The notorious murder case of two 10 year old schoolgirls in Soham, Cambridgeshire ended today. The role played by GSM Mobile Phone Cell Location Data in casting suspicion on the murderer Ian Huntley and of breaking the false alibi given to him by his former girlfriend Maxine Carr, has been widely reported e.g.
BBC online news, Sky news, The Times
Maxine Carr's mobile phone was shown to have been calling from Grimsby when she claimed to have been with Ian Huntley in Soham on the night Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman went missing.
Jessica's prepaid Vodafone Nokia mobile phone was switched off or had run out of battery power at 18:46 BST on the Sunday when the girls disappeared, 16 minutes after their last sighting on a CCTV system at the local sports centre and only 31 minutes after she and Holly left the Wells house.
The time date stamp on the Sports Centre CCTV footage is reported as being wrong, and so the footage of the girls was initially missed by the investigators. This shows that the time date stamp "evidence" of CCTV footage needs to be scrutinised forensically, if it is to be used in a serious criminal trial, even more so it is used in a case where there is a chance that it could have been deliberately edited or tampered with.
This mobile phone connection was broken whilst it was connected to the mobile phone mast on Weirs Drove just to the west of Burwell, about 8 kilometres (5 miles) south of Soham, rather than the mast at the local Soham football field in Julius Martin Lane post code CB7 5EQ.
Apparently one of the few likely spots where the Burwell mast signal was strongest was right outside Huntley and Carr's house at 5 College Close post code CB7 5AA, about a kilometre from the Soham football field mast which lies to the north.
This sort of hotspot quirk of radio propagation illustrates why the proposed jamming of GSM mobile phones during President Bush's visit to London would have needed to have been hugely disruptive in order to be effective against mobile phone activated bombs - an area up to 70 kilometres in diameter would have had to be jammed.
It is obvious that in this case, a Mobile Phone Location service like ChildLocate MapAMobile, MapMinder etc would have been of no use at all in protecting the murdered girls. Indeed, even if a website or SMS based location search had been performed on one of the girls' mobile phones, had it actually been registered with such a service, it could easily have shown the location as being in Burwell, several miles away, rather than in Soham. Such false information would have sent any search parties to look in completely the wrong area during the critical minutes or hours after the children went missing.
Such Mobile Phone reception hotspots are liable to change with network traffic or weather conditions, and the detailed surveys covering the whole country are simply not available or up to date. It is also unclear if the last cell location to which a mobile phone has been connected, is even available at all, to the Location Data Service Resellers. We suspect that there would have been no such information available once the phone had been switched off.
Huntley's mobile phone records shown in court and on television showed that his T-Mobile phone (07986 015607) had received a call whilst it was connected to the Ely Water Tower South cell mast the next day. Ely is a nearby town, where it transpires that he changed all four tyres on his car. Why this Mobile Phone evidence was considered to be more important than the tyre garage records or witnesses is a mystery, but it fits in with the reporting of this topic.
The calls by the Mobile Phone expert witness David Bristowe to retain Mobile Phone Communications Data for 2 years or the controversial Home Office proposals under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 to retain this data for 12 months after the Mobile Phone company has no legitimate business use for them are hugely intrusive and wrong.
Huntley and Carr were arrested within just 2 weeks of the girls' murders, so Mobile Phone Communications Data Retention of everyone in the UK, or of only the people in Cambridgshire, or of just the inhabitants of the village of Soham, would not have helped with the investigation and would be completely disproportionate.
The Home Secretary has announced an independent inquiry into the failures of procedure which allowed Huntley to get employment as a school caretaker, despite 10 or so previous allegations of rape, indecent assault against children and under age sex.
However, instead the Grimsby police being blamed for obeying the Data Protection Act and deleting the unproven allegations against Huntley, the fact that Huntley was never convicted of the rape case in Grimsby or even the failure to attend court on a burglary charge which did come to court are what people should focus on.
No innocent politician, celebrity, police officer, teacher etc. would be employable if records of unproven sexual allegations were kept on police file indefinitely and passed on to future employers.
Maxine Carr, guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice by providing Huntley with a false alibi, but obviously no Myra Hindley style accomplice, looks set to be released from prison and electronically tagged, although given the public hysteria, she might have to go into a witness protection scheme.