Protecting adults at risk in London: Good practice resource
Investigating adult abuse: Evidence
The standard of proof for police investigations is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. The evidence they gather about an allegation and about the actions of the person alleged to have committed the crime must therefore be robust enough to provide such proof in court. The standard of proof for non-criminal investigations, to support civil actions or disciplinary procedures, is on the ‘balance of probabilities’.
There are four categories of evidence:
- Direct evidence: this is the most important evidence and is what the person experienced themselves by their own account – in court referred to as evidence ‘in chief’.
- Hearsay evidence: evidence of what a person has heard from another person. Hearsay evidence is usually excluded from criminal trials although new rules have been introduced, which allow such evidence to be introduced in certain cases. Hearsay evidence can be used in civil cases or disciplinary hearings.
- Corroborated evidence: evidence that supports the evidence of a person in another way, such as evidence contained in records.
- Circumstantial evidence: evidence that is not based on the facts in question but on other facts that may support the case. For example, evidence of injury immediately following contact with a particular person, or money having gone missing after a visit by a particular person. Circumstantial evidence alone cannot be relied on to convict a person in the absence of other evidence.
Technological and chemical advances have identified many new methods of recovering evidence. Even though something is not immediately apparent to the naked eye, there may still be minute particles or fragments of material that could yield evidence. As a general rule of thumb, if you do not need to touch or move something, then leave it where it is for an expert examination, unless touching or moving things is absolutely necessary - for example, to save a life. The police will respond quickly and all practical steps should be taken to secure the scene of the crime to prevent contamination or removal of evidence. Do not allow any person or animals into the scene and do not attempt to tidy up or clean anything.
Action taken to secure a crime scene and preserve evidence must include preservation of evidence contained in written records, case files and notes, so that these can be referred to in any investigation and cannot be altered after the event. Records and information held by social care and health services may themselves provide useful evidence-gathering opportunities for civil and criminal investigations.
Although adult social care services have the lead responsibility for adults at risk under the No Secrets Guidance (4) and s.47 of the NHS and Community Act 1990, it is the responsibility of the police to conduct the criminal investigation. Information from partner agencies is key to any investigation and it may often be useful for liaison between agencies to take place at an early stage. For example, a social worker accompanying a police officer during some stages of the investigation, such as during evidential interviews.
The Metropolitan Police are committed to ‘total policing’, to cut crime and care for the victims of crime. In adult safeguarding this involves holding perpetrators to account, providing enhanced victim care to vulnerable people and working with partners to safeguard adults at risk.