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The School of Law, Policing and Forensics at Staffordshire University offers the LLB, LPC and LLM; degrees in Policing and Criminal Investigation, Professional Policing, Criminology, Criminal Justice with Offender Management, Forensic Science and Forensic Investigation. With over fifty staff members we have expertise in rape testing, prevention and prosecution, ballistic testing, fibre analysis, soil analysis, Family Law and Employment Law among others. We offer BA and BSc, MSci and MSCs along with a Masters by Applied Research in a range of areas, including Forensic Archaeology.

On this blog you will find news from the different areas of the School. You can follow us on twitter at:

@StaffsUniLPF

@StaffsCJF_Dept

@StaffsUniLaw

Eighth-Annual Student-Led Conference

Last Wednesday afternoon, The Forensic and Crime Science Society (FACS) held the eighth-annual, student-led conference in the Science Centre. 

Students from the FACS Society, including President Aimee Girdham (second from left), with Guest Speaks Deneen L Hernandez (centre) and Dr Maria MacLennan (second form right).

Aimee Girdham, the President of the FACS Society and a level 6 Forensic Investigation student, explains that the “society is run alongside the Criminal Justice and Forensic Science [department within the School of Law, Policing and Forensics].

“We organise events throughout the year including Escape Rooms and the end of year ball, but most importantly we organise the annual Student-Led Conference. We invite external guest speakers to present alongside current Level 6 students to present their project work. It’s a great afternoon to network with a wide range of people from a variety of forensic disciplines.”

 

Dr Rachel Bolton-King (centre) with Guest Speakers Deneen L Hernandez (left) and Dr Maria MacLennan (right)

You can watch Associate Professor, Dr Rachel Bolton-King talk about the event on the School of Law, Policing and Forensics Facebook page here.

The event opened at 1pm, where level six undergraduate students, Olivia Hodgetts, Mauricio Chase, Tina Kaur and Anthony Smart, presented their project research. 

Olivia Hodgetts presenting her research on Blood Pattern Analysis and the effects of alcohol on blood. 

 

Tina Kaur has researched the impact of a speculum and specimen capture device in semen recovery rates during sexual offence examinations

 

Anthony Smart presented on the impact of heating bone following a knife injury to determine whether you can determine temperature of heating or knife type

“Level 6 students, Olivia Hodgetts, Mauricio Chase, Tina Kaur and Anthony Smart presented their research from their Independent Project which I hope was inspiring to the Level 4 students in getting them to think about the different Forensics areas and the process that’s involved in completing the project for them to make their own decision next year.”

Mark Broadhead and Robin Parsons, two PhD Researchers, also presented their research on Firearms and Ballistics and DNA AND Fingerprint Recovery.

Robin Parson, PhD Researcher (DNA Fingerprint and Recovery)

 

Mark Broadhead, PhD Researcher (Firearms and Ballistics)

The students were delighted to have four, external Guest Speakers accept their invitation to present on a range of topics about various forensic disciplines. 

Dr Anna Williams, Forensic Anthropologist at the University of Huddersfield

 

Deneen L Hernandez, Forensic Examiner in the FBI

 

Forensic Jewellery with Dr Maria MacLennan


Jonathan Allen, Forensic Presentation Officer at West Midlands Police

“It was an intellectual afternoon with great turn out from external guest speakers from a range of forensic disciplines, including a Forensic Examiner from the FBI, a Forensic Jeweller, Forensic Anthropologist who discussed her lead on establishing a human taphonomy facility in the U.K, and a Forensic Presentation Officer who uses 3D scanning to scan the crime scene and turn it into a 3D image to be used in the courtroom for the jury.”

 

 

Practical CSI Experience for Students from University College Leuven Limburg

Twenty-five students from University College Leuven Limburg visited us at Staffordshire University, Stoke Campus, for three days in March in order to take part in a Crime Scene Evidence Analysis short course. 

 

The students signed up to the short course after seeing a guest lecture by Associate Professor, Dr Claire Gwinnett at University College Leuven Limburg last March. The visit was organised so the students could get hands-on crime scene investigation (CSI) experience.

Day 1

The first day provided an overview of crime scene documentation, photography, packaging and evidence handling with Dr Claire Gwinnett and PhD Researcher Laura Wilkinson. A lot of examples were shown and discussions were had about the best way to preserve evidence. The day ended with a fingerprint powering session to brush up skills for their crime scene investigations. 

Day 2

CSI teams of five students were each given a case scenario, ranging from a missing persons investigation, potential kidnapping and assault and murder. They aspent four hours at the crime scene house investigating their case – some were focused on a bedroom scene, others in the kitchen and lounge and others investigating a vehicle outside.  

The teams had to work together to identify, document and retrieve evidence ready for future analysis. Later that day, teams created forensic strategies for the investigation and the analysis of the evidence, prioritising evidence so as to enable the ‘what, when, where, who, how and why’ questions to be answered. Our UCLL interns Bart Bogaerts and Koen Geurts, who are here at Staffs till June conducting research, helped out at the crime scene house with evidence packaging.

Day 3

Evidence analysis day meant the teams had to identify the analysis techniques and tests that they wanted to conduct on their evidence: including body fluids identification, presumptive testing of drugs, document analysis (using VSC), ink analysis (using Raman Spectroscopy), hair and glass analysis, chemical development of fingermarks and Electrostatic Detection Apparatus for ID of the presence of any indentations on paper evidence and DNA submissions.

Each team could only submit three items for DNA analysis, meaning that the evidential value of each item of evidence had to be scrutinised and an effective forensic strategy developed. 

Teams collated their findings and presented these via an ideas board to the rest of the course with the team delivering the most accurate and well thought-out interpretation of the case winning a prize

Guest Lecture on Working with Young Offenders

Lecturers at Staffordshire University regularly invite professionals on to campus to host guest lectures and workshops, in order to to benefit students’ learning with industry-related knowledge.

Eamon O’Shaughnessy, a Senior PTRI Officer at YOI Werrington, came to talk to our students about young offenders. Ebony Brint, a Criminal Justice with Offender Management student, tells us about the lecture. 

   

Eamon visited us on the 25th of February 2019 and gave me and my other classmates a lecture on the HM YOI (Young Offenders Institute) estate and what it was like to work within a young offender’s institute. His information was very effective and helped me to understand the way that it all works, from the regime that they have to the first day in custody. He talked about his experience working in the prison estate and he gave his own personal stories on the sights that he had seen.

Eamon gave us lots of detailed information about the different categories that are in the prison estate and what each one means and he explained in great detail what certain words meant, to help [us] to understand the jargon that they use in the prison service.  He mentioned the price that we pay to keep a young person in custody a year, so is it really worth it or is better to rehabilitate them in a different way?

 

His responsibilities seemed endless, but he said it made every day interesting as no two days were the same. One of his main roles is to teach physical education to the young boys as well as being a CusP (keyworker) officer where he offers support and guidance and just being a shoulder to cry on when the boys are having a hard day.

At first, I was sceptical about this guest lecture as I had no knowledge about how a Young Offenders Institute worked until I met Eamon, then my mindset was swayed. I thoroughly enjoyed the lecture and the workshop that he presented to me and my other colleagues and broadening my knowledge into the youth custody estate.

I felt that I found out everything that I needed to know and was given answers to my questions. It really has opened my eyes to the harsh reality that these young people must go through for mistakes that they made? At the end of the day they are still children! I have decided to consider working in the youth offending Estate.

 

Are Employers Disregarding our Freedom of Expression and our Right to Privacy?

Qadir Mohammed (Student)

Arguments made by Professor Virginia Mantouvalou of UCL state that courts and employers are excessively harsh on those they employ in relation to posts they broadcast online.

Social media is a dimension which is changing our lives in many ways. These changes can be both positive and negative. A post put up by an employee can affect a business, so it is no wonder employers choose carefully who they wish to employ as those working for them usually reflect their business image. An unnecessary controversy is something businesses do not want to deal with.

Social media posts will never please everyone though. For example, a post may be seen as stupid or offensive by one person, but another may see nothing wrong with it. This topic is very subjective, so how can a distinction be made? And are the consequences that follow proportionate to what has occurred?

Angela Gibbin’s story is one such example that is embroiled in controversy. Angela was employed by the British Council, when she commented on a Facebook photo of Prince George saying “white privilege. That cheeky grin is the (already locked-in) innate knowledge that he is royal, rich advantaged and will never know any difficulties or hardships in life”. Her comment got a mixed reaction from the public after her post went viral once it was published by the Sun and she later lost her job due to gross misconduct. She brought a claim for unfair dismissal, which was dismissed. Professor Mantouvalou claims that tribunals often disregard the fact that employees have a right to free speech and privacy.

The expectation of privacy has been diminishing in the employment sector due to the fact employees are ordered to comply with their employer’s social media policy. Professor Mantouvalou’s view is that we should use the standard test of proportionality set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 10 is another piece of legislation which ties into this topic and details our freedom of expression. Employers should acknowledge this and allow their employees to make critical comments of others and voice their political views without fear of consequences.

Employment is not the only place where social media comments are being used. They are now also being admitted in evidence in Court and can sometimes sway a judge into a decision which can cause unequal and unfair results.

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic can offer free legal advice on employment issues as well as other areas such as personal injury, family and probate. Please call on 01782 294800 to book an appointment with us at various locations.

 

New Legislation to outlaw employers misuse of non-disclosure agreements

Kelly Franklin (Student)

A Non-disclosure agreement (NDA) also known as a confidential disclosure agreement (CDA) is a legal contract between at least two parties restricting the disclosure of certain confidential information to third parties. Many legitimate businesses including the government use NDA’s to protect confidential information.

Once a NDA has been signed it is a binding agreement (not to disclose information covered by the agreement) and a confidential relationship between the parties is created.

NDA’s are now referred to as ‘Gagging orders’ which were originally designed to stop employees sharing trade secrets when they moved to another company. They are regularly used by the rich and powerful alongside employee financial pay outs.  

This issue has been highlighted by the Sir Phillip Green case, owner of Arcadia Group-high street fashion brands such as ‘Topshop’ who is alleged to have used NDA’s to silence and pay off at least five members of his staff who have allegedly accused him of sexual harassment, racism and bullying.

Within Parliament Labour peer ‘Lord Hain’, under parliamentary privilege, named ‘Phillip Green’ as the individual in question as the media were subject to an injunction preventing publication of the full details of the story.

It has been suggested that NDA’s are being abused by some employers to intimidate whistle blowers and conceal harassment, discrimination, sexual assaults, physical threats and racism within the work environment.

As a result, the government are reviewing the law in this area and are considering new legislation making the misuse of NDA’s illegal in cases where victims have brought claims of sexual harassment. The intention behind this is to stop the silencing of victims to prevent them reporting serious crimes to the Police or other authorities.

To change the law around NDA’s and confidentiality clauses will bring fairness, safety, equality and a positive culture change within the workplace.

 

SULAC can provide free legal advice on all areas relating to employment law.

Please call 01782 94800 to make an appointment.

 

 

WH Smith Fined for Breach of Health and Safety

Hamza Ali (Student)

WHSmith have been issued a significant fine of £337,500 after a customer fell almost 3m through an open trapdoor on the shop floor. The incident left the victim with serious injuries. As a result of health and safety breaches, WHSmith pleaded guilty. WHSmith have a duty of care to their customers to ensure that they are safe pursuant to the Occupiers Liability Act 1957.

WHSmith have stated that they have made necessary changes to their policies since the incident in order to prevent any further incidents in the future. They have taken steps such as keeping the basement locked and have also completed a risk assessment to provide reassurance to the public.

Councillor Patrick Berry stated that “One of our top priorities is the wellbeing of people in our borough, so I hope the size of this fine serves as a warning to all businesses.”

The company was fined £168,750 for each of the two counts of breaching health and safety laws at a sentencing hearing at Taunton Crown Court. It was also ordered to pay £135,492.66 in costs and a £120 victim surcharge.

Here at SULAC we can provide you with any advice on injuries at work and how to bring a claim. Please call 01782 294800 for an appointment.

 

Staffs Students’ Superb Opportunity to Attend Lincoln’s Inn

Over 100 undergraduate students across the country were chosen by their respective institutions to attend Lincoln’s Inn last week.

Lincoln’s Inn is one of four Inns of Court providing students with training, careers advice and scholarships.

“I was delighted to be chosen by the Universities Academic Team to have dinner at the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn” –  level 6 student, Nazeem Khan

Naseem Khan was one of the students invited to attend from Staffordshire University.

Nazeem Khan and Elizabeth Briand

   

“From the moment we arrived I was in awe, Lincoln’s Inn was like Hogwarts! We arrived outside a big wooden door. Standing on the other side were students from almost every university in the country waiting to greet us.”

Those in attendance included the University College of London, Oxford and Cambridge.

“Everyone was friendly, we each shared our individual experiences. Some of these students were certain that they wanted to pursue a career at the bar, others were simply there to enjoy the evening!

We were never made to feel small, there was a real sense of togetherness. I even made friends with a History & Politics student who has since offered to give me a tour of Oxford.”

The evening consisted of talks on the employed and self-employed bar. Followed by dinner in the Great Hall.

“The talks were informative, we really gained an insight into life at the bar and how Lincoln’s Inn will support us on our journey through training and various scholarships.”

“It was brilliant, really interesting talks and then every table was sat with a few barristers from London so we could properly talk to them about the Bar, it was really insightful” – level 6 student, Elizabeth Briand.

“Dining at the Inn was a great networking opportunity. At least one barrister was sat at every table, each within talking distance. Where else might one find themselves seated next to a QC Barrister (appointed by the Queen’s Counsel) or a former Judge of the Supreme Court!

I would like to thank Staffordshire University for the opportunity.”

Are Robot Wills The Future?

Larisa Astley (Student)

The Wills Act 1837 that governs wills in England and Wales is now more than 180 years old and has been branded “unclear and outdated”. Major improvements are being considered by The Law Commission consultation “to bring the law into the modern world”.

One of the controversial issues surrounding the debate is the need for a will to be in writing, with the emergence of and increasing reliance on digital technology this requirement signed into law almost two centuries ago may be the one of the first things to change.

A recent case caught worldwide attention in Australia, with the court allowing a will found in the unsent draft texts on the deceased’s mobile phone. Some jurisdictions give dispensing powers to courts, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and various states in the USA and Canada. There are positive signs that the laws around will-making will be modernised in some significant ways in UK too.

Another consideration is the need for a trusted advisor. In line with technological advances an increasing number of firms across the industry are taking advantage of sophisticated software to reduce costs and increase efficiencies. In fact figures show that around half of all UK law firms are already using artificial intelligence software in their businesses and another 40% of the legal service providers are planning to do the same, especially when generating and reviewing legal documents. Some firms are going a step further. With the latest technology it is now possible to make a will online without any human interaction whatsoever.

Looking more specifically, it could be argued that l so long as a will completes its four main functions (to name executors, trustees, guardians and beneficiaries) it is less important how it is generated. There has been some criticism signalling the public’s lack of trust in this new technology with clients anxious to ensure their documents are properly constructed and checked by suitable qualified humans.

Traditional will requirements would have made perfect sense in the Victorian era where the presence of a trusted adviser was important when it came to an individual’s legal affairs. However in a world where millions of people are already using virtual assistants like Siri or Alexa, and where once highly skilled jobs are now being performed by robots, robot wills could well be the answer to reducing costs and increasing accessibility.

Whilst SULAC cannot assist with the drafting of wills we can help with contentious probate matters. Please call 01782 294800 for an appointment.

 

 

Is a Right to Rent Check in Breach of Your Human Rights?

Courtney James (Student)

The Government’s right to rent policy requires landlords in England to check the immigration status of prospective tenants.

In February, a British man and his family were made homeless after a letting agent turned them away under Right to Rent rules. Rory McCormick put a deposit down on a property in Suffolk and he, his wife Anna and their two children, were due to move in to the property. Days before their move back to the UK from Ireland, they were advised that Anna’s Irish residency card could not be accepted even though it showed she had a right to live in the UK. What she needed instead was a UK permanent residence card. Their denial of the rental property led to the family of four sleeping in one bedroom in a relative’s house.

A challenge has recently been brought by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCQI). They claim that the scheme causes “race discrimination against those who are perfectly entitled to rent”.

The High Court have ruled that the scheme is incompatible with human rights laws. Mr Justice Spencer said that the policy was unlawful because it caused landlords to discriminate against British citizens from minority ethnic backgrounds and against foreign nationals who have a legal right to rent. It was also reported that the government has failed to show that the scheme has had any effect on encouraging illegal immigrants to leave the country, the original aim of the scheme.

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic can provide legal advice on housing matters, to book an appointment please call 01782 294800.

Mental Health and Social Media Usage: a Call for Policy and Practice Change

Scarlet Hunt, a final year student, has been undertaking a final year research project around the impacts of social media with young people. She has particularly been looking into the mental impacts of utilising social media. 

New proposals and guidance from the British government for legislation concerning social media usage are welcomed as a mechanism to protect Children and young people, especially concerning protecting young people from on-line bullying and grooming.  However, there are some social media behaviours that impact upon mental health that are not about the illegal; policies and legislation won’t change the situation, but education and support can elevate social stress and reduce immature and anti-social behaviours.

Scarlet Hunt, one of our undergraduate students, recently undertook her final year project by connecting with the Lead Commisioner for Mental Health at Stoke Public Health and local charitable organisation, Mind, to design a research project that could be used for service development and improvement concerning young people’s mental health and social media usage.

” It was evident that young people were using social media all the time.” – Scarlet Hunt conducted research about social media usage and mental health for her final-year research project.

Who did you conduct the research with?

“In order to look into the topic, I conducted focus group interviews within a high school setting. Four interviews, with four separate focus groups of students:  Boys from year 8, girls from year 8, boys from 10, girls from year 10. [So] 26 students at the same school.”

Scarlet was encouraged to connect with local organisations to ensure her research would make a difference.

Who did you connect with in terms of local organisations?

“So, first of all I met with the Lead commissioner for Mental Health at Stoke Public Health, just to talk about the nature of my project and what it would involve and look at. She was really supportive of the project. She really liked it and she also wanted me to include a little bit about self-harming in relation to social media [and] how much sleep young people were getting, and the impact social media could be having on this.

I then spoke to the director of local charity, Mind, who was happy to take referrals from young people who felt they needed extra support after taking part in the research.”

What impact did that have on you going in to schools to conduct the research?

“First of all, it made me feel a lot more confident knowing that the findings from the research project were going to go towards improving local strategy, towards helping the mental wellbeing of young people and improving this. I also felt that the project would give local organisations a bit more knowledge on social media and how this could be affecting young people’s mental health. So it made me feel a lot more confident.”

Scarlet’s research findings point to the negative impact that posting only the best bits of people lives on social media can have upon young and impressionable minds. The impact on young people was particularly an issue when celebrities do this. You can’t put a law out that tells people they can’t only post nice things about themselves, but have to post about the challenges of life too. You can’t prevent people from using filters and edits on pictures to make them look better, but you can teach people about social responsibility in relation to the issues that only posting the best bits of life has and trying to ensure that there is more transparency about life’s challenges. When celebrities keep it real about the challenges of life it helps take the pressure off people feeling they have to strive for perfection. For example, Prince Harry speaking out about his mental health.

Scarlet found that young people wanted guidance on how to navigate the challenges of social media and to look after their mental health. However, they did not want this wisdom to come from teachers, who in their opinion, did not use social media in the same ways as they did. Teachers were perceived as out of date with youth culture. Youth workers have previously been additional ‘neutral’ educators to children and young people and perceived as more socially relevant to the youth of today. However, youth services have had drastic cuts.  

What were the suggestions that young people came up with about how they might improve their mental wellbeing with social media usage?

“Young people said that they would appreciate having sessions on social media and perhaps teaching them ways to use social media in a more healthy way, but they also acknowledged that they would prefer someone a little bit younger to deliver these sessions. They stated that if teachers delivered these sessions that it wouldn’t be as beneficial because teachers don’t use social media in the same way that they do. They stated that to have someone a little bit younger come in who uses social media in the same way they do would be a lot more beneficial than a teacher delivering the session.”

So they almost wanted someone that was a step ahead of them, but that they could connect with socially, to be able to give them information on how to use social media in a positive way for their mental wellbeing?’

“Yes, definitely.”

Scarlet’s research found that young people were having less sleep due to social media and they struggled putting their own boundaries in place due to fear of missing out.  They suggested that social media platforms could stop people using for long periods of time to help address this.  Restrictions to social media platforms could be a potential feature to be included in national policy.  As a parent, I would argue that parents also have a role to play in supporting their children to implement healthy personal boundaries to social media usage.

Mental health issues in young people across the UK are perceived to be at an all-time high. There are lots of contributing factors to this and social media usage is one element of the issue.  Social media can also be used as a tool for good in helping young people get support and information. 

What did you find, in terms of the findings, from the young people you talked with?

“The first thing that was really evident is that young people are using social media all the time. It was the first thing they checked when they woke up and the last thing they check when they go to sleep.

A lot of the participants stated that this was having an impact on how much sleep they were getting, because they were using social media for a prolonged time before they were going to sleep.

In relation to self-harming behaviour, participants felt that social media didn’t really have an impact upon this, but young people would use social media to perhaps upload stories on Instagram and Snapchat, just sort of saying how they were feeling, in order to seek attention from peers and seek support.” 

It is really important that in any new policy direction the voices of young people are heard in order to ensure that the UK policy directive enhances social media application, rather than dictating access to a digital community that can be used to enhance education and knowledge. Young people in Scarlet’s study saw social media as positive, despite the issues they raised.  New policy needs to ensure that it does not demonise social media, or the users of it, including young people. 

In terms of your next steps, you need to report these findings back to the stakeholders you connected with at the beginning?

“Yes, so I am currently putting together a report of the key findings from all of the interviews that I conducted and this will go back to Public Health and Mind, in order to inform them of the findings and recommendations of what we could do in the future to help young people use social media more healthily.”

In terms of you as a student conducting a piece of research in a very professional way, what impact do you think this will have on you in the future?

“I think by linking with local organisations, it will make me feel more confident when I go to job interviews – I will be able to say that I worked with local organisations on this research project and it sounds a little bit better knowing the findings have gone towards something useful, you know, and it wasn’t just purely for my own self-interest.”

Congratulations on the piece of research and we wish you all the best on writing up the report.

~Sarah Page

Sarah Page left (Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology) and Scarlet Hunt (final year student conducting research around social media usage and the impact on young people.

You can watch the full intereview between Sarah Page (Senior Lecturer in Sociology & Criminology) and Scarlet Hunt on YouTube here