Witness Evidence

Witness Evidence in Forensic Fire Investigations

Importance of Witness Evidence

  • A critical component of any forensic fire investigation is the collection and analysis of witness evidence.
  • Witnesses can provide crucial information about the circumstances, timing, and possible causes of a fire event.
  • Remember, anyone could be a witness and could provide critical information, including bystanders, the property owner, fire and emergency service personnel, and even identified suspects.

Types of Witness Evidence

  • Witness evidence can come in varying types, such as verbal testimony, physical demonstrations, or in the form of written statements.
  • Evidence could include a description of unusual sounds, sights or smells before, during or after the fire, or observations about people, vehicles or activities near the fire scene.
  • It’s vital to remember that the reliability of evidence can vary greatly between different witnesses.

Questioning Techniques and Witness Interviews

  • When obtaining witness evidence, an investigator must be thorough, patient, empathetic, and non-confrontational. A good questioning technique can make a witness feel at ease, helping them provide accurate information.
  • The investigator must frame questions in a non-leading manner to obtain unbiased evidence. For instance, instead of asking ‘Could you see the flames?’, it may be better to ask, ‘Can you describe what you saw?’
  • Witness interviews should be conducted as soon as possible after the incident when memories are the most accurate.

Recording and Preservation of Witness Evidence

  • It’s vitally important to record witness evidence accurately and meticulously. This can be in the form of recorded interviews, signed written statements, or detailed investigator notes.
  • The evidence must be preserved following the correct legal protocols to ensure its admissibility in court.

Challenges with Witness Evidence

  • Unlike physical evidence, witness evidence can be inconsistent due to memory lapses, differing perceptions, or personal biases.
  • Some witnesses might provide false or misleading information intentionally. The ability to assess the credibility of a witness is an essential skill for investigators.
  • The principle of corroboration, which involves using other evidence sources to confirm the details provided by a witness, is often used to overcome these issues.

Impact of Witness Evidence on an Investigation

  • Combined with physical and scientific evidence, witness evidence can lead an investigator towards understanding the scene dynamics, establishing a fire timeline, and identifying the potential cause of the fire.
  • Strong witness testimony can greatly impact legal proceedings, enhancing the quality and strength of a prosecution or defence case.