Unforgotten: How accurate is Unforgotten? Former investigator reveals truth

Unforgotten: ITV release trailer for series four

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Unforgotten is a popular British crime drama airing on ITV and it follows two London-based detectives – but how accurate is it? DCI Cassie Stuart (played by Nicola Walker) and DI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhasker) were given a chilling case to investigate in season four. A former investigator has spoken out exclusively to Express.co.uk about what the job is really like.

How accurate is Unforgotten?

Unforgotten first started airing in 2015 and the addictive crime drama continues to be a hit with fans.

Each series focuses on a new case and the current season explores a murder from many years ago.

Parts of a body were found in a freezer and the detectives discover a few of the suspects are serving police officers.

Following the gruesome discovery, the detectives were forced to make a public appeal on television in order to find witnesses.

Someone came forward to say the victim had been chased by two men on the night of his disappearance.

Fans of crime series may be wondering how accurate the ITV show is, and a former investigator has revealed the truth behind the job.

Roy Lambert was responsible for leading a team after the trial of serial killer Steve Wright, known as the Suffolk Strangler, from 2006.

After Wright was convicted of five counts of murder, Lambert was put in charge of a cold case team dedicated to looking at unsolved murders in the area, to see if there was any link to Wright.

Lambert said Unforgotten was a “poor interpretation” of what happens in real life, but he accepted the difficulty TV programmes have in recreating scenarios.

Regarding season four, he said: “I do not think this is a cold case. It is a murder where the circumstances are set in the past. So in my view, it should be investigated by a major investigation team, not a cold case team.

“The scenes showing the examination of the crime scene do not portray how a crime scene should be forensically examined. It shows examples of cross-contamination issues, the detectives doing everything searching items, not respecting of scene protocols.

“There is a point in one scene where the male detective in the presence of the pathologist uses a pair of tweezers to pull back a sleeve to look at a tattoo which is later used to identify the victim. This should never happen!

“There are several other general points in how the investigation is portrayed which are not true in real life. Like a single detective sent to search all the other household items placed in store.

“Searches should always be made by trained search teams, which are mostly uniform staff. This is unless there is a threat to life or searching for an offender on the run or for a public safety issue.”

In real life, most cold case reviews are carried out around new forensic opportunities, especially if forensic techniques have been improved or updated.

Lambert added: “I believe this to be a poor interpretation of what happens in real life, I do accept however the difficulty TV programs have in portraying real-life investigations as they only have a limited time to do it.”

Lambert had worked in investigations for more than 40 years and he was a highly-trained senior investigating officer.

He has lectured at the College of Policing as well as other forces and since retiring he has been lecturing police officers around the country on good practice when investigating serious crime.

The former officer has also spoken to students at universities on opportunities in the police service.

Lambert explained the difference between a cold case and a current murder investigation.

He said: “In a current murder and rape investigations if conducted correctly and resourced properly there are set periods when a review should be conducted, for example, seven days or 21 days.

“These should be conducted by trained officers and with agreed terms of reference set in consultation with the commissioning officer.

“The principle behind these reviews is to assist the Senior Investigating Officer and to ensure the investigation is being conducted correctly in line with accepted good practice and that there are no serious problems to be addressed.

“This type of investigation should be conducted by trained CID officers in Major Investigation Teams which are set up in various areas depending on the size of the force. Or a force may ask another force to come and review the investigation to show impartiality.

“The other type of reviews are cold case reviews. This type of review should be commissioned to review major crime investigations, which have been closed and filed way without an offender or offenders being identified or where there has been a trial and the offender or offenders were found not guilty.

“These types of reviews are currently mainly investigated by cold case review teams which have in recent years been set up by forces.

“These are mostly made up of civilian investigators usually of retired detectives with experience and also investigators who may have been in other roles like trading standards and switched to crime.

“They will in some cases be supervised by serving officers, they are often small teams and in my experience under-resourced and funded.

“Another body that reviews major crime is the Criminal Case Review Commission, this is set up to help identify flawed investigations.”


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