15 11 / 2012

Nuclear Meltdown at the Met

Part 1 of an analysis of the Reichenbach Fall. An introduction to policing in the UK, consulting detectives and why the fallout from TRF for the Metropolitan Police will be catastrophic. 


I examine:

  • Why Sherlock is not the only consulting detective in the world (sorry fan girls)
  • Why Sherlock was never supposed to be working on crime scenes with Lestrade
  • How Lestrade has set the Met police up for a enormous scandal after the fall

 

Part 2 - available here

Not the Only Consulting Detective in the World

Assuming that Sherlock takes place in the real world of modern day London, there are some police procedures I would like to point out.

Police in the UK do officially hire consulting detectives (but they are simply called “consultants”). Sherlock is definitely not the only consulting detective in the world; the Met Police have been using them for years. Although, don’t go away thinking there’s a consulting detective in every police station. They are infrequently used and rarely, if ever, mentioned in the media.

 Sherlock is definitely a unique kind of consulting detective given his approach to crime solving. Most consultant detectives are retired police officers rather than civilians and have experience with police procedures. The police do not hire amateurs and they also don’t like to hire outsiders. Consulting detectives are expected to work as part of the police force and take commands from the team leader which may be an Inspector or a Sergeant. They certainly have to work strictly according to police procedures. In return they are granted access to police files, evidence and given a limited amount of legal authority, including sometimes the right to question suspects.


Consulting detectives need a massive amount of paperwork and high level official clearance. They are diligently screened and have to pass many security checks (not just the lacklustre criminal records check every employee gets upon starting a job with kids, the elderly or animals). If they weren’t screened so thoroughly any criminal can walk off the street and into a police investigation.

Private investigators by contrast have no special access to police information and they have no legal authority above that of a private citizen. Also some PIs have no experience with police procedures, which makes them unlikely candidate to ever be hired as consulting detectives. The evidence gathered by a PI will usually not be admissible in court if they haven’t done so through strictly legal channels.  

Please note - private investigator and consulting detective are not protected terms. Anyone can self-style themselves as either of these titles, regardless of what official authority they have. Sherlock can legal be a consulting detective without any police clearance.

The police procedure is all about making sure the evidence gathered is able to gain a legal conviction in a fair trial. There is no point finding out the culprit if you cannot make sure he/she is legally convicted for something. To qualify police officers have to undergo a long, gruelling training as well as examinations, screening and psychological assessments because their job is incredibly demanding.

A consulting detective must be someone of at least the same calibre with the same knowledge of police procedure and the law.

Consulting detectives are usually only employed for specific cases where expertise is needed in one particular field or when extra detective manpower is needed in high profile cases. They need high level approval or at least high level acknowledgement: not just Chief Inspector level, Superintendent level as well (depending on the force). This is because: firstly, consulting detectives cost quite a lot of money and the police budget has just been slashed. Secondly and more importantly, these consulting detectives are about to be let loose on a police investigation, their actions, intentionally or otherwise can easily compromise and cripple the entire investigation. For example if they make a mistake with the police procedures, the entire case will be dismissed by the Crown Prosecution Service. They also have nominal access to a huge amount of sensitive police data and are well place to sabotage any investigation.

The use of consulting detectives is tenuous at the best of times. Political masters and police commissioners do not like to see the police force calling for outside help. The public would understandably lose confidence in the police force if they ever found out an investigation was compromised because of a consulting detective’s actions. There would be an independent enquiry at least and possible some sort of political fallout too.

 

“You Bloody Idiot”

 

Was Sherlock ever an official consulting detective?

I think not. When Sally and Anderson informed the Chief Inspector (who is apparently not called Gregson) about Sherlock’s activities, he was shocked by this revelation. He clearly did not know exactly what Sherlock had been doing for his team or the full extent of the clearance and access Sherlock been given.


(Side note - The Chief Inspector’s actual rank. As a CID Lestrade’s boss doesn’t wear uniform so we can’t read the rank bars. However as he appears to be DI Lestrade’s direct superior I always assumed he’s the Chief Inspector rather than Superintendent. Does BBC Sherlock ever mention this person’s position?)

Sherlock does not follow police procedure, he wilfully contaminated crime scenes, withholds evidence and interrogates suspects in an unprofessional manner. He would not get official approval from the higher uppers. Additionally Sherlock would not pass any of the security checks needed if he did have a past history of any documented criminal activity (i.e. drugs). Lestrade is a seasoned detective, he knows Sherlock is not going to get approval from the top brass. It is unlikely he ever tried to get Sherlock official clearance.

The Chief Inspector is absolutely furious at Lestrade and for good reason. By omitting to inform his superior about Sherlock’s work, what Lestrade has done is not just against the police procedure but also highly illegal. This has compromised the integrity of the entire police division and if made public it will be a scandal of catastrophic proportions. It might not top the New of the World scandal regarding the newspaper bribing police officers for information, but it will be pretty epic given how famous Sherlock is. 

Lestrade gave Sherlock unprecedented access to crime scenes and evidence in many different high profile investigations without clearing this with his direct superior. As a DI Lestrade can choose/appoint consulting detectives but he requires official approval (and checks) before inducting them into his team. He clearly hasn’t legalised Sherlock’s position and from the way Sherlock behaves on his crime scenes, hasn’t been able to enforce police procedures properly either. Legally, every crime scene Sherlock has ever visited is contaminated, the evidence obtained from which is should not be admissible in court (but this depends on the actual judge).

All the criminals who have been legally convicted due to the results of these investigations now have strong grounds for appeal. If this information is made public, the Crown Prosecution Service is about to be mired with this scandal despite the fact that they were genuinely unaware of the facts. The criminal courts are about to be buried under a flurry of appeals from criminals who are genuinely guilty but now have (quite a good chance) to get their convictions overturned and then compensated for their time in prison.

I am not questioning Sherlock’s capacity to be a good detective, I am pointing out that Lestrade has set his entire police division up for the scandal of the century even before the media called Sherlock a fraud. 

 

The Evolution of a Quagmire

Lestrade appears to be a very pragmatic policeman who believes that the end justifies the means. He quiet rightly understands that Sherlock’s genius and expertise are exactly what the Met CID needs to solve those gruesome crimes. He’s not afraid to admit his own limitations and to accept that in terms of detection Sherlock Holmes has no equal.

However Sherlock, as I’ve said before, is never going to get clearance to become an official consulting detective even if he doesn’t want to be paid. It is not because the police generally dislike outsiders; it is because Sherlock has no respect for police procedure. He only cares about solving the case, not getting a criminal conviction.  His barely disguised contempt for the police is not going to do him any favours at interview (and yes the police do interview potential consultants). He has also has no inclination work as a member of CID team under the command of the DI. As an official consulting detective his performance should (and would) be monitored by the division. Even if Sherlock does pass the primary screening, there is no way he would be able to continue holding the post given his current behaviour…unless Big Brother steps in?

An Informal Arrangement

At this point Mycroft looms ominously in the background and I definitely need to discuss his hand in all of this.

 Lestrade clearly does take orders from Mycroft as we see in THoB. Mycroft may be able to actually get Sherlock approved as an official consulting detective from the Met but why would he bother?

Sherlock and Lestrade’s arrangement is informal and illegal but no one has ever questioned it. Mycroft might have ensured no one questioned it. They have evidently got by without any fuss for several years.

As an official consulting detective, Sherlock would be subjected to all sorts of constraints and scrutiny when he is on an active case (not much scope of coming and going as you please because you are delegated tasks). He’d also, heavens forbid, have to fill in tedious paperwork. Sherlock is not the most patient or tolerant of people, faced with these constraints he would definitely create a nice dramatic scene and then stalk off to do what he wanted regardless. This quite informal arrangement is beneficial to both parties and definitely beneficial to Mycroft.

There is not enough evidence to speculated whether Mycroft set Lestrade and Sherlock up in the first place but whatever happened, Sherlock and Lestrade ended up exactly where Mycroft wanted them. Informal crime solving keeps his younger brother out of trouble (and stimulated) but still retains the illusion of freedom that Sherlock craves. DI Lestrade is placed in a “malleable” position because Lestrade has wilfully flaunted police rules and the law in allowing Sherlock onto his crime scenes and Mycroft is privy to all the details.

Mycroft is the one person who can make or break Lestrade’s career. In Lestrade, Mycroft may or may not have found a kindred spirit but he definitely found a compliant helper to keep an eye on Sherlock; a helper who is willing to cut short his holiday in Florida at Mycroft’s whim.

Throughout years Lestrade has developed ways to work around Sherlock’s particularities and make sure that he records the information that Sherlock gives him merely as tip/leads rather than information gathered through examination of the crime scene (which is where Sherlock has been trampling). These tips/leads inevitably end up being proven true by the evidence; the culprit is caught and confesses (probably after Sherlock has unofficially destroyed their psyche), everyone is happy. This all works to the public’s advantage as dangerous criminals are hauled off the street and Lestrade’s division gets a glowing record.

I don’t think Lestrade is doing this for selfish reasons, I believe he’s putting the interests of the public before police protocol. Whether this is right or wrong you can decide. 

All that Publicity and No one realised?

Sherlock has been in the papers in connection with Lestrade’s cases. However we don’t know what information the police have actually given the papers about the extent of Sherlock’s involvement. Firstly, they do not like to publicize the use of consulting detectives, it makes them look incompetent. Secondly, most of the information about police investigations is never released to the public because there is usually ongoing legal proceedings that might be jeopardised. This is why the law courts and the police find it so hard to cope with high profile media cases, where all the details spill out into the news before they can control the damage.

It is much more likely that Sherlock is portrayed as a private investigator who gave the police important/vital leads in cases. This is perfectly legal and commonly occurs. The police rely on leads, tips and information volunteered from the public. A private investigator is effectively a member of the public; they are not employed by the police and are not privy to the police investigation. If they choose to volunteer information to the police it is merely the act of a concerned private citizen doing their civic duty. Information sharing in this situation does not go two ways. The police would never inform a member of the public about the detailed proceedings of a criminal case or what they plan to do next.

Even if Sherlock is called a “consulting detective” by the papers, had the Chief Inspector seen this, he would assume it was self-styled and not official, given that he’s never been informed about this “Sherlock Holmes”.

Additionally in the press conference at Scotland Yard, Sherlock is merely thanked for making invaluable contribution to the case. No one mentioned he was ever present at the crime scene, interrogated suspects or engaged in any other police work without proper clearance. He is being honoured for being a good private citizen doing his civic duty by giving information to the police, not solving their murders for them.

I imagine the Chief Inspector, being the self absorb man he is, is vaguely aware of Sherlock’s existence but merely dismisses him as unimportant. He definitely did not see the bombshell regarding Sherlock’s actual role in the CID coming.

As for DI Dimmock and the unnamed detective in ASIB, they would have no reason to believe that Sherlock wasn’t an official consulting detective. As I said before it’s not unheard of to have a consulting detective on the team.  No sane policeman would dream that Lestrade, the respected DI, had allowed a completely unauthorised private citizen to run amok through so many crime scenes and investigations.

DI Dimmock evidently “inherited” the Eddy Vancoon case from Lestrade. Sherlock expected Lestrade to be the investigating DI because the case is patently within Lestrade’s jurisdiction. As Dimmock already knows exactly who Sherlock is on their first meeting, I imagine Lestrade has already briefed Dimmock.

It is not necessarily easy for anyone to discover whether Sherlock was official or not. From first hand accounts: personnel files in the Met are strictly confidential and can only be access by the designated HR people. Dimmock/another DI needs to start a police investigation into Sherlock before they can access his personal file (if he had one). You cannot just log into a database and gain information about every detective currently employed by the Met

 DI Dimmock, as much as he dislikes Sherlock from the get go, managed to swallow his pride and work with Sherlock. He isn’t present when Sherlock examines the body; Dimmock evidently expects what every other police officer would:  a consulting detective is acting strictly according to police procedure. This is an oversight on Dimmock’s part and he should really have checked that Lestrade had all of Sherlock’s papers in order but people very good at not seeing things they don’t want to. 


I discuss the rest of Lestrade’s team particularly Sally and Anderson in Part 2.

It would not do these characters justice to write off their hatred of as simply petty jealousy. I believe that there is a much more complex set of reasons for their unprofessional relationship with Sherlock. 

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