Database of faces to replace ID parades

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Traditional criminal identification parades, used by the police for decades to help witnesses pick out suspects from a range of lookalikes, are being scrapped in favour of a video system, the Home Office said yesterday.

The use of photographic images as an alternative to live ID parades is seen as a breakthrough in helping victims avoid confrontation with the person who attacked them. It would also save money and police time and prevent thecancellation of parades when suspects did not attend, the Home Office said.

But concerns were voiced that the police's video database of only 8,000 volunteers might not be sufficient.

Roger Bingham, of the human rights group Liberty, said: "We can see the advantages of this idea but there have got to be enough photos to meet a standard of fairness and quality. That is the key issue with live parades."

The Home Office said yesterday that the video-based system would be available as a first option to the 10 police forces with the greatest problems of street robbery, where identification evidence was particularly important.

Video identification can be arranged within hours, whereas the traditional live ID parades might take up to 10 weeks to organise.

An officer from the arresting force will photograph the suspect from the front and side and send the images to West Yorkshire Police, which manages the database. They will send back a selection of images of volunteer members of the public who have the same gender, age group, facial features, skin and hair colour as the suspect.

Suspects will have the right to choose eight faces, likely to be those that they believe most closely resemble themselves.

The suspect's solicitor will also be present when the victim or witness attempts to identify the perpetrator of the offence by viewing each of the faces for 15 seconds at a time.

The Home Office minister Keith Bradley said: "For many years, traditional live identity parades have been open to abuse, with suspects repeatedly failing to show up and holding up the criminal justice process." He said the video system would cut through red tape and save police time. "Instead of taking weeks to organise,officers can now arrange video ID parades while the suspectis still in custody and the incident is fresh in the victim's memory."

The development came as new academic research challenged accepted thinking on the value of evidence from ID parades. Professor Tim Valentine, of Goldsmiths' College, University of London, who analysed more than 600 ID parades, found a delay of several months before identification was not an important factor in successfully picking out an attacker.

Nor was it a difficulty for a witness trying to identify a suspect of a different race, an issue that had previously been thought significant.

But Prof Valentine did find younger people were more successful than older witnesses in picking out a suspect. In his study, he found 48 per cent of witnesses below the age of 20 correctly identified a suspect, compared with 28 per cent of witnesses over the age of 40.

The speed of the decision was also an indication of accuracy, with 87 per cent of witnesses who made a quick decision correctly identifying the suspect.

The video ID system has been piloted in the West Yorkshire, Thames Valley and Greater Manchester police areas and will be extended across England and Wales in the summer.