Staffordshire Forensic Partnership Annual Report 2020-21

By Martyn Hordern,

The year started (police financial year) as we entered the third week of the COVID pandemic and the resultant restrictions on our daily lives. Indeed, the Programme Board meeting in May of 2020 was cancelled due to the pandemic.

It ended with the sudden passing of our friend and college Rob Shaw who had been a big part of the partnership and instrumental in it getting to where we are today. The partnership is resolved to marking his passing in a fitting manner.

As the pandemic took hold all but two 6-week placements were cancelled leaving only those that could be carried out remotely and from the student’s homes. However, they were very impactive and one has had a national significance.

That project was around the internal force process for the seizure of firearms evidence and the links to NABIS (National Ballistics Intelligence Service). Supervised by Rachel Bolton-King, the project built on an internal Staffordshire Police report and linked in with NABIS itself. The resulting report was widely circulated both internally and via the Forensic Capability Network. A further project was carried out in the spring of 2021 (working directly with NABIS and not the SFP) looking at training and awareness provision nationally as a result of the initial work.

The second project was around supporting SOMU teams and saw the creation of a KEV SOMU application (KEV standing for Keeping Evidence Valid) which was down to Rob Shaw’s help and direction. Work on this continues as part of the 2021 placements.

COVID put paid to a presentation day at force headquarters but the students showcased their work via recorded presentations that were hosted on the police’s YouTube channel and received positive reviews and over 30 views.

In last year’s annual review, I commented on how securing the legal agreement was tantalisingly close and it remains so some 12 months later. COVID has impacted on progress but, this has not precluded the continuing good working relationships between all parties, and all are agreed that to conclude the agreement is a priority for the forthcoming weeks and months. Following the 2019 / 20 review of the Work Streams they had just started to get up and running when COVID intervened and meetings were put on hold throughout the period. As coordinator I am keen that they recommence and Police access to Teams will make a big difference in terms of reducing the need to travel and being environmentally friendly as well as making people more productive.

The latter meetings of the Programme Board during the year were hosted on Teams and I am grateful to those who made it possible.

It is worth pointing out that the Evidence Based Practise Board did not meet during the pandemic and therefore there is nothing to report on this occasion.

Another long running aspiration of the partnership was the facilitation of long-term student placements primarily as part of a sandwich course.

Following a direction from the Programme Board, Police HR appointed a lead for the work and Rebecca Crellin, the SFP coordinator, Unison and John Cumberbatch from EBP have developed the policy and process’s which are at this time, being fine-tuned prior to acceptance by the Force. Part of the process is that the student gets paid for the placement ensuring no one is disadvantaged and that the police get the brightest students and can compete with other organisations.

Throughout the pandemic, the Partnership has developed good working relationships with the Forensic Capability Network with staff from both organisations contributing to the development of the network in several areas.

July 2020 saw the retirement of Stuart Bell who had made such a big contribution to forensics within Staffordshire and further afield over a period of some 30 years. Stuart’s contribution to the partnership has been significant and it was pleasing to see the University award him an Honorary Visiting Fellow role as recognition of his contribution to forensics and the partnership.

Stuart Bell pictured on his last day

November 2020 saw the appointment of further Honorary Visiting Fellows with Adam Dodkins, Adam Newberry and Samantha Danton from Police Forensics all bestowed the title for their work with the university.

Adam Dodkins (centre) along with Samantha Danton pictured with partnership coordinator Martyn Hordern

Partnership working has at its core relationships between staff from the respective organisations and it is those relationships that ensure that progress continues to be made.

Over the last few months Dean Northfield, a senior lecturer at the university, has been instrumental in developing several areas.

He helped to lead a joint employability event aimed at supporting graduating students seeking employment within forensics and or policing and has worked on an improved placement process for the MSCi students. The employability event was well received attracting attention across the university as a model to be followed as well as supporting students as they approach the end of their academic studies. It is hoped to make it a yearly event.

Another positive development during the year was the opportunity for Police staff to gain Adobe and Microsoft accredited qualifications in various software through the University’s digital skills. The pilot was generally successful and is now at the point where it will be opened up to the wider number of police staff as part of a CPD opportunity.

The 2021 MSCi 13-week placements were still running as we ended the reporting period. Three students will be researching projects examining forensic torches used by Forensic Investigators; understanding the Footwear process within the force and cleaning of mobile devices within Digital Forensics Unit to reduce bio hazards.

The year also saw the partnership supporting a Knowledge Transfer Partnership bid around Virtual Reality training for first responders which was successful. It is hoped that police forensic specialists will play a full part in pressure testing as well as advising on the development of the package.

The partnership was nominated for an award as part of the university’s Celebrating Staff Success process under the Connected Communities category.

Connected Communities Nomination
Connected Communities Nomination

2020 also saw the University acquire two drones and a training package to further enhance their offering to students and the partnership. The use of drones in terms of photogrammetry opportunities as well as the extraction of data from them in criminal investigations provides some exciting opportunities and we look forward to future projects.

Financially the partnership runs a modest research and expense budget and Police work stream specialists and placement mentors are making more use of the opportunities the budget presents to carry out research work and placements for the benefit of both parties.

As I write this review, we are just on the cusp of the 2021 6-week placements commencing looking at a broad spectrum of projects that encompasses drug testing, validation with Forensic Investigations, Digital Forensics awareness and further development of the KEV SOMU app. COVID continues to be a spectre in the background but we remain ever hopeful that where required students are able to come to police premises.

The communications strategy for the partnership continues to be implemented. The last year saw some SFP branded lanyards designed and distributed to students and staff involved in the partnership. Additionally, the Police intranet now has a SFP page with links to the partnership twitter page and also to the coordinator’s email address. In addition, the Law Policing and Forensics blog page at the University now has a SFP section. The SFP twitter page has almost tripled its followers in two years. The partnership continues wherever possible to reach a wider audience and in February of this year the coordinator (himself an ex cadet) and Adam Newberry from Digital Forensics gave a presentation around forensics and the partnership to some 40 police cadets via Teams.

SFP branded lanyards

During 2020 the university has been working towards setting up the Centre for Crime, Justice and Society. The leadership and theme leads for the centre are starting to meet and the SFP Coordinator sits on this group in an External and Media  Liaison role. The work of the partnership and that of the centre will I suspect become closely aligned as we go forward.

I would like to conclude by thanking Claire Millar and David Flatman-Fairs for their support throughout a difficult period in policing and academia not only to myself personally but also to the partnership.

Thanks should also go to all the work stream leads who contribute to the partnership especially Adam Newberry and Dean Northfield for their willingness to help, share ideas and develop projects.

Martyn Hordern

May 2021