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Juries 'could enter virtual crime scenes'

Do Not UseDo Not Use 24/05/2016
Man wearing a virtual reality headset © Reuters Man wearing a virtual reality headset

Virtual reality technology used in the gaming industry could be adapted to recreate crime scenes for juries, researchers have claimed.

Simon Tweats Head of Justice Services at Staffordshire Police: Simon Tweats said it would "raised the bar" in how technology was used to present evidence © BBC Simon Tweats said it would "raised the bar" in how technology was used to present evidence

A Staffordshire University project has experimented with technology and techniques to "transport" jurors to virtual crime scenes.

Associate Prof of Forensics, Dr Caroline Sturdy Colls, said it was the first project of its kind in Europe.

Staffordshire Police said it was "a concept" that could become significant.

More on this and other Staffordshire stories

The project, which received a European Commission research grant of about £140,000, uses green screens, the latest virtual reality headsets and technology from gaming, engineering and computing.

Dr Sturdy Colls said: "What we want to do is to come up with the best solution that helps the criminal justice system - help the police in their detection and recording of crime and then to help jurors in court to understand those crimes better that they ever did before."

Sian Grzeszczyk, BBC Staffordshire reporter tried out the technology

The project is experimenting with a range of technologies from laser scanning to drones, all in a bid revolutionise the way crime scenes are recorded.

Using the headset, in one of the scenarios I can walk around the "crime scene" and it feels incredibly real even though I know it's not.

If a barrister could do this, he or she could easily show the jury the scene of the crime without any confusion. It's so detailed. It's not like putting on some 3D glasses - this is another level.

It might look expensive but the headset costs £700, which Staffordshire Police said is affordable.

However, the wheels of justice are slow and it is not clear how long it would take before we see this sort of kit could be adopted by the courts.

Simon Tweats, head of justice services at Staffordshire Police, said it could make a significant difference with regard to how evidence was presented and "bring to life" complex scenes.

He added: "Doing that in a way that is far easier for juries to understand and appreciate - which can only be be good for everybody, for prosecution and defence."

But Jason Holt, a barrister at Steven Solicitors, said he was "sceptical" about the technology and whether it would make a real impact on cases.

"We don't have a very good track record with bringing technology into court rooms.

"We've recently gone on to a digital system within the Crown court and it's causing significant delays; the systems we're using break down, the technology isn't sufficient and we go back to pen and paper. It's causing delays in court, in my own experience.

"I do wonder how much difference going to a crime scene in 3D will make, compared to a standard DVD and video cameras which are used at the moment to record similar information."

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: "Making the most of new technology will remove unnecessary hearings, cut costs for litigants and make justice more accessible."

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