British police are taught to act fast and use the ‘golden hour’
Stewart Tendler, Crime Correspondent
Last updated at 12:00AM, May 9 2007
They call it the “golden hour” principle, and British detectives learn it from the day they don plain clothes as a CID officer.
Detectives are taught that the first few hours are crucial, because there are fresh clues, alert potential witnesses and the trail is still hot.
Forensic science evidence, such as fingerprints, DNA material and CCTV film, is still available and the first lesson of the national murder manual issued by chief constables spells out that cases are solved by “effective early action”.
Roy Ramm, a former commander in the Metropolitan Police, said that, in reality, it means: “Quick reactions. Believe a serious crime has happened even if the little girl turns up later wandering around with a toy.
“Treat the scene as a crime scene and get an incident room going. Use the goodwill of the public to help you,” he said.
British officers treat a missing child, especially a very young one, with priority. One veteran investigator said a case like the disappearance of Madeleine presents options that she might have been taken for ransom, by someone who wants a child or knows childless parents who are prepared to pay, or by a paedophile.
In Britain police would use the child rescue alert, based on the Amber Alert system pioneered in the United States and established after the murder of Sarah Payne, to use the eyes and ears of the public.
Local radio, television and radio would be asked to broadcast a description of the child and any suspicious vehicle.
One officer said that, unless there was reason to hold back because there was a strong lead, police would go public quickly. “You would get a description out, what the child was last seen wearing and a sketch of any suspect,” he said.
By the next morning detectives would be examining the sex offenders register to see which known paedophiles were living in the area. They would also consult force intelligence files and a national database, which holds details of cases, suspects and patterns of behaviour for paedophile crimes going back to the 1950s.