How do detectives investigate a murder? Books, TV programmes and documentaries give us some idea – even if their focus is on a single grizzled cop who solves a homicide single-handed. But what exactly is the ‘procedure’ when that call first comes in about a dead body?
As it happens the Metropolitan Police have what is called the ‘London Homicide Manual Specific Operating Procedure’, described as ‘the premier instruction document on the investigation of homicide and unexplained death.’
What does it contain? The answer is we don’t know. Last month the Met agreed to release the document following a request under the Freedom of Information Act – but only after the majority of it was redacted under Section 31(1)(a)(b) on the grounds it was not in the public interest.
In their response, the Met admitted there was an argument for full disclosure:
Better awareness of the MPS and its procedures may reduce crime or lead to more information from the public.
This information could be a useful deterrent to those with criminal intent, as the abilities and capabilities of the MPS who are charged with enforcing the law by preventing and detecting crime and protecting the communities we serve will be apparent. There is also a public interest in the transparency of policing operations.
Disclosure could provide the public with an understanding that public funds are being used appropriately.
But the Met also saw powerful reasons for withholding information about how they investigate homicide:
Release would have the serious effect of compromising law enforcement tactics and would also hinder the prevention and detection of crime.
In addition the release of any information that is directly concerned with the investigation of crime would prejudice investigations and any possible future proceedings.
Disclosure would technically be releasing very sensitive operational information into the public domain, which would enable those with the time, capacity and inclination to use the information contained in this document to map strategies to counter the techniques used by the MPS to investigate homicides.
Additionally MPS resources and its ability to operate effectively and efficiently would be directly affected as this information can be manipulated by those with criminal intent to operate without fear of prejudice in those areas.
The Met do have a point – it isn’t a good idea to give criminals information that helps them to get away with murder. To make an analogy (perhaps inappropriately), no football manager would publish his tactics ahead of a match.
Whether or not entire chapters had to be redacted is hard to tell. All we have is the titles – Responsibility for Investigation, Initial Response, Specialist Crime Directorate Response, Policy Guidance and Good Practice, Record Keeping, Murder Review, Use of HOLMES [Home Office Large Major Enquiry System] within the Major Incident Room.
What remains is the introduction and the first chapter dealing with the relevant homicide legislation.
This level of redaction appears to contrast with the ‘Territorial Policing SOP: Minimum Standards for the Primary Investigation of Crime’, which has already been released under the Freedom of Information Act. (pdf available via What Do They Know)
Should the manual have been released in full or is that taking ‘Open Justice’ too far?