Tilly Rubens

Freelance journalist

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Tilly worked as a lawyer for 14 years before deciding she wanted to combine a career in law with freelance journalism. She has recently completely her post-graduate diploma at the London School of Journalism. Tilly is presently completing an internship with a property portal and is also working as a legal consultant. She has written extensively on the topics of property and housing, social justice and legal aid and the legal profession.
June 22, 2015

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IFSEC Presentations Revisited: Super-Recognise Me – How the 2011 Riots Changed the Face of CCTV Evidence

super recognisers mainThe riots that swept across our major cities in summer 2011 changed forever the way the police dealt with CCTV evidence, according to a police expert speaking at last week’s IFSEC 2015 in London.

Richard Berkley is part of the Central Forensic Image Team, based at New Scotland Yard, which is responsible for producing forensic images from CCTV cameras. The focus of his talk, Forensic images in focus- ensuring CCTV is fit for purpose, was to give some insight into how the Metropolitan Police have developed a systematic approach to produce reliable evidence for use in court.

Richard Berkley said when he first joined the police in 1985, the most modern equipment the police had was a typewriter. The use of video evidence was still very much in its infancy and although VHS technology was slowly introduced during the 1990s, the images produced in court could be very “grainy” and blurred.

However he said CCTV technology has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years and the riots of 2011 had created the unlikely catalyst to spearhead change in the retrieval and production of forensic evidence.

Systematic approach

The riots resulted in the police having to deal with unprecedented numbers of crimes and acts of anti-social behaviour in the short space of a few days.  However Richard said the problem for the police was the sheer volume of people involved in such acts which meant that identification could became a logistical nightmare.

He demonstrated this by showing footage of the first shop in Croydon which was looted by a large crowd in August 2011. However Richard explained the police were able to obtain the conviction of one offender by using a systematic approach to the CCTV evidence.

“There was one man involved in the Croydon looting who was wearing a distinctive tracksuit and later signed on in Lunar House, Croydon,” explained Richard, “we were able to do a comparison of the two sets of CCTV images and confirm it was the same suspect who was wanted for other crimes.”

One of the extraordinary, and also controversial, outcomes of the riots were the sheer number of people charged and convicted both in the immediate aftermath and also in the two years which followed the riots.  There were 4000 offences and 5000 arrests made by the police with an 82% conviction success rate in this two year period.

“I would say the reason for the success was the dedicated team and quality of images which were being produced,” said Richard Berkley.

He explained the process had been assisted by working closely with partner organisations such as local authorities and private contractors. Other important factors were having well trained staff both in terms of retrieval of the images and the technical specialists who worked in the forensic labs.

However an interesting aspect of the generally high-tech process is how important the human element is. Richard explained the police have specially trained officers called “super-recognizers” who have an amazing memory to remember the faces of people, even if they have only seen them once.

“We have about 100 people on our books who can provide us with images. In the last two years, they have identified 6000 people,” said Richard.

He added that super recognizers, believed to be only 1% of the population with the ability to see a face and recognize it immediately, were particularly useful during large public events such as Carnival.

Richard said the final aspect of successful identification was circulation among relevant organisations of images taken from CCTV footage. He explained the police uploaded the images onto a database which was then circulated to partner organizations, via an  online portal called Face Watch, three times a week.

“Since 2012, we have had 56,000 images uploaded on to the database and 20,000 suspects have been identified,” he said.

This was a slick and well-presented talk with effective use of CCTV footage to explain a point. However it would also have been useful to know where the police had made mistakes in preparing forensic evidence for court.

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David Spreadborough
David Spreadborough

“However it would also have been useful to know where the police had made mistakes in preparing forensic evidence for court.”

Interesting! … and hear lies the conflict between the administration of justice and the forensic integrity of the image. A very big discussion and one that needs to be had before the introduction of ISO 17025 into Forensic Video Analysis labs.