Is time another advantage for the amateur detective?

Do I mean time in fact or fiction?

I have written about reasons why we need amateur detectives in real life as well as in detective novels. Now I will look at the different perspectives amateurs have from the police when it comes to the question of time.

Is crime-solving time limited?

I suppose you will agree that time is important for anyone solving any crime and especially for serious crimes. You may know that the police believe that the first hour is the most important and then the first twenty-four hours. Criminals can destroy evidence. Physical evidence can be lost or damaged naturally or accidentally. If out of doors, the weather can wash away clues. Some people keep CCTV footage for only short times. Memories are best when fresh.

Detectives should not waste time

You will probably agree that the CID should make the most of the first hour and the first twenty-four to secure evidence and follow up leads as quickly as possible. They are likely to be in a far better position than any amateur in that respect.

Risk DiceA man leaning on a question-mark, pondering. Is he wasting time or solving a crime?
A man leaning on a question-mark, pondering. Is he wasting time or solving a crime?
How is the pressure of time a bad thing?

There is a lot of pressure to solve a case in that first twenty-four hour period. If the police identify a prime suspect by then, it is likely that all attention will focus on that person. They are not likely to follow other lines of enquiry beyond that point. This is even more true where the press are taking an interest. A press-release saying, ‘we’re following a number of leads’ is not what anyone wants. There is a strong incentive to ‘wrap the case up’ – which is not the same as solving it.

What is different about an amateur’s time?

Amateur detectives rarely have arbitrary timescales imposed upon them and don’t have the press to worry about. They may need to solve a case before a wrong conviction occurs, but the deadline will be the date of the trial, or of the appeal, not the next press conference.

What about cases that take a very long time?

Some cases take years to solve. Others are re-opened after several years, either because they were not closed in the first place or because of allegations of a miscarriage of justice. Cold case reviews work on a different timescale and will be the subject of another blog.


Be alert – here are more ways to spot fake news

I have written before about fake news, saying why it is a bad thing and suggesting clues to help you tell the fake from the genuine. Here are a few more. Although no one thing can usually prove a story is fake, you should apply some of these tests before you believe everything you read.

Is old news fake news?
  • Does it say when the incident happened? How relevant is it now?
  • Something people did when they were children or teenagers may not be relevant now. Imagine reading Candidate in drunken brawl, and it didn’t say it happened when he was 17 and he is now 40?
  • War declared on USA would be misleading if it did not state that it was declared in 1812. Things are different now.
A mediaeval scribe writing old news
A mediaeval scribe writing old news
Read beyond the news headline.
  • Headline writers tend to go over the top. Read the article, or at least some of it, to get a feel for the whole story.
  • I remember a headline saying cure found for cancer. In the article, it said scientists could cure cancer in mice. They were about to investigate whether the treatment would work in humans.
Whose news?
  • If news is genuine and important, it will be in several papers, bulletins, blogs and news-sites.
  • If only one is carrying it, be wary, especially if it is only on social media. Why is it not on the BBC or in the papers?
  • Most social media sites do very little to check their facts, unlike TV and newspapers.
A picture can tell a thousand lies
  • If there is a photo or video with a story, try to find the connection. Is the picture just a general illustration of, say, soldiers going into battle or trees being cut down by contractors, or is it the actual ones in the story. How similar are they?
  • Pictures and videos can be altered or edited. This can be for good reasons, such as to cut out unnecessary detail but it can be for bad reasons, such as to give a different impression.
  • A photo shows only one moment in time but, without knowing the context, you can get a wrong impression. A kiss, a punch, the handing over of money, can all be wrongly interpreted out of context.
  • Even a video can be misleading if it is out of context.
  • Beware of letting a picture or video, especially an emotive one, determine your reaction to supposed events.
Get a second opinion on a news story
  • Do you know a reliable website or other source for information about stories on the same topic? Can you check the facts?
  • Even general background information can help make sense of a story.
Know yourself!
Two masks. Which shows the real you?
Two masks. Which shows the real you?

Try to be honest about your own biases and don’t just believe things you want to believe, things that will confirm your prejudices. (What do you mean, you haven’t got any?)

Truth is important. Let’s all beware of fake news and expose it for what it is.


The reason we need amateur detectives in fiction and fact

Do we need amateur detectives in fact or only in fiction?

You probably know I have chosen to make my hero an amateur detective. But that’s fiction, isn’t it? What about real life? I have also written about trusting the police. Unfortunately, there are times when the police fail and someone else comes to the rescue. Sometimes there is a far-reaching scandal, such as Hillsborough, the recent Gosport Hospital story, the Jimmy Saville case or the Rochdale abuse saga. Other times it is an individual miscarriage of justice, where innocent people have been convicted,  arrested or ‘merely’ smeared.

Who are the amateur detectives?

Most of the cases I have mentioned came to light only because someone kept on challenging an injustice. Often it was a relative of the victim of the injustice. Journalists (that much-maligned class) played a big part in many cases. Sometimes it was a determined solicitor (another undervalued profession, in all senses except financial).

What’s wrong with the police, that we need these amateurs?

In all the examples I have cited, the police either failed to act, failed to act properly, or managed to arrest the wrong person. Some people say this is evidence of widespread corruption and/or incompetence. I do not believe that our police are all corrupt or incompetent. Of course, some must be. But that’s not the real issue in most cases.

What can an amateur do?

Once the police focus on a prime suspect, they seem to abandon all other lines of enquiry and look only at evidence relating to that person. Even when there is a successful appeal, all too often the police do not look for the real culprit, because they convince themselves that the person they arrested was really guilty and just ‘got off on a legal technicality’. We need an amateur, if anyone is to look beyond the obvious suspect and solve the case properly .

What is my amateur detective, Frank Hill, doing?

I am still rewriting the second in my series, Accounting for Murder. I hope you enjoyed the first, Double Entry.

The subtitle of this second book is Old Money. Frank has to solve a murder, while looking into an apparent haunting, which may or may not be connected. He also has problems in his relationship with his wife, Sian.

Frank is going to find plenty more cases to solve in future. He seems to have a knack for discovering bodies and for disagreeing with the constabulary. It’s fiction. But only just!


Are the Quakers trying to abolish God?

What are the Quakers doing?

The Quakers, or officially the Society of Friends, have aroused some controversy by discussing rewording things to avoid using the word ‘God’. They are asking whether a belief in God is a precondition for being a Quaker.

Are Quakers changing their beliefs or merely changing words?

The Friends have always taken a very broad approach to faith. They have avoided defining God and have welcomed people with various views. They want each person to find God inside himself or herself and are concerned that the term ‘God’ itself is loaded. It may put off some people who would benefit from their meetings and bring something of value to the movement.

Can an Atheist be a Quaker?

The debate is about how far they can reach out to people of differing beliefs. Surely, an atheist could benefit from meditating in a meeting and find much in common with people who hold religious views. Some say you can be spiritual without being religious. It depends on your definitions of both those terms. Perhaps you need a chance to explore what you really believe.

Faith and doubt. There must be room for both in church and in life.
Faith and doubt. There must be room for both in church and in life.
Are Quakers following Christ’s example?

Jesus healed and helped people who were not his followers. There was the centurion and the woman from Tyre, who were not Jewish or worshippers of the God of Israel. Christians down the ages have helped people in practical ways without insisting on conversion as a precondition. Of course, an encounter with Jesus tends to change people, but initially he takes us as we are.

Do the Quakers have a message for all of us?

All Christians need to remember to take people as they are and to offer practical and spiritual help as needed. Churches need to offer space for people to meditate and meet others on non-judgemental terms. This does not mean that Christians should be shy about telling others about Jesus and his teachings, as long as we listen to them too.  If you attend an Alpha course, you will hear the case for Christianity, but you will also be listened to. Go to the Alpha website.

Before you join the Quakers, look around.

If you find your church too narrow or dogmatic, try looking around. You may find the Society of Friends is what you need. Or you might find another church of any denomination a lot more open than you think. Perhaps it is you who needs to be less judgemental, about Christians? About God?

A preacher preaching. Not all churches are dogmatic.
A preacher preaching. Not all churches are dogmatic.

Is #metoo trying to slay the wrong giant?

What has #metoo been doing?

#metoo has mobilised women, and quite a few men, against sexual predation and institutionalised sexism. This is in response to several well publicised cases, where powerful men have, allegedly, misused their status to commit sexual assaults and rapes. The victims either worked for them or were in some  situation where it was hard to say No. They had for a long time been afraid to report the crime. This publicity has given other victims the confidence to speak out too.

Do only rapists need to worry about #metoo?

No! The movement has made many people more aware of male domination, unequal pay and the unfair treatment of women. This is not just about  some individual men. In many workplaces, men think it is all right to treat women badly and women have to accept it. The #metoo movement wants to change this whole culture.

In what way is #metoo wrong?

I believe the culture everywhere should allow women to achieve their potential and not be oppressed or intimidated. I  want to see the Law applied effectively to criminals of all kinds. There are, however, two ways in which this movement could be going wrong. Most of us have heard a lot about one, but very little about the other.

What do people say against #metoo?

The most common criticism of the movement is that it encourages some women to overreact to minor affronts to such an extent that we can forget the serious ones. Some people, apparently, put as much effort into stopping bad jokes as into exposing sexual assault.

Whilst I think we need a sense of proportion in all things, there is often a slippery slope. If someone starts by getting away with minor insults, they can feel OK about treating women badly in other ways. Context is important. Something may be OK as a one-off, or where everyone knows that the alleged offender respects women generally, but it would be unacceptable if the person repeated the behaviour or if a stranger had said it.

What criticism has #metoo not noticed?

Bad treatment of women, as of racial and other minorities, is a symptom of a larger evil. Oppression, injustice, inequality, the concentration of power and disrespect for others. Some people ill-treat men too, because bullying takes many forms and finds many victims. All power tends to corrupt, absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.

Whenever one person is able to determine the fate of others without checks and balances, he or she is prone to abusing that power. Where money is concerned, organisations usually have rules about governance. If such rules do not exist or don’t work, financial scandals often occur. I know, as I have worked in audit. We should not be surprised, if people abuse power in other ways, where there is a lack of accountability.

Where there is temptation, there is usually sin.

#metoo is in danger of not going far enough.

If the movement concentrates on the mistreatment of women, it might leave the real giants unslain. We all need to attack injustice and oppression, wherever they occur and whoever is the victim. All human beings are entitled to be treated fairly and with respect. Power needs to be shared more equally and be subject to constraints. Perhaps, though, the #metoo movement is a good place to start.

A man with a question mark. Is he pondering the right question?
A man with a question mark. Is he pondering the right question?

A message for us from the Royal Wedding

Did you love the Royal Wedding?

Lots of people love a wedding, and that includes people who choose not to be married themselves. There are also lots of people who love anything to do with the Royal Family. I am not surprised, then, that a Royal Wedding is a great occasion. Even if you are a republican who regards marriage as an outdated institution, I hope you can at least be pleased for all the people who got so much pleasure from Harry and Meghan’s wedding. Go on! Don’t be a misery!

Was it what you expected from a Royal Wedding?

It was not quite traditional, although there were many features in common with previous ones. It shows that the Royal Family are moving with the times, but at the core of it was an act of commitment by a man and a woman, in public and invoking God’s help.

Was it a proper traditional religious service?

This was a church service, held in St George’s Chapel, conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury (with a little help from another Christian leader). It may have surprised some people, because it was different from the traditional version. I have seen lots of church services of all kinds and was surprised only that the Royal Family chose something like this.

A message for the Church from the Royal Wedding

If you think church services have to be of the traditional kind,  or if you think weddings have to follow a strict routine, think again. Perhaps your local church is too traditional for your taste? Shop around! I have been to church services that used lots of modern technology and spoke to young people in ways they relate to, but they had not changed the core message. Modernisation does not mean you sell out on traditional beliefs or abandon the essential elements:

  • prayer
  • the Bible
  • worship
  • fellowship

If you have a problem with the Church, try reading my book How to Cope with the Church. 

If you are a member of the Royal Family, you don’t need it: you are ahead of me.

What went up on Ascension Day? Prayer!

Remember what I wrote before Ascension Day?

I wrote recently about plans for prayer and walking in Warrington on Ascension Day. Here’s how it went.

What was all this prayer about?

On Thursday, 10th May, groups of Christians walked around West Warrington praying in the streets and in several churches. It was Ascension Day, the day Christians remember the time when they believe Jesus went back up to Heaven. This was also an international day of prayer: the start of ten days of prayer ending on Pentecost Sunday, the 20th of May. Events are taking place all over the country and in many others. It’s called Thy Kingdom Come.

For more, go to the website

Here’s an extract.

Thy Kingdom Come is a global prayer movement, which invites Christians around the world to pray between Ascension and Pentecost for more people to come to know Jesus Christ. What started out as an invitation from the Archbishops’ of Canterbury and York in 2016 to the Church of England has grown into an international and ecumenical call to prayer.

What was the purpose?

The website goes on to say: The hope is that:

  • people will commit to pray with God’s world-wide family – as a church, individually or as a family;

  • churches will hold prayer events, such as 24-7 prayer, prayer stations and prayer walks, across the UK and in other parts of the world;

  • people will be empowered through prayer by the Holy Spirit, finding new confidence to be witnesses for Jesus Christ.
What was my impression of the day? And others?

I found it was a bit like a pilgrimage, only we were not going off somewhere. We were praying in our own area for our own area and for people around us.

Rev . Jeremy Tear, Pioneer Team Rector for the Church of England in West Warrington, said: “It was great to join with fellow Christians from across the area to begin these ten days of prayer. We look forward to seeing God at work in us and through us in the lives of those in our community in the days, weeks and years ahead.”

What did we do?

The day began at 9 am at St James’s Church, Great Sankey. People walked to St Philip’s, Westbrook, to St Joseph’s, Penketh and to St Mary’s, Great Sankey, where they held a short service. There was also a service at St Philip’s at 7.30 pm.

Some people took part in the whole day’s activities, but many chose to walk a particular section or just attend one or more of the prayer times in churches.

There were clergy and other representatives from Church of England, Roman Catholic and independent churches.

How did people pray? What sort of prayer?

They prayed in the streets and in the churches. Standing and sitting. Long prayers and short ones. Nobody knelt. Hardly anybody used set prayers and nobody said “Thou” or “Thee” or used any special language. They just talked to God. People prayed for people they knew, for the area, for the schools, for children starting and those leaving and they prayed for old people. They prayed for the prosperity of the town, and someone quoted Warrington’s motto “Deus dat incrementum” which means “God gives the increase”. There were times when people prayed silently, or rested in God’s peace.

They will keep praying until Pentecost, Sunday 20th – and beyond.

So what?

Someone asked, “Will this make any difference to our town?” We can only wait and see.

What are Christians doing on Thursday, 10th May?

What’s special about Thursday?

This Thursday is Ascension Day. It is the day Christians remember the time when we believe Jesus went back up to Heaven. It comes about halfway between Easter, when we believe he died and rose again, and Pentecost when we believe God sent the Holy Spirit to help the first Christians.

What’s happening on this Thursday?

It is an international day of prayer.  It is the start of  ten days of prayer ending on Pentecost Sunday, the 20th of May. Events are taking place all over the country and in many others. It’s called Thy Kingdom Come, after a line from The Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus taught his disciples.

For more, go to the website. Here’s an extract.

Thy Kingdom Come is a global prayer movement, which invites Christians around the world to pray between Ascension and Pentecost for more people to come to know Jesus Christ. What started out as an invitation from the Archbishops’ of Canterbury and York in 2016 to the Church of England has grown into an international and ecumenical call to prayer.

The hope is that:

  • people will commit to pray with God’s world-wide family – as a church, individually or as a family;

  • churches will hold prayer events, such as 24-7 prayer, prayer stations and prayer walks, across the UK and in other parts of the world;

  • people will be empowered through prayer by the Holy Spirit, finding new confidence to be witnesses for Jesus Christ.
What am I doing on Thursday?

I am joining a prayer-walk in West Warrington. I will be walking only some of the way and taking part in some of the prayer times in some of the churches the participants will be visiting. It is not a march or a procession. People will be walking and praying. It’s a bit like a pilgrimage, only we are not going off somewhere. We are praying in our own area for our our own area and for people around us.

What is the plan for Thursday?

The day begins at 9 am at St Jame’s Church, Great Sankey. People will walk to St Philip’s, Westbrook, and they will move on at 11 o’clock to St Joseph’s, Penketh. There will be a rest for lunch and prayer at St Joseph’s from 12.30 to 2.00. Bring your own lunch, but someone is providing tea and coffee. At 2.00 they will set out to walk to St Mary’s, Great Sankey, where they will hold a short service at 3.30. There will also be a service at St Philip’s at 7.30 pm.

What are you doing on Thursday?

If you are a Christian living in or near West Warrington, please come to at least one  of the phases. Anyone who doesn’t fancy a long walk is welcome to just come to one of the stationary elements. If you are anywhere else in the World, go to the website and find an event near you. Pray Thy Kingdom Come.

Are Thursday’s events only for Christians?

If you are not a Christian, feel free to come and see what’s happening. Pray in whatever way you feel you can or ask us to pray for you. Bring your doubts. And your lunch.

Doubt and Faith. They are often closely linked.
Doubt and Faith. They are often closely linked.

If nothing else, at least you now know what this lot are doing, wandering the streets of West Warrington!

Does fake news matter and how can you spot it?

What is fake news?

Donald Trump seems to call fake news any reporting he finds inconvenient. Others have said they are worried that foreign governments and certain individuals have put false stories into the media to influence elections and our EU Referendum.  Outside of politics, some stories about celebrities have been found to be made up, probably maliciously.

Why does it matter if news is fake?

David Cameron (remember him?) has said he is worried this could undermine democracy, as voters need reliable information so they can make informed decisions. He is not alone in that opinion.

Can fake news affect you if you are not interested in politics and you’re not a celebrity?

We all need to make decisions in business and in everyday life and form our opinions of other people and of  businesses, countries, religions, charities and other organisations by what we hear about them. We could be making wrong decisions or we could be developing wrong attitudes, because we have believed fake news. This might not matter much or it might matter enormously, depending on the situation.

How can you spot fake news?

There are a number of things that can give you a clue. Then you can look a little further, or just take that story with a large pinch of salt. I will suggest a few more clues to look for in later blogs, but here are some to be going on with.

A detective with a magnifying glass, checking for fake news
A detective with a magnifying glass, checking for fake news
Clues for views of the news you choose.
The Source
  • Does it identify itself? If not, be wary.
  • Is there a link to a website? Does the site seem genuine?
  • Has it got a disclaimer? i.e. How confident are they of their facts?
  • Does it state the source of its information? How does someone in the UK know what’s going on in the Ukraine? What contacts have they got?
Are they having a laugh?
  • Does the site or publication intend you to take it seriously or is it just for laughs?
  • Is it satirical? Can you tell which bits they mean you to take literally, which they have exaggerated and which are ironic?
  • I find it easy to tell what’s what in Private Eye but not all mags or blogs make their distinctions as clear.
What’s in it for them?
  • Is the source biased? You can probably guess that Momentum will seldom promote stories favourable to the Tories and vice versa.
  • But will they be too quick to pass on unchecked stories about bad things the other side have done? (There are so many genuine ones, I can’t see why anyone would need to make any up, but you can’t satisfy some people!)
  • In a similar way, people in business, and lots of individuals who are not, have their agendas and grudges.  Can you see who has written the story? Can you find out more about them?
Don’t let statistics fool you either

Along with fake news, misleading statistics affect our opinions and even our decisions.

To protect yourself, have a look at my book,

How To Avoid Being Misled By Statistics by [Murray, John]
Don’t be fooled and don’t be a fake!

Think about these points. I will write about other clues to look for soon. PLEASE don’t add to the problem by creating fake news stories or by passing stuff on without checking it.

Was the new church building in Penketh ready for Easter?

You may remember this building project.

I have written before about our new community church building  at St Paul’s Penketh. Local people often ask what’s going on. The building looks ready from the outside, but noone seems to be using it. At Easter it looked people were using it, as this picture suggests, but that could have misled you.

A service at the new St Paul's building
A service at the new St Paul’s building
Are we using the building now?

Here’s the full story, part of which appeared in the Warrington Guardian on the 12th of April.

Members and friends of St Pauls Penketh who met outside the new community church base for a short service on Easter Sunday were excited to worship God in the open air on this pleasant Spring morning, although all are looking forward to using the new building, when the interior is finished. In the meantime, services continue in the Oaks Centre on Stocks Lane.

Kieran Layfield, of the church’s building group says, “In the last few months a lot of progress has been made. The builders, Harry Fairclough Ltd, have been dealing with some outstanding items, and various local contractors and volunteers have completed the electrical installations to the smaller rooms, the external lighting, security and fire alarms, as well as plastering and painting internal walls.”

Concerning the next stage, he adds, “We’re about to be working on the ceilings and lighting in the corridors and foyer, and on installing the toilets. The garden will also be looking very different soon.”

The large metal cross on the front wall was a gift from a family with connections to St Pauls. Many people were pleased it was in place in time for Easter.

Is the building only for churchgoers?

Team Vicar, Sarah Peppiatt, says, “We will welcome ideas from community groups for how the building can best meet their needs when it is finished. Churches have always served many functions, as part of their purpose in serving God in the World.”

What about the money?

The church treasurer, Denis Bamber, comments, “Although many people have given generously, we still a need a further £90,000 if this church is to be completed to the standard appropriate to the twenty first century.”

Donations can be made via this link

More information is available at