Police digital disclosure failings under Westminster spotlight

Police officers dealing with digital disclosure are under-trained and often unaware of what they are looking for, a Justice Select Committee has heard.

Digital forensic experts have said police failures have led to a number of court cases collapsing, The Guardian reports.

Dr Jan Collie, of Discovery Forensics, which specialises in defence work, said the volume of digital evidence was the first problem.

She said: “You have to consider the cloud too. There’s evidence everywhere. With cuts in funding, officers don’t have the time to do all that.

“When I first started, the police had their own digital forensic units and knew what they were about. Now you are getting very sketchy evidence. People give me screenshots of pictures of a phone. I need to see original, be able to repeat and verify tests.”

She added that police forces lack resources, saying: “When they have the people, they haven’t got the money to send them on courses.”

The forensics expert also said officers often do not understand whether information has been passively acquired through a browser or deliberately searched for.

“A lot of police stations have where they put a mobile phone in and press a couple of buttons, but it’s not enough analysis. A police officer who has been trained for about a day can use the equipment. He can click it in and handle the buttons, often they spoil the evidence by mishandling. It’s like they have trodden on the evidence. Interpretation of data is being carried out by ordinary officers – they are not trained to do it.”

Dr Gillian Tully, the official forensic science regulator, told the committee: “Police digital forensic units are quite good at extracting information and making copies. They then pass copies to the general police, and investigators don’t necessarily have the tools to search the information or make good use of it.”

Dr Tully, who has said forensic science needs more funding, added: “When it comes to legal aid funding, it’s largely awarded to the business with the lowest quote – which is not helpful for quality.”