The Forensic Archaeology Expert Panel (FAEP) statement on the recent excavations at Saddleworth Moor

You may have seen reports in the press about the recent excavations at Saddleworth Moor in the search for murder victim Keith Bennett.  Unfortunately, someone who is neither a CIfA-accredited professional archaeologist nor an accredited member of CIfA’s Forensic Archaeology Expert Panel (FAEP) interpreted the evidence incorrectly, albeit in good faith, contributing to the requirement for a large-scale excavation. During this latter search, a CIfA-accredited forensic archaeologist was instrumental in excluding the area from suspicion. 

The issues caused here highlight why forensic archaeologists need a clear understanding of their role in forensic investigation and their obligations as an expert.  Forensic archaeology is an important part not only of archaeology but also of crime scene investigation, dealing with very sensitive issues including the gathering of evidence for murder trials, helping people and communities come to terms with loss, achieve peace and reconciliation; this requires both archaeological skills and an in-depth understanding of the legal framework within which they operate.  For this reason, accredited forensic archaeology professionals work to a standard for forensic archaeological work published by CIfA and endorsed by the Forensic Science Regulator. 

The issues raised above have highlighted the need for a greater understanding of the legal context for forensic archaeology and of the differences between mainstream and forensic work.  Towards this goal, the FAEP feels that greater collaboration with the Special Interest Group (SIG), and broader CIfA membership, is needed,  not least, to help SIG members become competent forensic practitioners.  Some FAEP members are already members of SIG, and those persons will now take the lead on working towards a closer partnership and more active collaboration with the SIG. For our discipline to be viable there must be a transparent career progression by which younger colleagues can progress and future proof forensic archaeology in the UK.  This however also needs to be balanced about the need for confidentiality in active casework and the inevitable workloads of case active FAEP members.