thinks other people are reading this and being influenced by it. As I’ve said before Yvonne/Barry – I can only reply to what you write not what you haven’t written. Not hard to grasp.

          • Father Todd Unctious

            No . That post is below. You have fat fingers as well as a chippy shoulder and cloth ears.

          • Tamerlane

            No, you’ve just changed it again to make it look that way. Do grow up Yvonne/Barry, you don’t have an audience.

  • davidshort10

    DNA has some drawbacks. A rape victim may kill his victims and use bleach on it get rid of DNA or burn the body. DNA can lead to murder, in other words.

    • Father Todd Unctious

      Victims don’t tend to kill anyone.

  • Malcolm Knott

    I don’t think it has ever been easy to conceal murder, largely because of the hugely difficult task of disposing of a dead body. Nailing the culprit should be easier now but the fear of reprisal will still deter many witnesses from coming forward.

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  • Tom M

    An impressive list of tools at the disposal of the Police to ensure they catch criminals Gary Bell. It makes you wonder why they insist that people need locking up for longer to allow them to construct their case or outline their desperate need to earwig on our personal communications.

  • Smedley Butler

    If the odds are so heavily in favour of the police why do they continually ask for changes in the law to make their job easier? For example the abolition of the double jeopardy rule which now that if they make a complete pigs ear of a prosecution they can just get a second trial.

    • boiledcabbage

      It happens – juries or witnesses get intimidated.

      • Pioneer

        They could always appeal if there grounds for improper conduct in the original trial.

        Abolition of double jeopardy is apalling.

        • Yorkieeye

          Something else we are indebted to Jack Straw for – gawd bless ‘im!

    • Partner

      Because they’re hopeless at their jobs.

    • Garnet Thesiger

      Its not the police as much as the CPA at that stage – many times the police work is good, it’s the CPA who add up the pennies and decide if they can be arsed to bother…

      • Father Todd Unctious

        CPS? They have suffered 40% budget cuts since 2010 so have to be very choosy.

  • Sandra Barwick

    Excellent piece.

  • Partner

    Aren’t the police wonderful? No they’re authoritarian, politically biased licensed thugs.

    • davidshort10

      They could never solve a crime before CCTV and DNA.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      When a TV programme solves a crime in like two weeks flat, with limited resources, you can’t help wondering what Plod are doing. Other than persecuting the motorist, obviously.

  • Anna Bananahammok

    Unless the killers are Muslim, because arresting them would be racist.

    • davidshort10

      Some parts of the population seem immune from police attention, disapproval of Labour politicians and probing by the BBC. A BBC report the other day was all about criminal taxi drivers in the north. You could have been forgiven for thinking they were from all racial backgrounds.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Experimenting with irony, Anna?

  • outlawState

    There remain 1,500 unsolved murders in Northern Ireland. These were carried out by professionals. The Birmingham pub bombings and the Guildford pub bombings also remain unsolved. There are clearly many professional criminals at large as they know how to avoid the pitfalls. Burning out the stolen motor after the crime, using face-masks, using pay-as-you-go phones brought for cash, etc, are easy ways to avoid getting caught.

    • Sipu

      Not sure Guildford or Birmingham remain unsolved. It was just that dodgy methods were used to convict.

      • outlawState

        There was nothing to prevent a retrial on proper evidence though.

        • Father Todd Unctious

          Yes there was. Lack of political will.

      • Roger Hudson

        Wasn’t Guildford done by the gang caught at Balcolm Street?
        As for Birmingham, that’s a very ‘odd’ one, the pubs were not soldiers pubs and neither were state related targets, very suspicious.

        • Jackthesmilingblack

          You mean those wrongly convicted by a corrupt police service, or the real bombers?

    • Roger Hudson

      Not to mention the M62 coach bomb and the murder of Airie Neave, the authorities let the PSNI loose on UK service personel but do nothing about ‘on the run’ murderers.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Airie Neave.
        The timer used was only available to the CIA at the time. Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Unsolved. Connect the dots, people.

  • Sipu

    Well now there is a challenge if ever there was one. Luckily I live in a country where innocence or guilt is determined by the size of the accused’s bank account.

  • davidshort10

    Most people have watched CSI type programmes. They don’t need a QC to tell them this stuff.

  • Jonah Varlik

    One name. David Kelly.

  • quotes

    Total nonsense. Conviction rates are under 70% (from memory) and the murder rate rose last year for the first time in ages.

    Yes forensics are good. But that doesn’t mean nobody gets away with murder. Given 674 murders last year it seems that at least a few score and probably a couple of hundred people got away with murder.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Test

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Plod struggles to get a result when there’s zero connection between the perp and the victim. When it’s high profile (I.e. Jill Dando) it becomes “arrest somebody, anybody”. And a wrongful conviction means that somebody got away with murder, literally. “Punishing the innocent is a crime”, a notice that should be posted up in every police station throughout the country.

    • OmnipotentWizard

      I bet the murder detection rate would greatly increase with you in charge.

      God save us from Armchair Experts.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        “I bet”
        Front runner for the stupidest of Brit common expressions.

        • OmnipotentWizard

          Surely “I voted UKIP” is worse.

          • Edward Studor

            The worst of all is ‘I voted Labour’.

      • Kennybhoy

        God and maist hereabouts know that oor Jack can be a bit of a loon but nothing in his comment merited this response…?

    • Kennybhoy

      Amen to that last sentence.

  • WarriorPrincess111111

    Nice Try! The telegraph reported seven years ago that ‘There have been 564 unsolved murders across the country in the past 10 years, with the majority occurring in urban areas. The Metropolitan Police Force area covering London accounts for 269. Greater Manchester Police is next with 41 unsolved murders, followed by the West Midlands with 30 and West Yorkshire with 20.’ It was expressed then that the figures were far higher than expected considering the advances in forensic technology. From that time, the rate of unsolved murders has doubled.

    • Kennybhoy

      This..

  • But nobody knows who’s got away with it, do they? If a murder isn’t detected, then statistically there’s nothing to get away with.

    • OmnipotentWizard

      You can normally tell a murder by the bloodstained body laying on the ground.

      • Not if the body has already been disposed of, you can’t.

        • OmnipotentWizard

          …they do tend to turn up, sometimes years later.

        • Jackthesmilingblack

          Hot tip: take off the Rolex before feeding to the pigs.

  • Roger Hudson

    Great work, telling people how to avoid police dependence on technology, so we leave the phone at home switched on an cycle to do our attack. Keep it quiet or the unsolved rate will go up.
    I looked at the statistics of the 507 murders last year and nearly all were ‘domestics’, quick solvers such as the police arrive to find blood stained husband sitting next to stabbed wife, no need for Sherlock.

    • Kennybhoy

      This.

  • Sean L

    Plenty of murders that are gangster style ‘hits’, what you might call professional murders, where the victim has no apparent connection with the killer, go unsolved.

    • OmnipotentWizard

      You seem to know a lot about this…..

      • Sean L

        Yes I’ve seen The Godfather on more than one occasion, both parts one and two.

        • OmnipotentWizard

          I found the Godfather a bit long and boring – however the iMDB says parts one and two are the greatest films of all time (along with The Shawshanks Redemption) so what do I know.

          I didn’t like The Shawshanks Redemption either because of the terrible logical inconsistency in the plot.

          • Sean L

            Shawshank Redemption was absolute tripe, as I recall it. Not in the same league as any of the Godfathers.

          • OmnipotentWizard

            I didn’t like any of them – try Will Penny or Went The Day Well they are excellent films.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      See, Tony Thompson’s book, “Gangs”. The crime instruction manual.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Plod still pulls out the stops for murder. Something about “public disquiet”. But for all other crime it’s essentially, “Take a number”.

  • Jingleballix

    If you want to kill someone………use a car……..and keep your mouth shut.

    You’ll be charged with ‘causing death by dangerous diving’……….but murder would be very hard to prove.

    • Sean L

      Not if they’re known to you and a motive can be established, which you must have anyway if you *want* to kill them. Other people can’t be relied upon to keep their mouths shut.

  • mikewaller

    Forensics have resulted in massive improvements not only in catching criminals but in preventing the innocent being fitted up. However, what all arms of the criminal justice fraternity seem to forget is that we only know about the cases that have been recognised as a crime. As the most cunning killers may not be even have been know to have killed, how can we be so confident that you cannot get away with it?

  • Eques

    It’s really annoying when people blithely make the claim that “forensic evidence is infalible”. Why is it? It’s just as open to misinterpretation, error, screw up and tampering as any other type of evidence. If anything it might increase the chances of wrongful convictions, because it gives juries the impression that it is conclusive when it isn’t.

  • If that’s true, what has just happened in Belgium? Has ISIS got away with murder in the Middle East as well? I think they have.

  • jon03

    Or you can ask the CPS not to tell the jury that the accused said ‘watch this’ just as he took Mr Plod out.

  • Retired Nurse

    If your brother works as a GMC expert, you can get away with 800 to this day, however good the Police work was … http://www.hampshire.police.uk/internet/advice-and-information/foi/information-classes/operation-rochester #GWMH #GosportWarMemorialHospital

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