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I have a friend, Pete, who is a retired Scenes of Crime Officer and he is always very entertaining whenever we share a pint together.

It is a challenging, eminently varied and often very shocking job and as he says, makes him despair of human nature at times. However in all his years actually doing the job he never wavered and had a distinct sense that his role did make a difference too many people’s lives when affected by crime.

One story I remember particularly sounds a little like something from Miss Marple in its simplicity and I recount it here as I think there is probably a moral in its telling.

One afternoon Pete was called to a burglary which had occurred in a typical suburban house owned by two elderly sisters. They had both gone shopping and an intruder had broken the stained glass window next to the front door and easily made his way into the property. This kind of crime used to be very common in the past before people got wise to the security lapse these panels caused in their homes.

When they arrived back, the front door was open and they were immediately alerted to the fact there was something very wrong. Obviously the police were called and Pete arrived and having dusted for fingerprints knew that it was highly unlikely anything could be done to help the sisters.

They were very stoic and in a typical old fashioned English manner begged him to sit, drink tea and eat some of their homemade cake. Pete said he felt really guilty as he sat making polite conversation with these very decent and mild mannered women and so wished there was something he could do to help but knew there was little chance of finding the thief. Unlike a scene from a fast paced crime fiction thriller, tea in bone china cups and saucers washed down with a slice of ginger cake was never going to cut it as a blockbusting scene!
Anyway, time passed and Pete asked if he could possibly ‘avail himself of the facilities’ and have what is now called ‘a comfort break’. The sisters showed him the toilet situated at the top of the stairs and he went inside. Immediately he saw the seat on the toilet had been lifted. ‘Hmm’ he thought to himself, this is highly unusual seeing as there are just two women in the house.

Leaving his own needs aside he went back for his case and dusted the underside of the seat for prints. As he thought, the burglar had removed his gloves in his haste to relieve himself and there was a full set of fingerprints perfectly preserved for all to see.

I liked this story because it also had a very positive outcome as said intruder was known to the local constabulary and soon apprehended. I have always wished I could make use of this tale but when you are writing fast paced contemporary crime fiction it’s hard to find space. Instead, I thought to give it an outing on my blog creating a mental diversion from the latest chapter in my new novel, The Unwanted. Here in the conflict of organised crime forensics does get brushed aside by the action and unorthodox behaviour of Sean Fagan the protagonist, but in the end it is the hard edge detail of policing which puts the villains behind bars.