Journal Article

An Analysis of Forensic Evidence used in the Prosecution of Terrorism Cases in Britain between 1972 and 2008

Dagmar P. Heinrich, Amy E. Thornton, Ruth M. Morgan and Noemie Bouhana

in Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice

Volume 7, issue 1, pages 96-108
Published in print March 2013 | ISSN: 1752-4512
Published online December 2012 | e-ISSN: 1752-4520 | DOI:
An Analysis of Forensic Evidence used in the Prosecution of Terrorism Cases in Britain between 1972 and 2008

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The use of forensic evidence in the prosecution of terrorism cases was investigated using data provided by the Metropolitan Police and Crown Prosecution Service. This article addresses the following questions: (1) What are the types of evidence used in the prosecution of terrorism cases in Britain between 1972 and 2008? (2) Are there differences between the evidence used against Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Al-Qaeda inspired (AQI) suspects? (3) To what extent do type and amount of evidence influence the conviction and corresponding sentence length in terrorism cases in Britain? To date, no studies have investigated the relationship between evidence and sentence length, or determined relative evidential values (for the purpose of this research, evidential value is defined as the importance and value of that evidence in arriving at a conviction and corresponding sentencing length). 82 IRA suspects and 52 AQI suspects were chosen. Categories of forensic evidence were used to analyse these cases, using logistic and linear regressions to demonstrate the difference between the forensic evidence used in both subcategories of terrorism cases, as well as the relationship between the categories of evidence and sentence length. Ballistics evidence was characteristic of IRA terrorist cases, whereas digital and document evidence was characteristic of AQI cases. The type of forensic chemical evidence differed depending upon the subcategory of terrorist responsible. A significant relationship was found between human biological evidence, ballistics, chemical and real evidence (real evidence is the legal term for the presentation of objects as they are, for example a knife found upon a person Tapper, 2010) and sentence length corresponding to charge severity, allowing evidential value to be inferred. The findings from this study can be used by law enforcement to understand what types of evidence may be found and their corresponding evidential value.

Journal Article.  5722 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Policing

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