Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Can I get a (expert) witness?

Here's last Sunday's report in the Observer on the 'expert' witness used by several police forces in trials resulting from Operation Ore and the Soham murders, who is due to be sentenced for fraud and perjury in April.

How police put their faith in the 'expert' witness who turned out to be a fraud.

And here's a story I wrote for the Eye in September 2003, so long ago that I'd completely forgotten about it until I read that:

After last month’s collapse of the case against DC Brian Stevens, liaison officer for the victims’ families in the Soham murder case, the papers rushed to speculate about the fate of several other men arrested as part of the anti-paedophile campaign Operation Ore.

The Stevens case was dismissed after an expert witness for the prosecution, Brian Underhill of “High Technology Crime Consultants” Celt Limited, was found to have made several mistakes in his analysis of the detective’s laptop computer.

According to The Mail on Sunday on 24 August, “600 child porn sentences could be quashed” because of Underhill’s involvement in their trials. Jim Bates, president of the Institution of Analysts and Programmers, told the paper that he was “calling for an inquiry into all Underhill’s cases”, and that “any solicitor worth their salt will be looking to see if they can get the case thrown out simply because he is listed as the expert witness, and who can blame them?”

But Bates is hardly a disinterested observer in all this. As well as heading the IAP, a professional guild complete with its own coat of arms, since its incorporation in 1993, Bates runs his own company, Computer Investigations, which has undertaken forensic work for several police forces. It is one of Celt Limited’s biggest rivals. Indeed, in the Stevens case, while Underhill served as an expert witness for the prosecution, Bates was performing the same function in the policeman’s defence - something the paper did not feel the need to point out in their report.

On his company website (, Bates devotes more than 8000 words trashing Nick Webber, Underhill’s business partner in Celt Limited. Since the two men clashed during a similar case at Hove Crown Court in September 2000 (an episode which the judge described as “mud-slinging between experts… never a very edifying spectacle for the jury”), Bates has offered “to provide free forensic services in any case involving Mr Webber's alleged expertise.”

With expert witnesses so devoted to destroying each other, nailing child abusers seems almost a secondary consideration.

The fake qualification stuff was in the Eye too, in July 2005, courtesy of one of my colleagues.

We're quite good sometimes, aren't we?

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