Play it safe

Every now and then a keen gardener, a developer or a metal detector enthusiast will discover bones during their adventures.

My force, like most forces, will have a protocol for dealing with such incidents as and when they arise.

The idea is to treat any find as a potential scene until it can be determined that it isn't.

Play it safe. Works well.

I'd been in the office towards the end of my shift for an hour or so already. I was catching up on some paperwork, a regular challenge in this line of work, when the phone rang.

It was the control room for the division in which my station is based. This isn't normally the division I cover, just where my station is. I didn't know the controller so the conversation was brief.

"I've got a Sergeant over at Anytown Station who has a bone"

Now, I'm not sure if this was a deliberate play on words or not. In the split second it took me to reply, all sorts of witty comments went through my mind, shall I?

Better not. Play it safe.

"Righto. What's his number, I'll give him a call" I said.

The Sergeant was also a stranger to me, this happens a lot due to the size of my force. Even on the division where I spend most of my time, it's difficult to meet the same Officer more than once. When you do, it's like you've met an old friend!

I've learnt to make friends with the DS's and DI's. These are the people that want to know what I think when I am at a scene. It makes it easier if you are on good terms. Some CSIs I know have feuds with some of the DI's (for good reason) but it doesn't half make it awkward when they get together at a scene.

We can't like everyone, nor expect everyone to like us, we are all human after all.

I rang the Sergeant at Anytown Station and asked him about the job. He told me that this bone had been discovered at an allotment whilst they were turning over the soil.

I've heard that there are waiting lists for allotments that are longer than the waiting list to be in the audience of Top Gear.

Seriously? A shed and some soil?

 "It looks like a child's hip bone" the Sergeant said.

He doesn't want to be saying things like this for two reasons. One, it scares me, and two, it scares the DI in CID.

The Sergeant thought it'd be a good idea to put the bone in a Tesco carrier bag and take it back to Anytown Station in his car. Not a great problem if he knew it wasn't human, but he's told me already he thinks it's a child's hip bone!

I ask a few questions about the allotment and who is guarding the scene. They are rhetorical questions. I know no one is guarding the scene.

They should be.

It turns out that the allotments have been locked up and the owner is aware that we may, at any point, come back and excavate his radishes.

I ask the Sergeant to carefully bring the bone to me at CSI HQ.

"Straight away, CSI Guy." I could hear a quiver in his voice. I think he's just realised that he may actually have the remains of a person on the back seat of his panda in a carrier bag.

Really, the only person who can say whether a bone is human or not is a Forensic Archaeologist. I can have a go, but it'd need confirming.

Some forces have Forensic Archaeologists, some don't. Some are available 24/7, some aren't. It turns out that I had the number for one who was on call 24/7. I gave her a call and asked her if I could send some photos to her to have a look at.

"Go for it CSI Guy, I'll call you straight back."

This sort of service is invaluable. This Archaeologist could get a call from any one of the UK Police forces at any time day or night, to look at a bone. She is always willing to help.

I bet her husband loves her getting up at 0400 to have a look at photos of bones sent by Police Officers. No play on words, honest.

I meet the Sergeant in the car park and lead him to the examination room, he's holding the carrier bag in his hands, palms face up and at arms length.

I've mentioned before how particular I am with my photos. I like them to be right. In the examination room we have use of a copy stand, it's like a table top tripod, but isn't.

The Sergeant puts the carrier bag on the desk next to the copy stand and stands back. I can sense his relief, he's passed it to me now, not his problem.

I prepare my camera, format my memory card and fix the camera to the copy stand.

I put brown paper over the copy stand base, I don't want bones on the copy stand. I put two pairs of gloves on.

I take the bone out of the carrier bag with my right hand, there's a receipt in the bag, Walkers salt and vinegar crisps and a prawn and mayonaise sandwich.

"Not mine!" the Sergeant says.

I smile at him and raise my eyebrows.

I turn the bone around in one hand, looking at each side of it.

It looks like a hip bone to me, it looks odd though, which I hope means that it isn't human.

"I think it's human" I said to the Sergeant.

He went pale and quiet. He used an expletive. I didn't let on then I was having him on.

"Lets photograph it and get it off to the Forensic Archaeologist" I said.

He nodded in agreement. "Play it safe" he said.

It was mean I know, I shouldn't have strung him along like that.

I took a series of photos with and without a scale. I took a photograph of each side, one edge of the bone appeared as if something had damaged it. It was sharp.

The photos took about ten minutes.

During this time, the Sergeant was on the computer in the examination room, using Google to find images of human hip bones.

What would the Police service do without Google? Seriously. I use it a lot. I often use my iPhone to google names of things, locations and postcodes. It's great.

I left the bone on the copy stand. Depending on the reply from the Forensic Archaeologist, will depend on what I do with the bone.

I took my CF card out of the camera and went to the office. The Sergeant stayed in the exam room. I got to the car park and realised he wasn't with me. I walked back to the exam room and he's stood where I left him. I look at him and say "You alright Sarge?"

"Oh, I'm coming with you? Right, of course."

I emailed the photos to the Forensic Archaeologist and within ten minutes she called back.

It's a cow she said. That's the answer we all wanted. I'm sure she was a little disappointed though. Imagine how many photos she studies and how very few of them are bones from humans.

The Sergeant was distracted with his Blackberry. I put the phone down and completed my report on the computer.

I turned and looked at him. He looked up from his phone and smiled. I explained that the phone call was from the Forensic Archaeologist.

"She said it's human"

He put his head in his hands.

"I'm joking, it's a cow!"

He called me every name under the sun. Twice. He shook my hand, said thanks and left.

I'd always reccommend that Officers take extra precautions at jobs like these. It's difficult to backtrack at a later stage. It turned out that there use to be a slaughter house near the allotments and the bones are likely to be from that. It had been chewed by a rat or two over the years. No dramas.

The bone is still on my desk in a window box. I don't want to throw it away. I'll use it at school talks or training inputs.

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