The Crime Writers’ Association

April 2015: Lincoln

Venue: The Lincoln Hotel
Organiser: Roger Forsdyke

Report by Bernie Crosthwaite

It was a bright cold day in March, and the clocks were striking eighteen…

Actually, it was Lincoln Cathedral’s famous bell, Great Tom, calling an intrepid group of crime writers together for a Ghost Walk, the opening event of the 2015 CWA Conference.

It hadn’t been an altogether smooth ride for organiser Roger Forsdyke. ‘To run a successful conference you need a variety of skills and abilities with the volume turned up – plus a little luck. You also need a crystal ball.’ But even he couldn’t predict the difficulties he experienced concerning a visit to the university’s forensic labs, or with the book signing session, and with two days to go, the failure of the heating system in some of the bedrooms at our venue, the Lincoln Hotel. ‘Head, brick wall, head,’ he said ruefully. ‘If I had any hair left …’

But eighty delegates arrived on Friday afternoon, looking forward to the famous CWA Conference vibe. The ghost walkers returned, pale and wide-eyed, and over the buffet dinner shared colourful tales of Lincoln’s history and hauntings. When medieval thieves stole a jewelled casket they cast aside the contents – the head of the late archbishop. It rolled down the street and the people of Lincoln have been tripping over it ever since. (When The Da Vinci Code was being filmed in the city, Tom Hanks’ bodyguard went ‘heels over head’. Spooky or what?)

There’s a pie shop on Steep Hill where it is vital to say ‘Good morning, Humphrey’, or face serious consequences. The White Hart, where some of the CWA delegates found sanctuary, is thought to be the most haunted building in Lincoln.

Lovely Lincoln

But despite haunted hotels and the early morning tolling of Great Tom, we gathered on Saturday morning, eager and ready for the excellent programme of talks, including a fascinating missing person cold case, a Crown Court QC, His Honour Judge Heath, whose reputation has veered from ‘Iron Mike’ to ‘an old cutie’, and the latest on the flourishing world of ebooks.

After lunch there was time to explore lovely Lincoln in the sunshine, tackling Steep Hill (which, oddly, seemed a lot steeper than the last time I visited Lincoln). Some of us made it as far as the university to hear Professor Nigel Allinson MBE warn us that DNA testing is not always reliable, that fingerprints may not be unique (and can even be forged), and that CCTV rarely gives a good enough image for recognition.

At the AGM, the Creasey Bell was duly passed from the outgoing CWA Chair, Alison Joseph, to the new incumbent, Len Tyler.

At the Gala Dinner on Saturday evening, old friendships were revived and new and surprising ones made. I found myself sitting with Martine Bailey, who has just been booked to speak at Knaresborough’s Festival of Entertainment and Visual Arts in August. I not only live in Knaresborough, I’m on the committee for the festival. She will see at least two friendly faces when she comes to town in August.

The dinner was further enlivened with a second appearance by Judge Heath. Having shown a nice line in deadpan humour in the morning, he let rip with a stream of hilarious one-liners. (‘Roger Forsdyke is known as The Minotaur – half man, half bull****.)

Len Tyler thanked Alison Joseph for her sterling work as Chair for the last two years, and presented her with a bound collection of her erudite and witty Letters from the Chair, published in Red Herrings.

There were two more excellent talks on Sunday morning: an account of a harrowing murder investigation from Detective Superintendent Stuart Morrison, and the engaging Kate Carty’s experiences as a criminal lawyer. Robert Richardson read out entries for his ‘least appealing opening of a novel’ competition. The worthy winner was Frances Brody.

Friendly Lincoln

Despite Roger Forsdyke’s concerns, Lincoln 2015 proved to be a very successful conference. ‘Luckily crime writers are a resilient and good-natured breed and the potential hitches did not spoil what has turned out to be arguably the best conference ever. Thank you to everyone who helped and to all of you who attended. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did,’ he said.

Len Tyler agreed. ‘It was a fantastic conference. Great venue, excellent speakers, one of the best I can remember. I hope to see you all next year in Norwich.’

Karen Charlton described herself as a ‘conference virgin’, who didn’t know what to expect. ‘I write novels set in the Regency period, but I found the modern police investigations fascinating. They revealed that criminals haven’t changed much in two hundred years! I’ve come away with lots of ideas to enrich my next novel.’ She was impressed by the social aspect too. ‘I’ve had great fun, met really interesting people and made many new friends. It was fabulous to spend the weekend with so many like-minded people.’

This was underlined by Paul Gitsham. ‘It was very well-organised and extremely good fun. It was really sociable, a nice way to let off steam, a different sort of experience from crime festivals.’ His partner Cheryl Shorter added, ‘I got lots of information on what influences authors. I really felt part of the event. Everyone was very welcoming.’

The last word – literally – should go to Roger Forsdyke. When I asked him for his reaction at the close of the conference, he simply said, with feeling, ‘Phew!’

Talks Reports

Cold Case Reviews: How It’s Really Done
Det Supt Graham White & Det Insp Ron Jackson

Report by Kathryn White

EMSOU (East Midlands Special Operations Unit) has evolved over 20 years. Then the unit conducted mostly undercover operations but in recent years it has grown to become a regional unit, collaborating across five forces on the review of major crimes. EMSOU has a staff of twelve, and works closely with the regional asset recovery unit and regional intelligence unit, especially in missing persons cases. It also has a forensic unit.

Within 7-14 days of a homicide, a self-inspection review looks at what has been going well/not so well and shares learning points with other Senior Investigating Officers. If the crime is not detected within 28 days, a full review of the investigation is conducted. All major crimes are now reviewed to ensure that a thorough, objective investigation has been carried out with integrity.

In 2011 the unit was commissioned to review long term missing persons and unidentified bodies in Lincolnshire. There were 20 cases on file but some records had been lost and this number actually grew to 49. Many of these cases were resolved in two ways: either people were traced or they had died of natural causes. Eleven foreign nationals were tracked down via social media.

Graham and Ron talked us through EMSOU’s review of a case from 2001. A number of ribs, vertebrae and pelvic bones were found by a man fishing on the coastal marshes. They were inside clothing, which included overalls, a fluorescent jacket and a distinctively patterned jumper. As there were no long bones or a skull with teeth, it was difficult to estimate height or age from the remains, but the clothing suggested a man between 5ft 7” and 5ft 10”. A number of keys were found in the pockets, including one which belonged to a Ford truck or lorry. The facts were compared with national missing persons bureau information but there were no matches. The case was wound up and the bones buried in an unmarked grave. No DNA samples were taken as this was simply overlooked in the initial investigation.

In 2011 the body on the marshes case was reviewed by EMSOU. The unit considered three missing persons, including a man having an affair with his friend’s wife who was last seen with the cuckolded friend fishing on the marshes – he claimed he had been lost in foggy conditions.

However, they focused on Don Arden, a fisherman missing since 1994, who at the time owned a Ford Transit van and was 5ft 8”. In 2001 the original SIO had written ‘not Don Arden’ on the case notes, but did not state why he had been eliminated. The team spoke to the coastguard who had recovered Arden’s boat, and to his family, who recalled that the boat has a faulty boom which required Don to stand on the edge of the craft to swing it into position. It was quite possible that he fell accidentally and was unable to climb back aboard. The family was shown a picture of the clothing and despite initially stating, ‘my Dad wouldn’t be seen dead in a jumper like that’, later produced what looked like a ‘Christmas jumper’ photograph – exactly the sort of thing you might wear covered up by overalls when fishing. One of the keys found in the pockets had a float attached, a trick used by fisherman to locate keys dropped in the water.

An exhumation was authorised, something which only takes place a couple of times a year. On a misty morning at 5am the grave was opened. The coffin had disintegrated but plaque inscribed ‘the remains of an unknown male person’ and a thick plastic bag containing the bones was preserved. DNA samples were taken in 2012. Initial tests were inconclusive due to the age of the bones and corrosion by salt water, so other forensic scientists using different techniques were approached, eventually providing a match with Mr Arden’s sons. After a further inquest, the bones were repatriated to the Arden family, who were lucky to have bones to bury, as generally people lost at sea are eaten or disintegrate. As Don’s wife Vera said, ‘He’s fish food’.

A View From the Bench
Judge Heath

Report by Kathryn White

Judge Heath explained that his ‘judge’s papers’ are generally given to him the day before the case, unless he has been involved from the outset. These will include the indictment, witness statements, the pleas, a case management form, a list of previous convictions, bad character statements, an opening note and a case summary if the case is complex.

Just before the trial, the judge may also receive an application for a ‘good year indication’, i.e. if the client changed his plea, what sort of sentence he might receive.

He begins by questioning the jury to see if any member has a connection with the defendant. Usually two additional jurors are empowered to act as substitutes in case this happens. Prior to the trial he will give the jury an indication of how long the trial is likely to last and emphasise that they must not look on the internet or talk about the trial on social media. He also advises them to make notes, but not to let that interfere with observing people’s demeanour.

During the trial the judge keeps observes everyone entering and leaving the court, including who is in the public gallery and why. He asks himself several questions:

– What evidence will I need?

– Am I being fair?

– How am I going to sum this up for the jury?

– If this person is convicted, could I sleep soundly in my bed at night?

If the answer to the last question is ‘no’, he doesn’t let the trial proceed.

The judge gave an example of a case when a man was accused of rape by a girl. He was imprisoned, then bailed but had to leave his home due to abuse and bricks through the window, paying rent on an additional property. Judge Heath had a sixth sense that something was not quite right about the case and just twenty minutes into the trial the girl suddenly said that she had made everything up because the man had remonstrated with her when she was throwing snowballs outside his house. Judge Heath pointed out that people making false accusations do a great disservice to people who are actually victims.

At the conclusion of a trial, the judge gives the jury legal direction in the form of written aid to memory and a series of questions as a route to a verdict. The judge does not receive a written record of the trail at the end of each day – he has to make his own notes. Everything is recorded, but a written transcript may take several days.

Judge Heath also pointed out that in court, unlike much TV drama, ‘cross examination does not have to be loud and bullying. It is best done quietly and relentlessly and pushes someone gently into a pit.’

Operation Bachelor: the Murder of Sonny Grey
Det Supt Stuart Morrison, Area Commander, Lincoln

Report by Kathryn White

Stuart began by pointing out that real-life policing is not as quick or glamorous as fictional detection – most investigations are slow and painstaking, highly dependent on forensics, and don’t necessarily need the full story – a conviction can be secured on a few key points of evidence.

In this case, the killers burst into the wrong house demanding money. And when they found the right house they missed the money under the floorboards in their search by stacking up furniture in the very corner of the room in which the money was hidden. This was not before they had tortured Mr Sonny Grey by pouring boiling water over him and holding his hand in the kettle on a rolling boil. He died several days later.

As the victim did not die at the scene, the investigation began as a robbery and then became a murder enquiry. Mr Grey didn’t want to co-operate as he didn’t realise that he was likely to die.

The initial line of enquiry (LOE) included ‘victimology’ – unpicking the life. ‘If you find out how the victim lived, you’ll probably find out how he died,’ said Stuart. In this instance, the victim was a money lender from a travelling community, with three partners and eleven children. Different branches of the family didn’t get on, which made the work of family liaison officers complex.

CCTV is now a big challenge as it’s pretty much everywhere, so the search has to be defined by temporal and geographic parameters, which can be widened as the investigation progresses. Automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras spotted a VW Toureg in the area which had a suspicious non-existent registration one character adrift from an actual car of that make: ‘LF had become ‘LE’ with the addition of a piece of black tape. The suspicious vehicle also had a tax disc in an unusual position, an air freshener and a rear quarter light window which had been fitted with clear glass rather than dark.

Thomas Curtis, one of one of a criminal family known for robbery, was linked to the vehicle and declared a suspect, but not arrested immediately. Stuart pointed out that when a suspect is one of several, moving in too soon can mess up a case but also risks someone else being hurt. These decisions are documented very carefully and keep officers awake at night.

Thomas Curtis was arrested but then committed suicide. At the funeral there were floral tributes in the shape of crow bars and an ATM machine. The police did not want the link to be made with the case and hoped that publicity would go away, which it did. Thomas’s younger brother Rocky was arrested and DNA analysis of the vehicle was conducted.

Police couldn’t put one of the suspects in the house at the time of the murder – the evidence was circumstantial. The car had to be tied to the offence and the car to the people. Officers checked out all 49 similar VW Touregs, interviewing the owners and taking photos to demonstrate thorough process and show that the one in the CCTV was unique.

They also had a third suspect, Robert Holmes, who had been in phone contact with Curtis. Five months later, CCTV from a garage was extracted from a recorder and showed all three suspects walking into the garage en route – they were probably not as cautious on their journey as they would have been if they’d killed Grey outright.

They made no admission about who did what to Sonny Grey and their defence was that they had travelled from Wisbech to Lincoln to steal cars; that a family member must have killed Grey and they disputed that it was them in the CCTV evidence. Both were found guilty of murder.

The SIO should be able to step back from technical details and look at the strategic direction of an investigation. An average case might have one or two thousand separate job sheets, while a major one could have 10,000, and the team will average 20-50 people, sometimes as many as 80. Stuart concluded with some basic rules for SIOs and detectives:

1: If you hear:

‘I think that…’

‘I believe that…’

‘I’m pretty sure that…’

Beware! Facts must be facts.

2: You are not obliged to take the first answer you are given… and probably not the second one either. People lie; people are uncertain. And beware the expert who says that something cannot be so. Experts can be persuasive, but also wrong.

3: Pay attention to detail

4: It’ll never be a silk purse, but make it the best sow’s ear you can.

5: Direct, motivate and lead the team.

Conference Competition

By Robert Richardson

It is a fact universally acknowledged that CWA members have a legendary ability to grip the browsing reader with the first words of their books. At the Lincoln conference they had to write an opening to make any sane person instantly throw the thing away with extreme violence.


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