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Footwear Marks – Intelligence or Evidence?

April 01 2012

Forensic Science Interpreting The Evidence

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Footwear Marks

Typically, many police scenes of crime units perform a screening function on footwear mark evidence.  An initial assessment is conducted to determine whether shoes which have been seized are similar (in pattern, size, wear and damage) to footwear marks recovered from a scene.  This screening work indicates possible links to suspects and assists the police in targeting their enquiries further.

To reach the more stringent requirements for footwear marks to be submitted as evidence, marks should be subjected to further expert examination, comparison, quality checks and an evidential statement should be prepared.  Currently, in order to save cost, this second step may only take place if the footwear mark evidence is challenged, if at all.  Without the second step, however, the original intelligence statement becomes the de facto ‘evidence’ on which your client may be making their plea or indeed, can inadvertently become the Crown’s evidence in proceeding to trial.

We have seen statements including comments such as: ‘the pattern is consistent with the pattern of both shoes, but the mark appeared to have been made by a right trainer’ or ‘I feel that [shoe X] is more likely to be responsible for the impression than [shoe Y].’  Such statements offer no opinion of the significance or evidential strength of the correspondence and can be misinterpreted as indicating a ‘match’.

In another case we were provided as evidence the statement of a police crime scene examiner/photographer comparing an un-scaled photograph of a bruise on a face with a pair of shoes seen through the window of the packaging.  The examiner did not have training in marks comparison or interpretation and, in making his comparison, had not removed the shoes from their packaging or taken test impressions!

Another crime scene examiner concluded that in his opinion, if the marks and shoes were sent to a forensic expert, they would conclude that the shoes had without doubt made the marks.  No such examination, however, was sought.

Some police forces do not routinely photograph recovered marks and lifts, nor retain the lifts.  Both practices are unsatisfactory as important detail such as the position and orientation of the mark at the scene may be lost.

In preparing cases involving footwear mark evidence, it is important to understand whether it is what it purports to be.  We recommend that you review the Crown statement to check:

  • Is it marked ‘screening report’, 'preliminary statement', ‘for intelligence purposes only’ or ‘not intended for Court use’?
  • If it is being used in court, what are the qualifications and experience of the statement’s author in reporting footwear mark evidence?

If you have any doubts concerning the evidential value of footwear mark evidence in your case please contact Dr Guy Cooper or Alan Henderson via our Durham office, Dorothy Allan at our Huntingdon office, or email us: kbc@keithborer.co.uk.

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