From Where I Stand - a career in crime scene investigation

From Where I Stand - a career in crime scene investigation

From:  
Gary Howard is a forensic professional and owner of Complete Forensics, a not-for-profit organisation raising training standards in forensic science.

I started Complete Forensics because I thought there was a big gap between the education being delivered by teachers who have not been trained in forensic science, and what the industry required. I looked at it with a critical eye and thought: “I can do better than that” (rightly or wrongly!). There’s a lot of people out there who are teaching forensics and they’ve got no background and no experience whatsoever in an industry that is fighting for compliance and national standards to be adopted, so it just gives a completely false idea of what the job’s about. It’s science, and sometimes, everybody thinks they’re a scientist.

You could say I’m quite experienced. I attended crime scenes for murder, rape and kidnap on a daily basis for over five years. Before that, I dealt with the repatriations from Iraq and Afghanistan involving death.

I attended crime scenes for murder, rape and kidnap on a daily basis for over five years.

My first foray into freelancing took me to the Caribbean. I was a crime scene investigator and the job was to go and help with the crime problem there. I designed and built the Caribbean’s first fingerprint laboratory and was given the responsibility of training their crime scene investigators. I designed the training centre and delivered the courses. It was a fantastic experience.

When you work for yourself you can pick and choose the kind of work you’re taking on; if I’ve got a school event on one day, I can be working on a case the next. That variety means I can be inspired one day by young people, and the next day, try and make sure the evidence fitting a crime is being reported on correctly. It’s what makes freelancing so different and so fulfilling.

No day is ever the same, that’s what gets me up in the morning. There are different kinds of challenges; you’re running your own business, you’re helping victims of crime, you’re inspiring students and seeing their faces light up. There’s no greater thrill than when you see that Eureka moment. Obviously there are distractions too, when working from home it happens a lot.

As far as development of my business goes, I’ve managed to be enrolled on to the Entrepreneurial Spark programme by NatWest, so I get six months of free office space. There’s business mentoring as well, so you can take your business to the next level. I’d recommend it to absolutely anybody. The office space is a co-working environment, so there are all kinds of other freelancers and companies around you in different types of work, there’s a real buzz. It’s very similar to the IPSE-QA Awards where everybody inspires everybody else. They have something called the Piranha Pit – it’s like Dragons Den – where you’re faced with people you’ve never met before. They might be investors, business mentors, whatever, and you pitch your business for them to challenge you on it. I was quite lucky; I was selected to do it yesterday and one of the Piranhas is very high up in the bank and his wife’s a forensic scientist. It went really well. It’s all about networking and putting yourself out there, and finding people who can offer that little bit extra. Or even better, apply for a programme like Entrepreneurial Spark and they’ll help you out.

The way the forensics industry is made up these days, it’s all temporary work – as a case comes in you deal with it, and then you’ll either go and do something else or you go on to another case

I make sure I keep my hand in the actual forensics work though, that’s what gives me authenticity within the education sector. It keeps me current. The way the forensics industry is made up these days, it’s all temporary work – as a case comes in you deal with it, and then you’ll either go and do something else or you go on to another case, depending what happens. You get instructed by a lawyer to look at a case, so there’s a lot of case file reviewing, going over other evidence, finding errors people have made or where things haven’t been checked when they should have been. Just making sure the i’s have been dotted and the t’s have been crossed. 

Adding to the variety are the different skills required in my day-to-day job. There’s a lot of maths, a lot of English, time management – a huge skill you’ve really got to use – and obviously, attention to detail. It’s about following methodology, and making sure that you carry out the procedures to a set standard. But to make sure we’re not biased, we don’t get a lot of information on the case in advance, especially if it’s in the news. We’re given the evidence and they’ll say “try and sort that out, it’s involving such and such”, and that’s it – that’s all they’ll give us.

In my opinion, you really have to be careful when paying attention to the press. Most cases are being reported on but you’ve got to be impartial and you’ve got to look at the facts. It’s really important that if you put your name to something, it’s correct. People just won’t engage with you otherwise.

That’s why the most important things for both my personal brand and that of the company are reliability, accuracy and integrity. I have to maintain those things in order to deliver in the areas we do. Even on social media, you’ve got to be careful about what you put online as people do look at it. You need to use a very critical eye.

If I had one piece of advice for anybody who wants to take the same path as me, it would be follow your dreams and go for it. But seek the advice and help of those that are there around you to help you on your way. Organisations like IPSE and local business mentors present huge value in helping to grow your business.

And finally, try to inspire someone else. If you can inspire one person per day, they’ll inspire you.

www.completeforensics.org