Seeing the unseeable: how viewing crime scene photos can be beneficial

Seeing the unseeable: how viewing crime scene photos can be beneficial


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A forensic photograph featured in the film Unnatural Deaths.
courtesy NSW Police


Kate Rossmanith, Macquarie University; Hugh Dillon, UNSW, and Jane Mowll, UNSW

Forensic photographs are taken by specialists as part of police investigations. These crime-or-accident scene images are included in a brief of evidence, used to prove illegal acts, and to establish how and why a person died. Afterwards, once coronial and criminal processes have concluded, the forensic evidence, including the photos, returns to a notional police archive.

The subjects of police photographs range from the seemingly unremarkable – empty rooms, fences, staircases, windows, pathways, roads, kitchen tables, hallways, plates, cups – through to confronting pictures associated with cases of injury and death: the body at the scene, blood, disfiguring injuries, skin discolouration.

Bereaved families are discouraged by police and other personnel from viewing the images associated with the death of their loved one. Relatives applying for access to the material often find themselves making repeated requests but authorities will routinely refuse them on the grounds that the images will cause them distress.

While this gatekeeping is understandable, a number of social workers are advocating for families to be given a choice to access and view the archived material.

Early research indicates that the experiences of bereaved people are complex and varied. For some victims’ parents, partners, sons, daughters, extended family, and friends, the fact of the death is enough. For others, though, there is a need to see the images in order to piece together the minutiae of the events: the scene; the way their loved one lay; what happened before, during and after; what their loved one did and saw.

More than that, the images can also address relatives’ deep need to mentally process the death. Sometimes families feel misplaced remorse. Despite playing no part in the events of the death of their loved one, they believe that perhaps they could have somehow prevented the occurrence. They imagine they could have intervened, that they could have done something. In such circumstances, the police photos can become profoundly meaningful.


Forensic photograph featured in Unnatural Deaths.
courtesy NSW Police


As Kate Rossmanith’s documentary Unnatural Deaths illustrates, bereaved relatives can find unexpected solace in such images. For instance, Juliet Darling’s partner was attacked and killed in 2009. Says Darling:

You think about it so much, and your mind goes to the scene, and tries to re-live these experiences that aren’t even yours. My wild imaginings made it almost seem to me that I had actually been at the crime scene, when in fact I hadn’t been there.

It was helpful, she says, to view the crime scene photos: “To see just the bare facts.”

The coronial perspective

Coroners considering a case will often look at the photographs of the crime or accident scene. The task of a coroner is to determine, if possible, whether a death has taken place (if there is no body, it may be far from certain); and if so, the identity of the person who has died (sometimes it is difficult to ascertain); as well as the date and place of death, and the physical cause and circumstances of it.

The answer is not always available from the medical history or records. It may not even be available from a physical examination of the body. In such cases, the circumstantial evidence becomes crucially important. When memories fade and arguments arise, crime scene images can settle many questions.


Forensic photograph featured in Unnatural Deaths.
courtesy NSW Police


Strangely, coroners often find the photographs much more viscerally affecting than viewing a body in the mortuary. This is because the mortuary is a sterile, technical environment – bright lights, steel tables, instruments, people in scrubs; it brings home to coroners, in a way that photographs cannot, that the essence of whatever animated this person before has left him or her.

Photographs, however, taken at the scene with a body in situ, convey sadness and the prematurity of a living person’s death.

‘Afterlives’ of evidence

There is a growing public interest in forensic photos. Since the early 1990s historical forensic photographs have come to be seen as important material culture. At the same time, digital capture and transmission technologies have accelerated the mass circulation of forensic images: in the name of “open justice”, and with the sanction of the courts, media agencies regularly publicise selected evidence during coronial and criminal proceedings, with the material readily shared online.

Yet discussion regarding how we approach such forensic material has significantly lagged behind these rapid developments in transmission capabilities. As legal scholar Katherine Biber has pointed out, we lack a forum to think about, what she terms, the “afterlives of evidence”. She calls for “a jurisprudence of sensitivity” when it comes to courts’ decision-making regarding the release of evidence into the public sphere.


Forensic photograph featured in Unnatural Deaths.
courtesy NSW Police


The issue not only involves what material is made available to us, but how we look at it, the interlocution that accompanies our looking, and the resulting questions we ask ourselves. In order to continue developing a nuanced approach to forensic images, it is critical to consider the sometimes surprising ways in which police photographs are meaningful to those people closest to them: police photographers, coroners, and, crucially, victims and their families.

Bereaved families strive to comprehend that there is nothing they could have done to prevent, or hold off, the death of their loved one. Viewing the crime-and-accident scene images can offer a path to healing.

We need to move away from approaching grief as a medical event subject to diagnosis, and instead turn our attention to the diverse needs of family members as they comprehend the realities of death, and the meanings of that death in their own lives.

For relatives, the forensic images may form an integral part of the narrative they will develop to make sense of their loved one’s death. We need to make sure families are able to access this material – but crucially, with skilled support, such as provided by social workers in some forensic and coronial offices – and to make the choice that is right for them about seeing it.

The photographs offer opportunities for restoration – not only for people directly affected by tragic events, but for the broader community too. In this way, the photos can be seen as important to larger human experiences of reconciliation that go well beyond official forensic and procedural processes.

Kate Rossmanith’s micro-documentary, Unnatural Deaths, can be seen on The Guardian. It explores the experiences of bereaved relatives as they view crime scene photos after the sudden death of a loved one.

The ConversationThe crime and accident scene photographs featured in Unnatural Deaths were supplied courtesy of New South Wales Police under the condition that the cases with which they are associated remain anonymous. The images depict a range of forensic investigations, including accidents, break-ins, thefts, as well as coronial cases.

Kate Rossmanith, Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies, Macquarie University; Hugh Dillon, Adjunct Professor of Law, UNSW, and Jane Mowll, Lecturer in Social Work, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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This fraud-detection company co-founded by an Australian was just sold for $1.01 billion

This fraud-detection company co-founded by an Australian was just sold for $1.01 billion

EMMA KOEHN / Tuesday, January 30, 2018

fraud detection

Digital payments and fraud detection firm ThreatMetrix, which was co-founded by Australian entrepreneur David Jones, will be acquired by British analytics firm RELX for more than $1 billion.

The company’s chief financial officer Frank Teruel confirmed the deal on Monday, explaining in a blog post the company had entered into a definitive agreement to be acquired by LexisNexis Risk Solutions, which is owned by RELX, in an all-cash offer worth £580 million ($1.01 billion).

Teruel reflected he had seen the company grow from a “scrappy Silicon Valley startup” to a global player that delivers services to thousands of financial institutions and e-commerce businesses.

ThreatMetrix offers fraud detection and customer authentication products to organisations including banks and healthcare providers. It was founded by Australian David Jones and software engineer Scott Thomas in 2005, with the company expanding to the United States in 2008.

Jones, a former mentor for the Startmate accelerator program, still serves on the company’s board of directors, according to its website.

The chief executive of risk and business analytics at LexisNexis Risk Solutions, Mark Kelsey, said ThreatMetrix was an attractive purchase given the demand for “more reliable, comprehensive approach to fraud and identity risk management” across “all forms of commerce” at present.

Chief executive of ThreatMetrix Reed Taussig said in a statement the acquisition represents “a compelling market opportunity” for customers and partners.

ThreatMetrix previously acquired Australian IT security firm Trust Defender in 2012, with Trust Defender co-founder Ted Egan saying at the time the deal made sense for both operations.

“They have a great fraud prevention platform, and we had more products on the malware side of things,” said Egan, who continues to work for ThreatMetrix as vice president in the Asia Pacific region.

Original article found HERE at

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Sacked executive faces court over allegations a false CV scored her a high-paying SA public service job

Sacked executive faces court over allegations a false CV scored her a high-paying SA public service job

EMMA KOEHN / Wednesday, January 31, 2018

employee in office

A former manager at South Australia’s Department of Premier and Cabinet has faced court this week over allegations she secured a $245,000 salaried position with a CV that fraudulently claimed she had worked with top technology companies.

The Australian reports Veronica Theriault appeared via videolink in the Adelaide Magistrate’s Court yesterday, charged with deception and dishonesty dealings.

She was hired in 2017 in a chief information officer role with the South Australian government, which The Australian reports carried a salary or more than $240,000, but was later let go following allegations that there were significant mistruths in her CV and application, as well as a suggestion she had acted as her own referee under an alias.

In September 2017, seven weeks after taking the position, the chief executive of the South Australian Department of Premier and Cabinet, Dr Don Russell, confirmed Theriault’s role had been terminated, reported CIO at the time.

“I have established an urgent inquiry into the recruitment process that resulted in the employment of Ms Theriault,” he said.

On September 22, 2017, the South Australian Independent Commissioner Against Corruption confirmed a 44-year-old woman had been charged with deception and dishonesty relating to documents in her application for public sector employment, as well as being charged with abuse of public office.

A 40-year-old man was also charged with aiding and abetting the woman’s alleged offering. The Adelaide Advertiser reports this man is believed is Theriault’s brother, who she is accused of offering contracts to through her role.

Theriault will next appear in court in April to enter a plea, reports The Australian.

Read more: Nine out of ten Aussies have error-laden CVs

Employers tend not to check references, says expert

Private employers have also had their fair share of the spotlight when it comes to candidates securing high-paying jobs with questionable claims on their CVs. Back in 2014, the “Myer Liar” case involved a high-paid official at the department store let go from his role after it was found his references did not stack up.

The worker, Andrew Flanagan, plead guilty to deception charges and was issued a community corrections order including 400 hours of community service.

Recruitment expert Ross Clennett tells SmartCompany that while high-profile cases involving questions about workers’ credentials make headlines, it is likely Australian companies are failing to properly check the bona fides of potential talent “all the time”.

“My guess is it would be happening every day in every company, where people desperate for hiring are making decisions without any background checking,” he says.

In general terms, Clennett says it can be hard for smaller operators to find the right person within a big corporate to confirm whether a potential candidate actually held the role they say they did.

“It can be a big maze, because a lot of big companies will be reluctant to provide more than a statement of employment history,” he says.

However, he believes no matter the size of the business, employers should be able to fact check the credentials of workers even in the way they structure interview questions.

“When you put someone under the microscope to provide very specific examples of what they’ve done and the outcomes, you should start to see signs if they’re not telling the truth — particularly at the manager-level,” he says.

“If you’re digging down and you’re asking people about what they’ve done before, they should be able to come up with specifics.”

 Original article found HERE at
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Why victims of crime deserve a say in whether offenders are paroled

Why victims of crime deserve a say in whether offenders are paroled


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In Australia, a victim’s right to participate and be heard in parole decisions is enshrined in legislation.


Katherine J. McLachlan, University of South Australia

The recent release on parole of John Worboys, one of Britain’s most-prolific sex offenders, attracted controversy after his victims were not informed or consulted by the parole board. However, the law – and best practice – says they should have been.

Under the UN Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power, victims have rights, including the right to be treated with courtesy and respect and to receive assistance and information. They also have the right to have their personal views and concerns considered in justice proceedings where their personal interests are affected and it’s appropriate to do so.

In Australia, like the UK, a victim’s right to participate and be heard is enshrined in legislation.

What does this mean in practice?

Specifically, if you are a victim of crime and you meet the criteria to be registered in your jurisdiction (which varies), you have the right to be informed of upcoming parole hearings of the prisoner whose crimes are the reason you are registered.

You have the right to be given reasonable time to make a written statement to the parole board outlining your views and concerns before that prisoner is released. You have the right for the board to consider your statement.

In some jurisdictions, such as South Australia, you may also request to meet with the board in person to discuss your views.

What are the benefits of giving victims a say?

Victim involvement is particularly important for the victims themselves – and it can also inform parole board decision-making.

The opportunity for a victim to participate and be heard offers procedural justice: that is, a sense of fairness in the way agencies operate in a justice system that often sidelines victims.

Parole boards informing and consulting with victims can have a significant therapeutic impact and aid victims’ recovery from the crime.

The benefits extend beyond the direct victim to other victims of crime. When parole boards (and justice agencies generally) listen and consider victims’ views, other victims of crime are more likely to believe they too will be heard when they speak out about their experiences of violence and abuse.

Conversely, when criminal justice agencies fail in their duty to truly and respectfully engage with victims of crime – as in the Worboys case – this prevents other victims coming forward.

Victims’ input can also assist parole board decision-making in cases where victims provide detail of their experiences and expectations. Victim submissions may provide contextual information about the offending in addition to outlining victims’ wishes.

As a result, victim submissions can lead to non-contact clauses, parole conditions that aim to mitigate risk, and/or exclusion zones that restrict an offender from entering certain suburbs or regions.

What are the risks?

The biggest risk in involving victims of crime in parole board decisions is secondary victimisation. This occurs when victims are re-traumatised due to a poor systemic response. Given the justice system isn’t great at explaining victims’ rights to them, it is reasonable to assume many victims won’t understand the scope and limitations of their rights. This may lead to disappointment or even devastation when their expectations are not met.

For example, some victims of crime make written submissions to parole boards with the specific goal of preventing a prisoner’s release. Boards consider a large range of information in determining whether a prisoner presents a risk of harm to the community before deciding whether they should be released – and victims do not have an overall say as to whether a prisoner will be granted parole.

So, while it may be therapeutic – in terms of feeling heard, valued and respected – for a victim to request an offender continue to be imprisoned, if that prisoner is released into the community (and most prisoners eventually are) the victim may feel further victimised and traumatised if their expectations are mismanaged.

It is right to recognise victims’ rights

UK Parole Board chair Nick Hardwick believes:

… it is right that the anguish of [Worboys’] victims should be heard.

But it is not just “right” – it is their legal right.

The ConversationUpholding victims’ rights is not about overruling parole board decisions. It is about respectfully enabling victims’ active participation in decisions that affect their personal interests.

Katherine J. McLachlan, Lecturer in Law & Criminal Justice, University of South Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Australia has 2,000 missing persons and 500 unidentified human remains – a dedicated lab could find matches

Australia has 2,000 missing persons and 500 unidentified human remains – a dedicated lab could find matches

Jodie Ward, University of Canberra

It’s been 52 years since the Beaumont children disappeared from Glenelg beach, Adelaide on Australia Day 1966.

In this case, excavation of a new area of interest – based on new evidence pointing to possible shallow graves – is expected to commence this week.

Sadly however, the Beaumont children are just three of around 2,000 long-term missing people in Australia. And we also have more than 500 sets of human remains believed to be archived across the country, that have not yet been identified.

It’s time Australia committed to a laboratory solely dedicated to missing persons casework. Current capability in DNA forensics could allow us to match up remains with some of these missing persons cases, and potentially give families relief.

Read more:
How science is helping the police search for bodies in water

Forever wondering

New research shows 38,000 Australians are reported missing each year, around half of which are young people. Fortunately, most of those missing people are located alive within days of the report being made. However a small percentage of those reported missing have never been located.

But without clear evidence of life or death, it’s very hard for families to know what’s happened to their loved ones.

The Beaumont children is one of Australia’s most enduring missing person cases. More recently, William Tyrrell’s disappearance has had police tirelessly searching since 2014.

Last week the Hayley Dodd missing persons case was finally put to rest after 18 years, with Francis John Wark found guilty of her murder. However, until Hayley’s remains are found and identified through DNA testing, her family won’t have the answers they still long for.

DNA analysis was key in identifying the remains of Daniel Morcombe and Matthew Leveson in Australia.


Sequencing technology allows scientists to identify the order of bases (called C, G, A and T) in DNA. Click to expand photo.
Jodie Ward, Author provided


Sources of DNA

Technology for sequencing DNA useful for genetic identification is now cheaper, faster and better than ever before.

A bone, tooth, nail, tissue or hair sample can commonly be used to obtain a DNA profile for a person. For recovered bodies, what is available and suitable will depend on the condition of the remains when they are found.

DNA testing may be the only way of positively identifying people in cases where:

  • only a single bone was located
  • bones from the one person have been buried in multiple locations
  • bones are very old and degraded, or
  • when the police have no other evidence or leads.

Read more:
From the crime scene to the courtroom: the journey of a DNA sample

Of those 500 boxes of bones stored in mortuaries across Australia, the selection of an optimal bone fragment is likely to yield a DNA result in most cases. For those unidentified persons given a “destitute burial”, hopefully a sample was taken and stored for DNA testing. For other, typically older cases of “John and Jane Does” – the names commonly given to unidentified people – some remains may need to be exhumed.

Once a sample from the remains has been tested, the DNA profile can be compared to a database of DNA profiles from missing persons. The missing person’s toothbrush or hairbrush, or ideally a medical sample such as a newborn screening card, could be used for this purpose. Often these samples are not available, so family members of the missing can be used for DNA matching because they share similar and predictable patterns in their DNA profiles.

Global precendent

Using DNA matching to examine how many of Australia’s 500 sets of unknown bones match with the 2,000 missing Australians would likely be successful for at least some cases.


It can be challenging to extract useable DNA from old, degraded bones.
Jodie Ward, Author provided


DNA technology is being recommended and used globally to identify large numbers of missing persons from war, genocide, terrorist attacks or mass disasters. The International Commission on Missing Persons DNA-led program has identified more than 20,000 missing persons.

Also, a new Australian DNA database capability soon to be rolled out will facilitate the sharing and comparing of DNA profiles from unknown remains, missing persons and their relatives across state borders.

Read more:
For sniffing out crime and missing persons, science backs blood-detection dogs

Let’s solve some cases

We now need to focus on populating the new Australian database with DNA profiles from our stored bones and missing persons in order for identifications to be made. The establishment of a laboratory, solely dedicated to missing persons casework, would be the best way forward for such a large scale identification effort. The concentration of specialist expertise and technology under one roof would help bring families and loved ones closer to getting the answers they need.

This would be similar to the successful United States model, where the Missing Persons Unit at the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification processes the bulk of the missing persons casework across the country.

This approach also relies on suitable family members donating DNA reference samples for those missing persons that don’t have a DNA profile already in the DNA database.

Forensic DNA phenotyping, which involves using DNA to predict the ancestry and physical appearance of an individual, should also be introduced as an intelligence tool for missing persons investigations. Applying this emerging technology to bones could help narrow down the list of possible missing persons, identify relatives that should be approached to donate a DNA reference sample, or add hair, eye and skin colour to facial reconstructions of skulls.

A national DNA identification program will be essential for identifying our unknown and missing citizens, and in the process solve some of Australia’s most baffling cold cases.

DNA is the only viable solution left for identifying most of these individuals. But the DNA will continue to degrade the longer we wait, so time is of the essence.

The ConversationIf remains are found at the suspected Beaumont children burial site, Australia’s bone experts will have to apply specialist DNA technologies in an attempt to recover a profile suitable for identification.

Jodie Ward, Adjunct Professional Associate, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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