An Introduction to Cell Site Analysis in Criminal Trials

Cell Site Analysis has been historically used for serious crime investigations and their subsequent court trials.  In the late 1990’s, prosecution cases were supported by the analysis of mobile telecommunication traffic data, but this was restricted at that time to the most serious of trials.  Significant events such as the Omagh bombing (August 1998) included cell site analysis evidence that implicated two offenders being present at the scene of the crime as well as other terrorist activity two weeks earlier.

It was inevitable that the usage of telecommunication data would be demanded as a necessity in complex cases.  It became used as an intelligence tool to rebuild the history as to the movement of criminals, to identify preparatory activity and to show geographical attendance against a reliable timeline.  As many murder cases then used Cell Site Analysis many more trials became eligible for the support of this ‘expert opinion’.

In recent years, the level at which the prosecution have relied on cell site analysis has been relaxed to include cases such as burglary, commercial vehicle thefts, Road Traffic Collisions resulting in death, arson and assault.  It appeared that any offence where imprisonment was likely would or could include the opportunity to draw on Cell Site Analysis.

With budgetary restraints now being imposed on Law Enforcement Agencies, there has recently been a significant reduction in the number of cases achieving financial support with regard to the evidential package of cell site analysis.  There is no standard across the United Kingdom as each agency deals with this predicament in differing ways.  Some Police forces are producing their own basic reports whilst some have delayed the commission of reports to PCMH.

It is probably now an appropriate time for the industry of cell site analysis experts to review what is provided to the courts.  Of course, most investigators and prosecutors will want the maximum amount of evidence that is achievable; however, they are many occasions where the volume of cell site analysis documentation prepared in pursuit of best evidence, could be considered to be excessive and inevitably confusing for a jury.  It also has a bearing on costs incurred.

The flow of this introduction has deliberately been worded to indicate that it is the Crown that has traditionally brought Cell Site Analysis to the point of trial.  It is now becoming increasingly common for defence Counsel and Solicitors to introduce cell site analysis into cases where the Crown have dismissed or ignored such need.  This is in addition to instructing experts in order to review the Crown’s report or to consider their clients account that may not have been mentioned.

It is relevant that legislation dictates that telecommunication data is kept by the Network Operators and made available under qualification for set periods of time.  The format, in which the data is provided as well as the variety of the data fields, varies from operator to operator.  Over recent years, there have been frequent and significant changes in the data made available (almost on a monthly basis).  It is therefore the case that what is relevant today will probably be changed in the near future.  Fortunately, the changes have been an enhancement to what has gone before.

With the introduction of even greater communication services, faster links to the internet, and GPS aligned applications, then Cell Site Analysis has the potential to hold even more evidential weight in the future.