IT proves its point as killer brought to justice

How an overnight upgrade to the HOLMES computing system helped Suffolk police manage the data necessary to catch Steve Wright after he murdered five women.

In February of this year, Steve Wright was found guilty of murdering five women in Suffolk. At the heart of the conviction lay a solid electronic database of information in the form of HOLMES 2, a platform that would itself require updating within 24 hours as the case began to unfold.

When the bodies of five local women were found in Ipswich over a 10 day period during December 2006, Suffolk held it's breath. What was considered to be a rather sleepy part of the UK by some was faced with five simultaneous murder enquiries and its population gripped by fear.

The murders of local prostitutes bore a striking resemblance to those of Peter Sutcliffe the Yorkshire Ripper between 1976 and 1981. There was a very real fear that a serial killer was stalking the east coast and picking off vulnerable women.

This left the Suffolk Constabulary with a logistical and IT nightmare as it faced up to the unique demands placed upon its force stretched by an unprecedented enquiry situation.

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HOLMES needed help

Very quickly it became clear that the existing architecture of the second incarnation of the Home Office Large Major Enquiry System or HOLMES 2, as it is more commonly known was unable to cope with the new demands being placed upon it during the investigation. It required immediate extra capacity.

The case hinged upon gathering, sifting through, and intelligently storing reams of data to have a chance of catching any killer or killers and bringing them quickly to justice. Scientific evidence would be a crucial factor in any case and the system would allow Suffolk Police to coherently present its findings to the jury.

A swift resolution was required, one with little margin for error and time of the essence. Suffolk Police called upon its IT provider Unisys for help.

How HOLMES works

Back in 1984, HOLMES was seen as the answer to the Byford review, which recommended the development of an IT system for easy retrieval of data for comparison. Over 56 police forces in the UK began to deploy the original solution, using it to help with major incidents like serial murders, multi-million pound fraud cases and major disasters.

Today, HOLMES 2 is used by over 50 Police forces and agencies in the UK, enabling these to securely share data while providing an invaluable tool for tracking records and criminals through the county courts.

To do all this, the server side of the application uses an Oracle database located on a Unix system. The application was developed using the USoft Rapid Application Development suite and integrated with a number of third-party products and other Unisys developments. Client-wise, it's Windows NT or 2000, utilising either MS Office 97 or MS Office 2000 for ease of use and flexibility.

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