14th April 2021
On 16th December 2020, eight Churchill Fellows came together to host a conference to share the key findings from their Fellowships and any subsequent research since returning from their travels:
- Dr Debra Carr (Churchill Fellow 2012, Defense and Security Agency)
- Dr Laura Walton-Williams (Churchill Fellow 2017, Staffordshire University)
- Dr Claire Gwinnett (Churchill Fellow 2018, Staffordshire University)
- Leisa Nichols-Drew (Churchill Fellow 2018, De Montfort University)
- Dr Rachel Bolton-King (Churchill Fellow 2019, Staffordshire University)
- Zoe Cadwell (Churchill Fellow 2019, University of Portsmouth)
- Dr Kelly Sheridan (Churchill Fellow 2020, Northumbria University)
- Emma Tilley (Churchill Fellow 2020, Staffordshire University)
Their projects all sought to find solutions to challenges that exist within UK criminal justice systems and investigative practices. Originally, we had planned to hold a physical face-to-face conference, however, due to travel restrictions and social distancing imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic we held the conference virtually. Although we had become used to holding small meetings and events online, developing and hosting a conference on this scale was a little daunting!
After some searching and testing, we decided to host the event through the Hopin platform, enabling our event to be more inclusive and open to any interested stakeholder. We had over 170 registered delegates who were all provided with recorded content post-event and 92 individuals from 15 countries attended on the day. Evaluation of the event was very positive with attendees indicating it was very useful and interactive, becoming more aware of best practices, emerging technologies and methods across forensic science and policing, which could be adopted in practice.
Aims and Objectives
Our virtual conference aimed to initiate UK criminal justice system improvements by:
- Disseminating our Fellowship findings and key recommendations to all relevant stakeholders within the UK and international criminal justice systems;
- Initiate multi-disciplinary and multi-agency actions to implement our Fellowship recommendations;
- Increase awareness of the Churchill Fellowship and support potential future Fellowship applicants with their applications and project planning.
During the event, key themes emerged between Fellows’ findings and subsequent discussions during action planning workshops. These included the need:
- For more training across criminal justice sectors to enhance awareness and understanding of the range of criminal offences and range of forensic evidence, analysis and interpretation that is available to support police investigations.
- To provide more resources to evaluate existing practice and support the implementation and testing of new technologies or approaches.
- To make better use of existing data and forensic evidence to provide enhanced intelligence, advance investigations in a timely manner and potentially improve criminal justice outcomes.
Afternoon action planning workshops reinforced our efforts to break down siloes currently operating across criminal justice sectors. Key stakeholders were brought together to co-design and streamline the implementation/testing of new initiatives across disciplines and strengthen academia-industry connections to help initiate evaluations of any change initiated/implemented.
The following sub-sections outline the key points and actions raised in each workshop:
Knife Crime: Opportunities for researching investigations of vehicles using infra-red (IR) and future collaborations for training, implementation of IR equipment within forensic service providers, which includes validation and verification processes. Establishing a network of academics and practitioners (A+P), potentially holding these meetings every 6 months engage further with Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences and Forensic Capability Network (FCN) to promote this ongoing dialogue.
Gun Crime: Pockets of expertise and excellent practice exist linking forensic science and policing, however there is a need to improve information sharing and consistency within and among nations. This could be achieved by forming a free-to-join (A+P) network, for example a closed LinkedIn group, with free annual conferences and more frequent virtual seminars held throughout the year. Universities and criminal justice organisations to share internal project work through an international knowledge/resource hub, which could be the one being developed by the FCN that incorporates and extends the Research4Justice remit. Masterclasses could also be delivered to raise awareness of new technology, assist with recording and analysing large datasets and developing collaborations between new and experienced practitioners.
Burial Environment: How fruitful it is to collaborate/share internationally to improve practice with strong academia-practice links. Further research needs to be carried out on methods that can deal with preparing evidence to be analysed from a burial environment, including transfer and persistence of evidence from the burial environment. Locard’s principle still applies to taphonomy, organisational crime burials, and the grave itself is a crime scene – process and construction of the grave is important, as is the concept of the body as material culture. There are discussions ongoing within the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes Scene of Crime Working Group around best practice in forensic archaeology.
Trace Evidence: Female scientists and the use of databases were key areas of discussion. The sharing of databases from other countries, loss of experience and expertise, different fibre types and commonality, different country to country – the need to be searchable and lack of funding is an issue. The importance of education and fibre evidence, highlighting examples of more everyday cases. Longer term actions: databases, judicial primers, consulting with the Forensic Science Regulator regarding trace evidence.
Sexual Offences Investigation: Discussions centred around the importance of training, terminology and awareness of developments within sexual offence investigations. The importance of education and addressing issues such as gender inequality, for example sexual offences being something that women are expected to deal with. Long term actions: Facilitating further discussions around the importance of training inputs especially around terminology surrounding sexual offences and establishing a network focused on best practice within sexual offence investigations.
Post-Event Activities and Next Steps
As a direct result of our conference:
- Leisa will be a keynote speaker and panel member at the ‘2021 Disrupting and Preventing Knife Crime’ online conference.
- Leisa has engaged with the National Knife Crime Working Group, whereby she has provided material to be uploaded to the Knowledge Hub.
- Rachel has been supporting the National Ballistics Intelligence Service to develop and evaluate their training programme for UK policing and law enforcement.
- Zoe is co-authoring a forthcoming book chapter.
- Several of us have been in communication with police forces in the Caribbean to potentially discuss quality and training opportunities.
- Rachel is assisting key stakeholders with identifying and hosting online conferences and knowledge exchange events with practitioners in the sector.
- We are all continuing discussions around action implementation in collaboration with professional bodies and a range of key stakeholders, such as the FCN to identify efficient and effective cross-disciplinary solutions.
In addition, we shared an event summary through East Midlands WCMT Network and have continued to disseminate our Fellowship findings through our YouTube playlist, which has over 180 views over the last two months. Moving forwards, we hope to secure additional funding from WCMT and other appropriate sources to evaluate, reflect, implement and expand upon our current endeavours for the benefit of criminal investigations, criminal justice systems and societies across the UK and internationally.
We would love to hear from you if you feel we could assist you with enhancing your professional practice or research in the criminal justice sector, and we would welcome any feedback you have after watching our recorded summaries:
- Firearm Investigations: Improving Timeliness & Effectiveness (Rachel Bolton-King)
- Knife Crime Investigation: Reactive & Proactive Responses (Leisa Nichols-Drew)
- The Burial Environment: Challenges and Opportunities (Zoe Cadwell)
- 21st Century Trace Evidence Analysis: Lessons from Forensic & Environmental Fields (Claire Gwinnett)
- Sexual Offences: Multi-Agency Action for Change? (Laura Walton-Williams)