On the beat with the civilian detectives in Manchester

They've solved nine out of 10 murders in half the normal time, but not all police officers are happy

In the briefing room on the first floor of Chadderton Police Station, Lancashire, Andy Tattersall addresses his murder squad. The team of 23 sits patiently as "Tat" works through each of the open cases.

"Is that expert witness going to testify?" he asks. "Have we got the forensic results back on the murder weapon in your case?" he demands.

Finally, with a look of grave concern, he asks no-one in particular: "Who is sorting out the Christmas party?"

It is a scene replicated across Britain's murder investigation teams every morning, but the difference with Mr Tattersall's team is that it has no detectives: the entire squad is staffed by civilians.

The Category C Unit is Britain's first, and so far only, murder squad staffed purely by civilian investigators – unwarranted members of police staff with no powers of arrest.

One of eight murder teams in Greater Manchester Police, the unit, as its name suggests, investigates only category C murders, the lowest-level murder cases where alleged offenders may be known to the police.

It has been operational for less than two years, in that time dealing with 33 murders and leading to charges pressed in 28 of them, a detection rate of 85 per cent – higher than the overall Manchester Police rate of 77 per cent.

Some of those cases have been high-profile. Cat C Unit handled the case of Jael Mullings, the 22-year-old mother who fatally stabbed her two infant sons.

And it is currently preparing the case against Martin Forshaw, 26, the police officer accused of murdering his 31-year-old fiancée Claire Howarth, also an officer, and then staging a car crash to make it look like an accident.

The unit prepares the case for court, interviewing witnesses, compiling CCTV and forensic evidence and carrying out house-to-house enquiries, leaving the "real" detectives to concentrate on the more difficult category A and B murders.

The figures suggest it has been a success. Since the unit began its investigations, the average time for a murder to be solved in Manchester has fallen from 65 days in 2007-08 to 33 days this year.

But not everyone is happy. The increase of civilian investigators (CIs) in police forces is a contentious issue in the eyes of some of their colleagues.

The line from the Police Federation, the body that represents England and Wales's constables, sergeants and inspectors, is that only warranted police officers should investigate crime, and that civilians are taking jobs which should be filled by "proper coppers".

But Mr Tattersall dismisses their fears. "We take the weight off the other teams of detectives," he said, "and allow them to concentrate on the more serious cases. We are not replacing anybody."

He stresses that 20 of his 23-strong squad are retired police officers. The three others, who have never held a warrant card, previously worked in the Department for Work and Pensions, police support staff and in a solicitor's office. Mr Tattersall insisted: "Our recruitment criteria is strict. We look for people who have investigative experience, whether that be in the police or another walk of life, and they need knowledge of the legal system."

He was a detective from 1974 until 2007, when he retired aged 52 having investigated more than 200 murders. "Between us our team has hundreds of years of experience," he said. "How many of the people who criticise us have solved as many murders as us?

"At the end of the day it doesn't matter to me that we are not warranted officers and it doesn't matter to the families we deal with. They just want to see justice for their loved ones."

CIs' attraction for forces is their cost-effectiveness. A CI salary is about £24,000, whereas detective constables earn up to £34,000 and detective sergeants can make £40,000. The cost of running the category C unit is 55 per cent of its detective equivalent.

The Police Federation fears that CIs will be used to solve the current shortage of detectives. As revealed in this newspaper last month, there are 5,000 vacancies in CID departments in England and Wales. Many young officers prefer to stay in uniform because of CID's unsociable hours and no overtime.

Simon Reed, the vice-chairman of the Police Federation, criticised Manchester's use of civilian investigators: "They do it because it is much cheaper than investing in CID, which is what forces need to do. Could you imagine if they did this with nurses? Imagine patients were being looked after by retired nurses and people who have never been nurses. Both are skilled jobs, but there doesn't seem to be the same value on the skills detectives have."

He added: "If you take this to its logical conclusion you could civilianise every police job that doesn't require arrest or force and all that police officers will be doing then are things like public order and firearms or kicking people's doors in. That is not the image anyone wants the police to have."

The criticism of the federation has stung members of the unit. Vincent Chadwick, Mr Tattersall's deputy, said: "The Police Federation slags us off and calls us the Dad's Army unit, but the most frustrating thing is they have never visited us, never spoken to us about what we do. I wouldn't mind so much if they came and had a look and decided we were a bad idea." The Metropolitan Police has visited, but says the model is not one it will adopt.

If Police Federation chiefs had visited they would have met Andrea Steadman, 34. She is one of the CIs with no previous police experience. Before joining the unit she worked as a solicitor's personal assistant at the Greater Manchester Probation Service.

Sitting in the incident room (the door of which bears a "Dad's Army" sign, a swipe at detractors), she said: "I was thinking about joining the force then saw an advert. I knew I would get the chance to work on investigations.

"The most memorable moments have been big cases like Mullings and my first case. It was the first time I'd seen a person that had been murdered. It is something you cannot prepare for and obviously never forget."

She added: "You might get some people walking past you in the corridor who stick their noses up or make comments behind your back, but most officers are really supportive."

Martin Rigby, a 49-year-old retired detective who served 18 years in CID, added: "You don't have to be Miss Marple to work out that one of the main reasons we're here is because we are cheaper. But everyone in our unit has the support of the rest of the force.

"They recognise that although, technically, we are civilians we are experienced investigators. It is disingenuous of the Police Federation to give the impression that we are a bunch of milkmen and window cleaners who don't know their arse form their elbow when it comes to solving murders. That's clearly not the case."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable