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Imprisonment and Forensic Science Conference

Inside Justice

By Inside Justice on 31/03/17

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Imprisonment and Forensic Science Conference

The event was well attended, mostly by students and teachers but also by a couple of former prisoners and victims of miscarriage of justice, John Kamara and Kevin Lane (Kevin is pictured with Louise Shorter of Inside Justice). 

Eric McGraw, former editor of Inside Time, introduced Louise Shorter, who presented a short overview of Inside Justice and its work, reminding us of the impact of media projects such as BBC 2’s Conviction: Murder at the Station and BBC Rough Justice: Murder without a Trace.

Noel Smith then described in palpable detail how he had embarked on a life of crime at an early age, in and out of prison as ‘Razor’ Smith. Noel candidly explained how, though guilty of his crimes, he would always try to find a loophole in his conviction, as would most, acknowledging that this may have been detrimental to fellow inmates who were wholly innocent: twenty per cent was his personal estimate.

Noel spoke of taking the law into his own hands when it came to dealing with those convicted of such crimes as sexual assaults on children, on one occasion pushing a child molester down the stairs, fracturing his ribs. He had no regret until years later when that individual, one Stefan Kiszko, was proven innocent, his conviction quashed, only to die a year later from a heart condition.

Noel’s life also changed, but for the better, teaching himself to read and write and achieving an honours degree in journalism. He is now Commissioning Editor of Inside Time and a published author.

Twenty-five years on from his ordeal as a hostage in Lebanon, Terry Waite is now silver-haired but still an impressive physical presence. An experienced public speaker, Terry had no difficulty in commanding the attention of an audience, most of whom weren’t born at the time of his eventual release in 1992 after nearly five years in mostly solitary captivity.

He spoke with deep understanding of the isolation of captivity as well as the plight of his young guards, describing his gradual change from anger to empathy, even reading a recent poem he has written about his imprisonment.

Yet anger resurfaced in the lively question-and-answer session which followed, when he lamented the state of our under-resourced and misguided prison system. Noel too displayed his dismay at the continued incarceration of IPP prisoners long over-tariff with no access to educational programmes towards parole, as well as the Catch-22 dilemma of those who deny themselves access to such programmes by refusing to admit their guilt, because they aren’t guilty.

The afternoon session involved an entertainingly interactive forensic investigation, with an ingenious mock-up of a suitably splattered crime scene. In their white SOCO suits, eminent scientists Tracy Alexander and Jo Millington brought more than a whiff of Blackpool Pier to their world of blood and gore, though I’m reserving judgement as to who’s wise to whose Morecambe. There was even a touch of panto: “The husband, it’s always the husband.” “Oh no it isn’t!”

Our reconstructed designer domesticity was the scripted scene of a young Essex woman’s murder but whodunnit – the hapless hirsute husband or his malevolent mate Mark? Tracy and Jo took besuited volunteers through their paces as trainee technicians – finding fingerprints, scrutinising splatter and distinguishing DNA.

A second Q&A began with further financial frustrations:

“Won’t cuts to Legal Aid budgets mean less forensic work and increased risk of miscarriage of justice?”

“Yes.”

“Won’t cuts to police and CPS resources mean ever-narrower investigations and increased risk of miscarriage of justice?”

“Yes.”

Tracy cited the loss of a central store with the demise of the Forensic Science Service as one reason for difficulty accessing exhibits post-conviction, whilst Jo emphasised the need for peer-review and independent assessment to avoid bias in forensic interpretation.

As for careers advice, Tracy sought to dispel popular ideas of a forensic scientist doing everything from interviewing suspects to sleeping with the SIO as in Prime Suspect: there is a wide range of careers with differing paths to the top. Jo described her personal epiphany on reading Paul Kirk’s ground-breaking work from the 1950s as well as her good fortune in encountering a Florida blood expert who now advises on Dexter.

Never underestimate the power of the media.

The audience was obviously impressed: 

“The whole day was fantastic.”

“Absolutely amazing – cannot think of a way to improve it.”

“Smart, scientific and funny.”

Inside Justice hopes to repeat the success of this first conference with more across the country, inspiring the next generation of investigators into miscarriage of justice.

By Noel ‘Razor’ Smith: A Rusty Gun; A Few Kind Words and a Loaded Gun; and The Criminal Alphabet, an A-Z of Prison Slang.

By Terry Waite: Taken on Trust; Travels with a Primate; The Golden Handshake; Out of the Silence.