As experts in fire investigation we provide advice and evidence to Solicitors and Barristers and have formed part of many successful defence cases. A meticulous and logical approach to reviewing all the available pertinent information is paramount to the successful outcome of such a case.
You may be considering whether or not you require the assistance of a fire expert in your case; there are many reasons to use us. We can often identify possible causes of fire not recognised or too easily dismissed by other investigators. We have given evidence many times in court and we are sure we will be able to assist you. Please review our testimonials, we believe they speak for themselves.
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Fires – Who Has the Power to Investigate?
The majority of the primary fire scene examination work for the Police in England and Wales is undertaken by the fire service with the assistance of a Police Scenes of Crime Officer or Crime Scenes Investigator. If the criminal investigation proceeds to court then normally the investigator from the fire service will become the prosecution’s fire expert.
There are many avenues to consider when reviewing a case and part of that involves the powers an investigator from the fire service has when investigating a potential crime such as a deliberate fire as the fire expert for the Police. These powers are open to interpretation however.
The Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 section 45 outlines the powers of entry an investigator from the fire service has when obtaining information and investigating fires. In summary it states that:
(1) An authorised officer may at any reasonable time enter premises—
(b) if there has been a fire in the premises, for the purpose of investigating what caused the fire or why it progressed as it did.
(3) An authorised officer may not under subsection (1)—
(a) enter premises by force, or
(b) demand admission as of right to premises occupied as a private dwelling unless 24 hours’ notice in writing has first been given to the occupier of the dwelling.
(4) An authorised officer may not under subsection (1)(b) enter as of right premises in which there has been a fire if –
(a) the premises are unoccupied, and
(b) the premises were occupied as a private dwelling immediately before the fire,
unless 24 hours’ notice in writing has first been given to the person who was the occupier of the dwelling immediately before the fire.
Therefore the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 outlines that if a fire service investigator wants to investigate a fire then they first must get permission to do so. It may be that they can apply to a justice of the peace if –
(a) he considers it necessary to enter premises for the purposes of subsection (1), but
(b) he is unable to do so, or considers that he is likely to be unable to do so, otherwise than by force.
The Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 provides formal powers for fire and rescue services to investigate the causes of fires and the reasons for fire spread. However, special considerations apply in the case of suspicious fires that are the subject of a police investigation. Fire and Rescue Circular 1-2006, The Investigation of Fires where the Supposed Cause is not Accidental.
The police service is responsible for the prevention and detection of crime and for reporting to the Coroner any death that results from a fire. The Police Act 1964 charges the senior police officer with primary responsibility for the direction and control of any criminal investigation into the cause of any suspicious fire. In order to facilitate such investigation, access to the scene of a suspicious fire post extinction should be at the discretion and direction of the senior police investigating officer.
Where a police investigation is being conducted, it is the responsibility of the police to collate all the information that comes to light, to collect and maintain the integrity of recovered evidence, to take appropriate measures in co-operation with the fire and rescue service to preserve the scene of the fire and to decide in each case whether to arrange the attendance of forensic scientists.
It is a matter for the Courts to determine whether fire or police officers should be regarded as “expert witnesses” but its is clearly unrealistic to proceed on the basis that routine training courses in fire investigation for fire or police officers can provide a level of qualified scientific expertise equal to that possessed by a forensic scientist.
Normally the giving of evidence by fire or police officers should be restricted to factual evidence but on occasion, each may be required by the Courts to provide an opinion within their own area of expertise. In such cases they should make it clear to the Courts that this is what they are doing.
If a fire or police officer rather than a forensic scientist are considered to be the prosecution expert witness then this person will be subject to the CJS Expert Witness Guidance which define three key obligations for an expert as an investigation progresses. The relevant steps are to retain, to record and to reveal.
- An expert should retain everything until otherwise instructed.
- An expert should commence making records at the time they receive instructions and continues for the whole of the time they are involved. Circumstances may exist where practitioners should commence making records prior to any instructions from the police. An example of this would be: as a fire scene examiner you believe a fire to have been started deliberately.
- An expert is required to reveal everything they have recorded.
The result of the aforementioned documents means that when defending an arson case it is imperative to obtain not only the fire investigation report from the prosecution expert but also their notes, sketches and images as there may be revealing information detailed in these documents which could prove to be important to the defense case. In addition, it is also important to obtain the notes, sketches and images from anyone else present during the investigation of the fire.