Learning Experiences

No-one gets to where they are in life without making a few mistakes. It is how you recover from these mistakes, and how you learn, that define you.

I’ve been thinking of things that I can share on the website that I’m unlikely to share in the magazine (you’ve read the magazine right? RIGHT?) and I think I’ve found the solution. I’ve seen several cases in my career that have made me think “wha..?”

It is my intent to share with you some of these experiences.

The first of these is a personal favorite.

My first job in forensics was spent sitting opposite a very talented investigator. He was very smart and went on to lead the forensics team at a big 4 consultancy. The work we did was mostly contract work for the Metropolitan Police of London. In one such case my colleague was asked to investigate a family computer where the father was accused of defrauding people of thousands of pounds.

One evening this middle aged couple were sitting at home, peacefully enjoying a night in front of the TV.

This peace evening was suddenly shattered by a harsh knock. As Mr Smith opened the door a police officer stood waving a search and seize order in his face and pushing past he and his wife into their home. Being a law abiding citizen Mr Smith stood aside while he read the warrant. All of his computer and telephone equipment was being taken and he was to be detained on suspicion of fraud. Mr Smith was dazed. What had he done? He was certain that they must be wrong as he could recall nothing that he had done that could be remotely connected to fraudulent activity.

The neighbours were all out of their houses to see the commotion and immediately started to jump to conclusions.

Police officers placed him in handcuffs and marched him to one of the police cars while more officers continued to carry the couple’s personal belongings out of the house. As he was being put into the back seat of the car he called back to his wife, “Call a lawyer.”

At the police station Mr Smith’s lawyer arrived and questioning ensued.

“Have you ever heard of Jack Jones?”


“We have evidence of you defrauding him, and others, of several thousands of pounds.”


“We’re sending your computers and mobile phones away for forensic investigation.”

Mr Smith looked at his lawyer.

“Don’t say anything else.” He said.

Mr Smith was bailed and returned to his, now messy and somewhat empty, house.

Apparently Mr Smith’s Hotmail address had been used while selling a number of items on ebay. These items were paid for but never received so the police were called. The email address used was jssmith1958@hotmail.com.

A few months down the line and the computers were at our office awaiting analysis. There was nothing there at all. No records of ebay ever having been visited, nor PayPal, in fact the only records were a few genealogy sites and Hotmail. It seemed as if the Police would need to question him more. That is until the sharp-eyed investigator saw something that made him bang his head off the desk several times and scream out in frustration. The police had made a huge mistake.

While checking the Hotmail account the investigator noticed that the email address on the case brief and the email address on the computer were not the same. The email address on the computer was jsmith1958@hotmail.com and not jssmith1958@hotmail.com. There was only one ‘s’ in the address. The police had researched the wrong email address and arrested an innocent man.

You would imagine that in this day and age when the police are so widely criticized, that they would be determined to correct the problem right away, however…

When the analyst called the officer responsible for the case he found that the officer was away on vacation. When the situation was described to the person at the other end of the phone she simply said, “I’ll just have to leave it to him when he gets back.”

So this couple was forced to endure almost another week of torment before the police finally responded, explaining what had happened and saying ‘Sorry’.

What is the lesson here? As with most cases the devil is in the details. How easily someone could have missed this crucial piece of information. This man’s life could  have been ruined by a single character. Please pay close attention to your work and read everything VERY carefully.

One response to “Learning Experiences”

  1. Great Article ! Hopefully it will weigh on the minds of investigators, both new and seasoned, to verify their findings and remember that we are dealing with real people that deserve the best we can deliver in an investigation.

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