Scenes of Crime Officers

1963: Scenes of Crime Officers: John Molyneux: Prior to 1963 there was no specific Scene of Crime Officer, most crimes being handled by CID officers who made their own investigation of the crime scene, the taking of elimination fingerprints, etc. It was becoming obvious that the detectives' workload was becoming too great, but the thought of a uniformed officer assisting the CID was viewed, in some quarters, with suspicion and derision.

On 20th September 1963, Course Order 469 was issued for a 'Course for Scenes of Crime Officers at Headquarters from 30.9.63 to 12.10.63', for a dozen or so to train to become Scenes of Crime Officers. Some of those listed were already doing this type of work, notably PC 333 Massey.

The course was intensive, covering not only fingerprinting, but the packaging of materials found, the identification of prints, vehicle crime, and most other thing which could relieve the routine work of the detective. A visit to the Metropolitan Police stolen car squad was included, as was the taking of plaster casts of foot or tyre prints.

Returning to division - I was at Caterham - the theory was that we worked normal duties when not engaged on scenes of crime. But in practice it was usual to get phoned on a conference point (there were no personal radios then), cycle to the police station to collect the equipment and cadge a lift to the incident from the area car - assuming that it was not the vehicle already dealing with the incident.

The 'equipment' comprised a box, about attaché case size, made by Detective Inspector Danny Hobbs of Oxted Division CID, containing a jar of white powder and a similar jar containing black powder, together with two pairs of large, fluffy brushes with which to apply the powder.

The box also contained a copper faced block, a tube of fingerprint ink, a roller to spread the ink evenly on the block, a piece of rag and a small bottle of white spirit, with which to clean the block. This was used when taking elimination prints.

The use of the rag was permitted to remove most of the ink from the fingers, but a wash with soap and hot water was recommended to the 'victims'. (Similar rollers, etc. were used to take prisoner's prints, but they were generally in better condition than that in the box!)

Marks found on items which could not readily be removed e.g. window frames, were labelled and Crime Bureau (CB) informed for a photographer to attend. (My pocket books record DC Mynott, Mr Williams, and a DC Woodford amongst the photographers who attended at various times.) Marks on removable items e.g. jewellery boxes, were labelled and taken to CB.

At that time, Caterham was the sub-division of Oxted Division. Jeff Tuckfield was the Scenes of Crime Officer there, and eventually (c.1967 - 8) he became the Scenes of Crime Officer for the Division as there was insufficient work for us both (and the duty sergeant got rather upset when he had no driver for the area car as I had been called out earlier).

Another way of lifting prints from paper, etc. was by the use of Ninhydrin spray. The object to be examined (e.g. letter, chocolate box lid) was sprayed with Ninhydrin, and then allowed to dry. The active ingredient in the spray reacted with the grease in the print making it visible (and purple in colour). This method was used mainly by Crime Bureau, because they were the experts at identifying prints.

There was also a method of taking a person's prints using Ninhydrin. A pad soaked in Ninhydrin, was rubbed onto the fingers which were then placed on a sheet of sensitised paper (similar to photographic paper). The prints would appear, purple in colour. Although this method was much less messy than black fingerprint ink, it was not regularly used as it was expensive and it had not been proved to be everlasting.

Towards the end of my time as a Scenes of Crime Officer, I was issued with a Minivan, SPD826F, in which to attend incidents. This, of course, passed to PC Tuckfield when he took over these duties for the whole Division.

The distribution list at the bottom of Course Order 469 shows a copy to Miss Nash. Would that have been so that she could bring us breakfast in bed? I don't think so!

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