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How we detected this Murder

In this article I will outline the circumstances surrounding the murder of a 50 year-old man who was stabbed in his own home. I led the team investigating it and in this article I will point out how important it is to have a knowledgeable and experienced team.

Murder - a case of knowledge - intelligence & risk solutions

It was late June in 2004 and I was the on-call Detective Inspector. Unbeknown to me at the time, I was going to lead on four homicides that year, the final year before the Force moved to a centalised Homicide team. Dealing with four in a year is a lot but by no means my record. I once dealt with three in one weekend, all separate and not connected.

The Victim

Michael Gallagher was a man suffering with alcohol addiction. It had caused the break up of his marriage, he had two children. He was down on his luck, living in a council flat on the Lupset Estate in Wakefield. Feeding his addiction made his last days chaotic. Drinking cider to quench the need, he was slipping out of life and into a spiral of deprivation.

It is always sad to see what addicition does to people. We come across it a lot in the Police.

The Suspect

On the night of the murder, Gallagher was at home. A quiet man, he lived alone and neighbours said he kept himself to himself with no fuss. But on this night he was to be invaded in his home by a stone cold killer. Paul Leighton Sykes visited him looking for some free alcohol.

Sykes also had a need for drink, and drugs for that matter. He knew Gallagher from the Estate, he knew he too had a drink problem and he knew he was vulnerable. Sykes went to Gallagher’s home to ‘share’ his alcohol.

The Murder

The two were drunk. Gallagher was being used by Sykes to feed his addiction. When a fight broke out over it, it wasn’t even a contest. Why Sykes chose to pick up a knife when he was clearly the younger and more able man, I will never know, but he did and he used it brutally on Gallagher.

The stabbing started in the house, with furniture upended and clear signs of a disturbance. Blood was found on the walls and floor indicating the attack started in the living room and spilled out into the hallway.

Gallagher was actually found dead outside his frontdoor. Either trying to escape or seeking help he succumbed to his injuries fairly quickly due to the several stab wounds Sykes had inflicted on him.

I got the call a murder had happened while at home and turned out to lead the team. I called the duty Senior Investigating Officer and briefed him. At that point the scene had been secured and local officers were making inquiries at neighbouring houses.

And it was here we got a breakthrough. All of the local officers knew Sykes, he was a regular ‘customer’. We also knew he as the son of the ‘legendary’ local boxer come habitual criminal, Paul Sykes senior. What we didn’t know was Sykes’ movements around the time of the offence. One of the officers had seen them to together in the days leading up to the murder and shared this information. I told the officers to find Sykes and trace his movements.

We soon found a second scene. It was a house further up the Estate where Sykes had been shortly after the murder. He had sat in a chair in the house, a chair we secured blood from that had come from Mr Gallagher. But he had left again. So the officers continued searching.

I had the drains cleaned in the immediate vicinity and we recovered a knife from one of them.

The Arrest

Sykes was eventually found and arrested the same evening as the murder, still in the same clothes he had been wearing during the attack. A concept the police always have to be careful of is cross-contaminating a scene. If an officer had attended at the murder scene and then been involved in the arrest, any subsequent forensic evidence found on the suspect is put into doubt. This is because the defence will argue, their client only has, let’s say the victim’s blood on them, because it transferred from the scene to their client via the officer.

So, leading an inquiry in its early stages, when dynamic things are happening is critically important. To make sure all the officers are aware of cross contamination and think carefully about their actions. This can even include vehicles people are transported in. If an officer having been to the scene, gets in a vehicle, transfers blood to the vehicle, and then the suspect is placed in that vehicle – any blood subsequently found on the suspect, that evidence is in doubt.

A murder with two scenes is relatively easy to handle. But if you’re dealing with multiple scenes, multiple officers and multiple vehicles it can get tricky quite quickly.

He Gets Life

Sykes was arrested and taken to the police station to be interviewed. It was basically an open and shut case. He was forensically linked to the scene by blood and to the second scene by witness evidence and blood again. He was sentenced at Leeds Crown Court to life – back in the day when that actually happened.

Team Knowledge

I said I was going to comment on team knowledge. In any inquiry community intelligence is critical. In this one we had it from the officers who served in that area, immediately identifying Sykes as a possible suspect because of his sighting with Gallagher. We also had it from the public as we were receiving anonymous messages saying Sykes had done it.

It meant we just had to find him and secure the evidence without compromising scenes. More logistics than detection work. The forensic teams – SOCO back in the day and now ricidulously called CSI.

Just let me digress a little… The police have a knack for this. Changing the names of things for no apparent legitimate reason. It was simple. SOCO and Senior SOCO. Now it’s CSI this and CSI that, no one has a clue who is who and what role they perform. Keep it Simple Stupid!!! It’s not exactly Miami is it, Wakefield in industrial West Yorkshire for goodness sake.

Anyway, on with the story. SOCO and a forensic scientist and biologist were surveying the scene and recovering lots of blood and interpreting the splatter to indicate ho the offence unfolded. Sykes was doomed because there as no way he could get out of that scene without it on him. And so it proved.

But the importance of team knowledge being passed to me and the Detective Sergeants guided our early actions to find Sykes and quickly. The faster we found him the less need to ‘put’ him at the scene through a witness. His clothes would tell the story of his actions. Any delay in catching him would have given him more opportunity to get rid of his clothes and clean himself up. We would still have caught him but it would have made for a longer inquiry and more costly to the Police to manage it.

£2 Million

I read some years ago, an average murder investigation costs about £2 million. And that has since then most definitely gone up to goodness knows what. So catching an offender quickly saves huge sums of money.

The importance of officers knoing their area and their offenders was critical to an early success in this case. And this is true in all commercial life, not just the police. During the development of the Vaccine for COVID 19, Professor Sarah Gilbert had already been working on strains of SARS prior to the outbreak of the novel COVID outbreak. This prior knowledge definitely contributed to the speed of the vaccine being developed.

Example of Knowledge Reducing Risk

That is a big example and I am sure you can come up with many in your business or line of work. It is simply impossible for leaders to have oversight of everything going on inside their business. Even lower down the chain of command, supervisors and managers don’t know every facet of their teams work. Certainly, the longer you are away from the forntline, the more romote you become with regard to the day to day functions staff perform. You become more strategic in your thinking and actions.

But what if there was an easy way to stay informed. With unfiltered viewpoints from the shopfloor to alert you to the risks your business faces. To stop ‘the £2 million inquiry becoming a £10 million regulatory fine’, would that help you?

McDonalds 400 sexual offences

Would finding out earlier have helped McDonalds put a stop to the 400 cases of sexual harassment, assault and even rape, allegedly occurring in its restaurants? Instead Mcdonalds had to find out via reports external to it that this was reaching epidemic proportions. Imagine the cost to McDonalds reputation and financial cost to investigate all of those complaints. Imagine the cost to the females having suffered this in the workplace.

Of course, nothing like that is going on in your business. Or is it? Because quite simply not knowing doesn’t mean the risk isn’t there.

Find out the hidden risk in your business by considering deployment of Aranea. Because not knowing you don’t know is more dangerous than knowing is. Now that’s a mouthful.

Author Bio.

Andy Parr is a career detective and anti-money laundering expert. He served in the UK, Afghanistan and the Cayman Islands. He welcomes critical thought leadership and commentary to expand his own ability and advance the subject matter. Andy now leads HX5 Encrypted to help organisations get to the groundtruth in their organisation. Andy has led on every type of criminality you can think of. From murder to white collar crime and everything inbetween. Contact him to see how HX5 can help you.

Read all of Andy’s Posts here.