Detective Superintendent Nick May is the individual heading an investigation into the Christmas 2013 murder of Valerie Graves in Bosham, West Sussex. The following is an open letter addressed to him. In this letter he is asked to respond, but the author is under no illusion that he would do such a thing. In fact, the letter is supposed to focus any reader’s attention on the flawed premise by which the inhabitants of Bosham and its environs are being subjected to an influx of police – seemingly on a continuous operation until all targets have received a hit – to exploit the discomfort engendered by a blanket suspicion of guilt cast upon all male individuals over 16 years of age. Perhaps more importantly, the reader is once again directed to how police are conniving to achieve their objective. In a previous article, “The Great Bosham DNA Harvest…”, the author could come to no other conclusion that the police were collecting a consensual DNA database – by deception, of course, which is what was meant by the above use of the word “conniving”, because there would be no other way to do it. Even though we are anticipating no official reply, the reader may well discover his or her own good idea about how each question in the text below could be answered given the contextual information supplied into the lead up to each, and therefore form his or her own idea as to whether support would be lent to or detracted from the author’s previous conclusion. Of course, authoritative answers could allay all suspicions, but one also suspects them never to be forthcoming.
Dear Detective Superintendent Nick May
On 6th April the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team is going to recommence an effort to collect DNA samples and thumbprints from men in Bosham and a surrounding area that incorporates the village of Fishbourne. According to numbers issued by yourself, potentially 3000 men will have police arrive on their doorstep to be asked to “volunteer” – despite the fact that they had already passed on the opportunity to do so during a first sweep made by police. That being mentioned, I would actually like to put aside the issue that what police are in fact doing is coercion, because there are some particular questions that I would like you to answer about the Valerie Graves murder investigation without getting sidetracked into a broader discussion.
While I would never personally volunteer my DNA-identification to the state under any circumstances, it occurred to me that other people who are being targeted by police might decide to cooperate if they had higher levels of confidence regarding your investigation, and a good idea that any sacrifice they made would be worth the while. For that reason, I would very much appreciate it if you could answer the questions I put to you in this letter (which by necessity are prefaced with contextual information but highlighted themselves in bold font).
According to a police press release of 1st January 2014 [all releases cited are from http://www.valeriegravesmurder.com/media.asp] a post mortem carried out on Valerie Graves “revealed she died from significant head and facial injuries.” However, in an article published on the online version of the Independent newspaper on 3rd January 2014, which conveyed the news of this examination, if your investigators knew the cause of death (which the press release claimed was the case. incidentally), then it appears as if they were unable to, or would not elaborate on what sort of weapon was used in the attack:
Ms Graves was found in the rear bedroom but police declined to say if a weapon was used in the attack, or if she had been in bed at the time.
Valerie Graves death: Police investigate the murder mystery unsettling Bosham – a real-life Midsomer; Paul Peachey; 03 January 2014; Source.
Much later, according to a press release of 17th January 2014, your investigators revealed that a hammer had been found, and that they were linking it to the killing of Valerie Graves – the actual words used were as follows: “Detectives have released these photos of a hammer which they believe is the weapon used to kill Valerie Graves in Bosham.” It appears, however – and according to a retrospective piece published by the MailOnline at the beginning of 2015 – that the hammer had been found at about the same time police were receiving post mortem results:
The New Year’s Day discovery of the murder weapon — a 16oz claw hammer found just 870 yards from the house [in which the murder happened].
Mystery of the Midsomer Murderer: It was a savage killing that baffled police. A middle-class mother bludgeoned to death in her bed in an idyllic village. One year on, ALL local men are to be DNA tested; Barbara Davies; 02 January 2015; Source.
Additionally, in a press release dated 18th March 2014, you were quoted as saying the following: “we know that a hammer, found nearby in Hoe Lane, was used by the offender”.
My first and second questions are ones that arise from all the preceding information: in their searching of the close vicinity around the house in which the murder took place, were your investigators hoping, or expecting to find a hammer as a murder weapon given the wounding that Valerie Graves was subjected to? Secondly, were the particular wounds to Valerie Graves indicative of an attack with that specific weapon – for instance, were there depressed skull fractures in a pattern resembling the traits of that particular claw hammer?
Later on in 2014, a certain result heralded as a “breakthrough” was announced by your investigative team, and in a press release of 22nd October 2014, it was told of how “forensic scientists have obtained a limited DNA profile for the suspect”. Interestingly, it and subsequent press releases (as far as I can see) did not seem to link the suspect’s DNA with the proposed murder weapon, and in fact looking through the reportage from the media at the time it appears to me that it was very much left for the public to assume that the suspect’s DNA had been extracted from that source [see note *].
To answer my next question, please would you confirm that the claw hammer reportedly found in January 2014 was indeed the source from which was extracted the DNA sample you are now using as a control to contrast against all the DNA profiles you are collecting from Bosham and Fishbourne males?
Secondly, if the suspect’s DNA sample was extracted from the hammer, please would you confirm whether or not Valerie Graves’ DNA was also found on that weapon? If the hammer could not be linked to Valerie Graves either through DNA or through wound patterns, please could you elucidate as to how the hammer was established as being the murder weapon? It stands to reason that there should be a link: as demonstrated above, you yourself stated that you knew the hammer to be the weapon. How did you know?
On 12th March 2015, in another press release, you told of how 2042 men had surrendered their DNA-identification over the initial three-week collection session, and that 1642 “samples have been processed and around 1,235 men have received an email thanking them for volunteering their DNA and eliminating them from the inquiry. [With another 237 men without email to be written to in the following week].”
The process for each sample alluded to in your statement must, by definition if each volunteer has been eliminated as you directly state, involve the following: the translation of the DNA sample into a profile that exists as digital data – which by its nature needs to be stored in virtual space; the contrasting of that profile against the suspect DNA; and the deletion of that digital data on the occurrence of a mismatch. According to an assurance given by Detective Constable Steve Taylor in a press release of 2nd April 2015, “DNA profile[s] will not appear on any database” (although no assurance is given on the consent forms signed by volunteers – as covered in my article “The Great Bosham DNA Harvest…”). Therefore, could you confirm that the 1642 DNA profiles belonging to men who have been eliminated from your investigation have indeed been deleted?
If this is not the case, then it implies that those DNA profiles remain in storage – which in turns means that they exist as records on a database (the form of data receptacle that is traditionally used to organise information in a computer). If these 1642 DNA profiles have in fact been retained on a database (despite your best assurances), and given that the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 only appears to protect individuals who have had DNA forcibly taken from them by dint of their having been in contact with police by dint of being suspected criminals, please would you point to the legislation that permits a donor of consensually-held DNA to request its deletion from a database, especially one that arguably does not officially exist?
During the first phase of your DNA collection operation, men in Bosham and Fishbourne were asked to sign a consent form which did not mention the retention of DNA profiles – in fact, it did not mention DNA profiles at all as if it was important that the signatory of the form was not aware that such a thing could be manufactured in the process. Interestingly, in the press release mentioned immediately above, the word “profile” to describe a state in which a volunteers’ DNA sample could be held by police appeared for the very first time in any literature (as far as I have been able to find). Does this mean that any new volunteers will be made aware of the difference between a sample and a profile on any consent form they sign prior to surrendering their private information, and will they have it made clear to them the fate of their DNA profile?
If the answer is yes – which means that new volunteers would be asked to provide a more fully and appropriately informed consent than those asked of by volunteers from the first phase of the operation - then will the latter group, who have potentially signed away data beyond their control, be given any means to ensure that they ultimately do have power over the fate of any digital information manufactured from the material that they donated to your investigative team on the basis of misplaced confidence in the integrity of police, and therefore in a state of deliberately encouraged ignorance?
Yours etc, etc…
* A Daily Express article of December 2014 states the following:
“After months of frustration police announced in October that they had obtained a partial DNA sample from the murder weapon. It was described as a ‘significant breakthrough’ and raised hopes that it would quickly unlock the case.”
The official press release certainly didn’t mention the source of the suspect’s DNA as being the murder weapon – and as mentioned above, the author now notices that the contemporary reporting was also silent on the matter.