Our reports check the integrity and interpretation of footwear mark comparisons carried out by the police and others for the CPS. We examine the marks, assess the contextual data and explain what is actually meant by the level of support expressed. Often the prosecution evidence can be weaker than it sounds, e.g. ‘moderately strong’ is sometimes used when only sole pattern type and shoe size have been assessed, both of which are mass produced characteristics.
With the post-FSS proliferation of new forensic providers (many of these in-force), and the introduction of first stage Streamlined Forensic Reporting (SFR1s), we are seeing some worrying issues leading to drops in evidential standards. These can be categorised, broadly, as follows:
1. The Forensic Statement is only an SFR1 and has not been verified.
The SFR1 is meant only to be a preliminary report that evidence of a certain type has been gathered. Some providers issue these without any verification of the findings; a fact not always indicated in the statement. This runs contrary to good forensic practice, can be dangerously misleading and would be considered unacceptable in any other forensic discipline.
Many in-force identification units screen footwear marks and shoes and prepare SFR1s prior to submission for full evidential comparison; the idea being to eliminate any obvious mismatches and reduce expert involvement. Our experience is that screening officers sometimes overstate the significance of a match.
2. Poor selection of items forwarded for full evaluation.
We have seen examples where, after initial screening, only the defendant’s shoes were sent for full evaluation, whereas shoes from other suspects or householders, including those of the same sole pattern type, were not submitted for further evaluation. In one such case we were able to show that the defendant’s shoes could not have made the mark, by which time the other possible shoes had been returned to owners.
3. Cases where no apparent forensic work has taken place.
We have had cases where it is apparent that crime scene marks have been recovered and the defendant’s shoes seized, but no resulting comparison evidence has been reported. If you haven’t got a forensic statement the important question of note is: has screening already eliminated your defendant’s shoes, but not been disclosed, as no formal statement from the screening officer has been prepared? It can be difficult getting access to exhibits in these circumstances, but examinations are often worthwhile as the defendant’s shoes can quickly be eliminated in a high proportion of such cases.
4. Evidence is implied.
Sometimes a police officer or CSI’s statement describing the recovery/seizure of footwear mark evidence has been used at interview and purported to be of significance, the defendant being asked to account for alleged findings which do not subsequently materialise.
In the current climate, the aim of prosecution footwear mark examinations appears solely to find evidence to support an allegation and at the lowest cost. There would appear to be little or no following up of evidence which could refute the allegation.
So, if your client is denying the offence:
- Don’t necessarily accept what your client is being told in interview. It is possible that at this stage no forensic examination has been carried out on marks or shoes and, if it has, it may have been limited in scope to a pattern comparison, and may not have been second checked.
- If you know that footwear marks were lifted from a scene and your client’s shoes were seized, but no forensic report has been forthcoming, there may be a good reason for this. It may have been obvious, even before any formal screening, that the shoes were different and could not have made the mark.
How can we help you?
We have footwear mark experts based in Huntingdon, Durham and Scotland. We carry out full defence examinations on reported footwear mark evidence, commenting on the accuracy of the findings and level of assigned evidential strength. In cases involving disputed events we can explain what the findings mean in the context of your case, e.g. mapping the locations of bloody marks at a scene for comparison with the prosecution or defendant’s account. We can also provide second checks and full evaluations of SFR1s where none has been carried out. In addition, using our own forensic laboratory we can examine marks and shoes which have not previously been examined.
For casework examples please follow this LINK.