Using officers to identify unknown suspects

17 July 2019

Not reviewed after the date of publication


We have a database of suspects within the force and have a particular officer who knows a lot of people in the local area. Can we email the officer and ask him to view a particular suspect image on the database (without any further information that may affect his response, such as where the person may live), in order to try to identify the suspect?


You are able to ask the officer to view a suspect image with a view to making an identification, however in order for any identification to amount to admissible recognition evidence, the identification should be done following the guidelines in place for 'Part B' viewing procedures.

The guidelines for Part B identifications (controlled viewing of CCTV, video or images for recognition) can be found at paragraph 3.34 of PACE Code of Practice D onwards.

Paragraph 3.34 applies when, for the purposes of obtaining evidence of recognition, arrangements are made for a person, including a police officer who is not an eye-witness:

'(a) to view a film, photograph or any other visual medium; and
(b) on the occasion of the viewing, to be asked whether they recognise anyone whose image is shown in the material as someone who is known to them'.

Furthermore, paragraph 3.35 expands on this and states that:

'To provide safeguards against mistaken recognition and to avoid any possibility of collusion, on the occasion of the viewing, the arrangements should ensure:

(a) that the films, photographs and other images are shown on an individual basis;
(b) that any person who views the material;

(i) is unable to communicate with any other individual to whom the material has been, or is to be, shown;
(ii) is not reminded of, any photograph or description of any individual whose image is shown or given any other indication as to the identity of any such individual;
(iii) is not be told whether a previous witness has recognised any one;

(c) that immediately before a person views the material, they are told that:

(i) an individual who is known to them may, or may not, appear in the material they are shown and that if they do not recognise anyone, they should say so;
(ii) at any point, they may ask to see a particular part of the material frozen for them to study and there is no limit on how many times they can view the whole or any part or parts of the material; and

(d) that the person who views the material is not asked to make any decision as to whether they recognise anyone whose image they have seen as someone known to them until they have seen the whole of the material at least twice, unless the officer in charge of the viewing decides that because of the number of images the person has been invited to view, it would not be reasonable to ask them to view the whole of the material for a second time. A record of this decision must be included in the record that is made in accordance with paragraph 3.36'

Additionally, the Code further provides:

'3.36 A record of the circumstances and conditions under which the person is given an opportunity to recognise an individual must be made and the record must include:

(a) Whether the person knew or was given information concerning the name or identity of any suspect.
(b) What the person has been told before the viewing about the offence, the person(s) depicted in the images or the offender and by whom.
(c) How and by whom the witness was asked to view the image or look at the individual.
(d) Whether the viewing was alone or with others and if with others, the reason for it.
(e) The arrangements under which the person viewed the film or saw the individual and by whom those arrangements were made.
(f) subject to paragraph 2.18, the name and rank of the officer responsible for deciding that the viewing arrangements should be made in accordance with this Part;
(g) The date time and place images were viewed or further viewed or the individual was seen.
(h) The times between which the images were viewed or the individual was seen.
(i) How the viewing of images or sighting of the individual was controlled and by whom.
(j) Whether the person was familiar with the location shown in any images or the place where they saw the individual and if so, why.
(k) Whether or not on this occasion, the person claims to recognise any image shown, or any individual seen, as being someone known to them, and if they do:

(i) the reason;
(ii) the words of recognition;
(iii) any expressions of doubt; and
(iv) what features of the image or the individual triggered the recognition.

3.37 The record required under paragraph 3.36 may be made by the person who views the image or sees the individual and makes the recognition; and if applicable, by the officer or police staff in charge of showing the images to that person or in charge of the conditions under which that person sees the individual. The person must be asked to read and check the completed record and as applicable, confirm that it is correctly and accurately reflects the part they played in the viewing'

The procedure should be conducted either by an Inspector or by a person who is acting on their behalf, such as a delegated identification officer – however it is extremely important that the conducting officer is always independent of the investigation taking place.

Conducting such viewings using an independent officer in the identification environment increases the integrity of the evidence, as any potential identification will have been done in a controlled environment, rather than for example – in an office environment, which may allow the defence to argue that an identification has been 'compromised'.

R v Deakin (2012) is an example of a case where the above procedures were not adhered to. In this case an identification was ruled as inadmissible and ultimately, rendered the conviction unsafe at appeal.

Practically there are also many benefits in ensuring viewings are conducted in line with the above guidelines, as this potentially allows for an 'unknown' suspect to be turned into a 'known' suspect.

However, to note – it is recommended that if a suspect is already 'known', so far as possible the principles for video identification regarding 'known' suspects should be followed (although we do appreciate that this is not necessarily always practical in certain circumstances).

Alternatively, if a Part B viewing is not conducted with the officer, and the officer merely views the image and provides the suspect name, this would only amount to a further line of enquiry for the officer to pursue and would not amount to recognition evidence for use at court. Should a suspect be arrested and ID become an issue, we believe that this would then trigger a formal controlled Part B viewing to be organised with the officer in order to obtain admissible identification evidence.

Ultimately any challenge to the admissibility of the evidence would be for the courts to decide.

The below link may also be of interest to you:

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