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Disclosure Manual: Chapter 31 - Cases Using Holmes

Refreshed: 21 October 2021|Legal Guidance

Introduction

The Home Office Large Major Enquiry System (Holmes) is a computer database that has been designed to aid the investigation into large-scale enquiries. It can be used by the police to collate and subsequently cross reference all information gathered in a major investigation.

The system is cloud based and allows a number of users to input, update and access information at the same time. All police forces in the United Kingdom use Holmes and have the ability to link incidents to share information or conduct a joint investigation, although not all forces use it for all major crime.

Holmes has been created so that it can cater for investigations of varying size and complexity. The roles performed by staff will therefore vary, and on smaller investigations people may undertake more than one role (whereas on a very large enquiry, a team of people may be needed for the same function).

All information will be recorded and entered into the incident room as source documentation. Staff will assess this information and decide on what action should be taken in line with the officer in charge of investigation's policy. Staff will also assess what information should be cross-referenced and indexed so that it can be easily researched and retrieved.

Holmes has a number of indices, management tools, document storage, search tools and a customised disclosure facility. The same principles apply to disclosure as in any other case. Once the disclosure officer has made an assessment of sensitive and non-sensitive items and whether they meet the disclosure test, Holmes can automatically list and generate the items onto the relevant schedules.

It is inappropriate to allow the defence direct access to Holmes because of its ability to cross-reference sensitive and non-sensitive material.

Disclosure officers

The disclosure officer will be an integral part of the Major Incident Team and the individual appointed must have completed training in disclosure and the specific Holmes disclosure facility. The officer in charge of the investigation must provide support and supervision and ensure that the disclosure officer has sufficient skills and authority commensurate with the complexity of the investigation to discharge their functions effectively, using Holmes.

By their nature, Holmes enquiries are likely to generate a vast amount of documentation. A disclosure officer should be appointed at the beginning of the enquiry so that they are aware of all aspects of the case and can start to assess the material.

The disclosure officer and Holmes documents

The Holmes disclosure facility has been designed so that the disclosure officer will have to consider all source material for disclosure purposes. The source material is registered with a unique identifier that shows the document type and each item will have a number that is unique to that material type. For example, actions will be numbered A1, A2, whereas interview records will be recorded as Y1, Y2 etc. The unique letter used for each document type is shown in brackets:

  • Actions (A)
  • Electronic Messages (EM)
  • Electronic Transmissions (T)
  • Exhibits (X)
  • Forensic Submissions (HOL)
  • House to house (H)
  • Interviews (Y)
  • Messages (M)
  • Other Documents (D)
  • Officers' Reports (R)
  • Personal Descriptive Forms (P)
  • Quick Documents (QD)
  • Questionnaires (Q)
  • Statements (S)
  • Intelligence Reports (Z).

The printed schedules produced from the system will show each item with its unique reference number. The pages will be numbered consecutively and the schedule will be date and time stamped.

The indices are a working tool of the investigation and contain information drawn from the source documentation. Indices do not have to be considered for disclosure because they have no independent significance or bearing on the case. All information entered onto an index must, therefore be sourced to a document. The indices are categories; digital communications; location; nominal; organisation; sequence of events; telephone, and vehicle. The index records will contain cross-references from a mixture of non-sensitive and sensitive records and there is no facility to redact the index records on screen.

Submission

The disclosure officer should aim to submit the schedules with the file, but in a major enquiry this may not be possible due to the volume of unused material. The arrest and post charge stage of the investigation may raise new lines of enquiry as a result of the interviews, forensic possibilities, telephone examinations, etc.

The prosecutor should be informed of the volume of unused material and this should be revealed in phases within agreed time scales. It is important to enter a dialogue with the prosecutor and explain the nature and extent of any problem as it arises, to reach an agreement, and keep each other fully informed.

Holmes facilitates the phased approach and will record all actions raised, together with how they were completed. Unused material that is ready at the approach of the initial disclosure time limit will be served as phase one. The disclosure officer should update the 'phase' field to ensure that any additional material will automatically be served to the prosecutor in the next phase. Thereafter, a timescale for the delivery of subsequent phases should be agreed.

Assessing the material

The disclosure officer should refer to the earlier chapters of this manual for detailed guidance on how to schedule items of material. Holmes requires the user to select from the following options:

  • Non-sensitive
  • Sensitive can be edited
  • Sensitive
  • Highly sensitive.

This material is recorded automatically onto the relevant MG6C or D.

Routine redaction of irrelevant personal data should be carried out in the normal way and the item should be listed on the non-sensitive schedule. Redaction of material which is CPIA sensitive should ordinarily be made after consultation between the disclosure officer and the prosecutor. Where the intention is to redact paragraphs or passages containing sensitive material other than personal details from a report etc, the disclosure officer should consider placing this material on both schedules.

When instructed to do so, Holmes removes highly sensitive material from all schedules. A separate highly sensitive schedule will need to be created (following Chapter 9) by the disclosure officer. Holmes has the functionality to allow for the creation of a highly sensitive schedule, which remains under the control of the disclosure officer (or deputy).

Selecting any of the sensitive options will require the disclosure officer to select one or more of the PII examples in paragraph 6.14 of the CPIA Code of Practice.

The MG6E

Holmes is automated so that if the disclosure officer selects any of the options in 7.4 of the Code of Practice, a field will appear to be completed to explain why this material meets the disclosure test and needs to be brought to the attention of the prosecutor.

Record of first description – this material falls within the category of material likely to meet the test for disclosure and should therefore be routinely revealed to the prosecutor. However, these will usually form part of the prosecution case if admissible e.g. as a previous consistent statement by the identifying witness. Where not consistent, records of first description will satisfy the disclosure test and should be revealed to the prosecutor. Unless the disclosure officer is sure that it is not the first record, he or she should treat all descriptions as if they are. Descriptions of suspects are likely to be recorded on:

  • rough paper at the scene;
  • pocketbooks;
  • crime reports;
  • MIR messages;
  • statements;
  • command and control incidents.

The description itself could be scheduled as non-sensitive, part sensitive, sensitive or highly sensitive.

Information provided by the accused – In the majority of cases, the information provided by the accused will be evidence, as it will normally consist of the accused's interview records, or conversations made on arrest, or in transit. Interview records that do not form part of the evidence also fall within the category of material which is likely to meet the test for disclosure.

Material casting doubt on the reliability of a confession - This category covers any material that tends to show that the confession may be unreliable. Examples may include psychiatric reports, forensic or pathology that is inconsistent with the confession and material suggesting there have been breaches of PACE.

Material casting doubt on the credibility and reliability of a witness falls within the categories of material likely to meet the test for disclosure. This covers any material that is detrimental to the witness, such as witnesses' previous convictions or rewards. If a witness has received or sought a reward, either directly or indirectly, this might satisfy the disclosure test and should be brought to the attention of the prosecutor via the MG6E.

The disclosure officer should be objective and fair and think from the defence point of view. It does not have to be a case breaking point: the defence may want to put small pieces of evidence together that might place doubt in the jury's mind.

It is advisable to start the scheduling process as soon as the enquiry commences, to cope with the large volume of material generated.

Holmes is used in many enquiries where the identity of the offender is not known. It may be impossible to make a definite decision as to whether some material may satisfy the disclosure test or not in the early stages. In particular, information reports naming the person responsible may or may not be accurate. It is not uncommon to have a number of information reports each naming different suspects for the same offence. In this situation, the disclosure officer should describe the material, show its location and sensitivity, and apply any notes, before selecting the 'requires re-assessment' option. This will record the initial assessment but it will not move the record through to the next queue state, instead it will remain as 'ready for assessment'. Once the identity of the offender is known, the disclosure officer should be in a position to re-assess this material by conducting a search to retrieve all material dealt with in this way.

Block entries

In some enquiries, it may not be practicable to list each item of material separately as there may be many items of a similar or repetitive nature. These may be listed in block and described by quantity and generic title. Guidance on block entries relating to digital material is set out above in Chapter 30.

The disclosure officer should be aware of block entries from the beginning so that material can be added to a block until they are ready to be produced. The facility can be used to group material of a similar type together, such as a block of actions or documents, or it can create a group of mixed documents, e.g. actions and documents around a specific theme.

It is important to remember that nothing should be added to a block entry once it has been submitted on a schedule. If additional material comes to notice, the disclosure officer should start a new block entry and submit this via another phase. Disclosure officers need to ensure that they use this facility properly and only group together material that would have no added value if scheduled individually. Material that satisfies the disclosure test should be scheduled individually.

Block entries should be used for all material types. If the disclosure officer is not sure whether it would be appropriate to create a particular block for a case they should speak to the prosecutor and explain how they propose to describe certain material.

There are many examples of block entries, such as:

  • 2487 actions raised to obtain DNA swabs from individuals where in each case the swabs were taken and submitted for analysis;
  • 267 actions raised to obtain statements from people seen on Operation X. In each case the action result is recorded as statement and Personal Descriptive Form taken. No other information given. Each of the documents taken have been considered for disclosure and listed on the appropriate schedules;
  • Examples might include, where a car is seen near to the murder scene and a partial registration number is taken, a VODS check may generate 400 actions. These actions may eventually be written off if the user of the vehicle is traced and eliminated or in a hi-jacking case where boarding cards have been created as other document or PNC print outs of vehicles parked in vicinity of scene. Print outs obtained and submitted into incident room as OD's Exhibits are listed and scheduled in their own right. There is no need to list copy exhibits that have been created as other documents on the schedule as well. Eventually, blocks may be assessed as not relevant, removing it from the schedule and leaving just that which is relevant.

House-to-house material

House-to-house material is the only document type where the unique reference number is not generated by the system. The officer in charge of investigation for each incident has to decide whether the house-to-house material will be registered onto the Holmes system. Either the disclosure officer or a deputy should examine each item of material and any that satisfy the disclosure test should be scheduled individually. The remaining material can normally be submitted as a block entry and should be described so that it is clear where the house to house has taken place.

Correspondence with the CPS

Correspondence or advice between the CPS and the police should not ordinarily be listed on either schedule unless the correspondence itself meets the test for disclosure.

Linked incidents

There may be a number of forces involved, and it is recommended that each lead investigator sign a disclosure agreement between investigators to establish the lead investigator and disclosure roles. Where local templates are available, they should be used.

Consideration of the defence statement and continuing review

By their nature, many Holmes investigations will cover a vast amount of material and therefore the initial schedules are likely to be large and may run into a number of volumes. In view of this, once a defence statement is served, Holmes will generate a new MG6C and MG6D of only the material that has been identified by the disclosure officer as satisfying the test for disclosure (once the disclosure officer has assessed the unused material again). The MG6E in response to the defence statement will refer to these mini schedules.

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