Back to Basics: Golden Hour Principles in Serious Collision Investigation
Posted on 30th March 2019, by Pete Deane
The Golden Hour is a term for the period immediately following the commission of an offence when material is abundant and readily available to the police.
Positive action in the period immediately following the report of a crime minimises the attrition of material and maximises the chance of securing the material that will be admissible in court. (Core investigative Doctrine 2005).
This is sometimes misquoted as the period of time being limited to one hour. We have heard this by other training providers and through conversations with investigators. This period is not limited to one hour and can continue for hours if not days in a serious investigation. A golden hour opportunity can also trigger months into an investigation and it is imperative investigators are alive to these moments to maximise the opportunities to get to the truth of what has happened.
In order to maximise the investigative material in any investigation it is important to have strategies for each identified strand of the investigation. We will touch upon a couple of areas that can be vitally important in the golden hour period of a serious collision investigation however this should be considered across all strands of the investigation.
CCTV is one of the obvious lines of enquiry and is often available in abundance in highly populated areas. In a serious collision investigation CCTV should be recovered of the scene of the collision and from various sources / viewpoints. This should be viewed ASAP so as to identify the number of witnesses that may be present and allow them to be accounted for or actions raised to trace those not. It may also lead to the identification of other CCTV sources such as buses or vehicles with dash cams that may have passed through the scene immediately before or afterwards that will provide useful information. CCTV should be checked against a known timing source such as the speaking clock so time offsets can be accounted for when putting together any future CCTV compilation.
Thought should also be given to the amount of footage to recover too. We cannot emphasise the more the better as further down the investigation you may wish to see half an hour before and if you only recovered 5 minutes either side of the incident you have lost it when it was available.
Consideration then needs to be given to the seizure of CCTV on both parties’ approach to the scene. The capture of this material when it is available in its abundant state may seem arduous and not relevant in some circumstances however as the investigation unfolds then it could prove crucial and if it is not recovered then it disappears and is no longer available.
Too many times we have heard ‘but it doesn’t show the collision’. This is a pretty blinkered approach to an investigation. If you can show peoples movements in the lead up to the collision you are likely to get a better picture of what has happened and it affords opportunities to trace other witnesses.
Other golden hour principles could be house to house enquiries or ‘information seeks’ at the scene. Take an incident on the motorway where traffic backs up following the incident. A good number of the people stuck in the queuing traffic could be witnesses to the events that led up to the collision and once they are turned around or filtered passed the scene and drive away they may never be spoken to again. The attrition of material is yet again present as there was material in abundance and available but it has gone and either witnesses are lost or when they are spoken to in weeks / months to come their memory of the events are also eroded. A house to house strategy or information seek in this scenario could be as simple as an officer being tasked to walk the queue and ask basic questions of the vehicle occupants and note registration numbers of the vehicles. One of these vehicles could end up being a suspect when further information unfolds in the investigation.
Another golden hour principle could be that of digital evidence. A suspect’s phone if not preserved could be losing data either intentionally by the suspect or by not being forensically recovered. This is so true in vehicle system forensics where a vehicle may contain an abundance of digital material important to the investigation but it is allowed to be eroded by it not being preserved properly and strategies put in place to deal with it and preserve it.
We spoke about driver interviews in a separate blog. This is another golden hour opportunity, you have the opportunity to speak to the driver straight after the collision and to effectively interview them in order to identify where some of your other golden hour enquiries need to be made. Consider the driver tells you the route they travelled to the scene as it a probing interview rather than just asking about the collision itself. This now links back to the CCTV strategy and that material can be recovered as a result of a driver interview carried out soon after the collision. If they are not interviewed for weeks later then what if they tell you information of their involvement that you did not know and because of the time passed you are unable to recover that material but it was available in abundance at the time. Another golden opportunity missed.
There are other areas to consider in this golden period where material is in abundance and needs capturing and we are sure you have your own examples. It is accepted that the resources available in a serious collision investigation is not on a par with a serious crime investigation and it may not be possible to do everything but some simple strategies to deal with these areas can be developed to maximise the amount of investigative material to work with in order to have a robust and effective investigation whereby the truth is unearthed.
Once you have recovered and preserved the material in a golden period it can then be used if required later down the line, if it turns out it was not needed then nothing is lost other than you know you have carried out a thorough investigation.
The golden hour is not an hour and it is best described as the definition by the core investigative doctrine outlined at the outset of this blog. For further information please visit: http://library.college.police.uk/docs/acpo/Core-Investigative-Doctrine.pdf