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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 September 2007, 18:21 GMT 19:21 UK
The long, complex road to justice
By Julian Joyce
BBC News

Are the police really bogged down in red tape as the chief inspector of constabulary suggests?

In this hypothetical crime, a handbag has been snatched in a busy street and the thief is caught. What police procedures have to be gone through - and how much paperwork is really involved?

In this case, a witness dials 999. Two officers who are patrolling the area chase down the robber and arrest him.

Police compare evidence
Arresting a suspect can involve days of red tape
You might think that was the end of the story: an open-and-shut case with plenty of witnesses and an offender in custody. Plus, he is still clutching a stolen bag.

But the arrest is just the start of a lengthy spool of "red tape": more than 40 separate procedures need to be followed, and more 30 separate forms need to be filled in.

And dozens of police officers, lawyers and police support staff are involved in making sure this one - seemingly simple - case goes to trial.

Here is that procedure in full - as outlined by a serving police officer in Dorset. In more complicated cases the chain is much longer...


  • The suspect is taken to police station and is booked into custody by the custody sergeant. He is read his rights. All this is recorded on the custody form on a computer

  • A risk assessment form is filled out. This contains whether the suspect is on medication, whether he needs to see a doctor etc

  • Authorisation is usually needed from an inspector to search a home address

  • While the suspect is in custody, officers check him every 30 minutes and record this on the handwritten custody log. They also note his mealtimes and whether he has been taken out of his cell to be interviewed

  • The arresting officer meets the suspect's solicitor to brief him on the alleged offence. The meeting is recorded on the custody form


  • Meanwhile the witnesses at the scene are interviewed. A full statement is taken from the victim. The officers write these details into the Incident Report Book. This needs to be date and time stamped

  • Back at the station the arresting officer now fills out a crime report. This contains details of the crime, victim and the Home Office crime classification number. Also included is a disposal code. This indicates whether the suspect has been charged or released

  • Other officers or support staff later check the crime report to make sure the Home Office classification number is correct

  • The arresting officer now fills in another report: the Phoenix document. This records a description of the offender and runs to several pages

  • The officer gives the Phoenix document to another member of staff who inputs the data onto the Police National Computer

    A police cell
    A police custody cell

  • Officers in the Police Control Room have written a separate report of the incident. This details the original 999 call and the response ordered. The report is given an incident number

  • The suspect is interviewed, and this is recorded on tape

  • The stolen handbag is put in the police property store. Details of the bag are recorded on computer

  • If there is going to be a not-guilty plea then the bag will be forensically examined, entailing more forms and results recorded on the PNC


  • Now the suspect is needed to take part in a photographic ID parade so he can be identified by witnesses. The suspect and an inspector fill in a C10 form to record that the suspect has given his consent

  • The suspect's photograph, fingerprints and a DNA swab are taken are taken. A 20-page PROMAT form is filled in. This contains a verbatim record of what is said to the suspect, as well as witness responses to the ID parade

  • New witness statements are also taken if the suspect is identified

  • More photographs are taken for the police records

  • The suspect is then bailed and released. The Custody Sergeant fills out form 47/3 which records the date and time the suspect needs to return to the police station


  • Assuming there were CCTV cameras recording the bag-snatch, an officer seizes the tape as evidence. He signs a form to record the seizure

  • The tape goes into an evidence bag and the officer fills in details of the tape on the bag itself

  • Police make three copies of the CCTV tape: one for them, one for prosecuting lawyers and one for the defence

  • Now the officer begins putting his case together as a series of files: File MG1 (Manual of Guidance 1) records details of offender; the name of the officer in case; the PNC (Police National Computer) ID code which records the race of the suspect and any previous convictions

  • File MG2 contains details of any vulnerable witnesses (this is useful if for witnesses' identities need to be protected later)

  • File MG3 contains a report to the Crown Prosecution Service outlining the case, along with a suggested charge

  • File MG5 has a summary of the crime plus interviews with the witnesses and suspects. It also includes a "short descriptive note" of admissions, denials or mitigating circumstances.

  • File MG6 contains confidential information for the eyes of the prosecuting lawyers only. This might include any possible weaknesses in the case - for instance if one of the witnesses is mentally unstable.

    Woman being filmed by CCTV
    On camera: CCTV evidence is often crucial to the police case

  • File MG10 has details of witness availability for up to year after the offence, in case the trial drags on

  • File MG19 records details of the stolen property and whether it was damaged, so the victim can claim compensation later on

  • Also included in the officer's files are the police control room initial report

  • The master tape record sheet is included among other documents that don't form part of the core evidence such as copies of notes between police officers

  • Lastly, an offender description form is included. This is the description of the suspect first given by the witness who rang 999


  • Assuming the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) lawyer judges that there is a case then he and the officer has a face-to-face meeting to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the police case

  • The lawyer fills out form MG3a. This details the decision whether to charge or not, plus any further investigations that might be needed

  • Two weeks later the suspect is rebooked into custody. Officers re-fill out the custody and risk assessment forms

  • The suspect is re-interviewed and he is shown the CCTV evidence. Just as before the interview tapes are recorded. The suspect is then formally charged with handbag theft and the officer fills out a Charge Sheet

  • The suspect to bailed again -- this time to return to court. An officer fills out a court bail notice

  • The case file goes to the police files unit, where all the evidence is re-read and any further inquiries and procedural documents are obtained

  • The file is reviewed again by the CPS to make sure they nothing has been missed

  • Now, and only now, is the case finally ready to be taken to court


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