Meet the Team: Steve Hatton
Keeping with the celebrations over the launch of our brand-new Digital Investigations Unit (DIU), we sat down with our latest recruit, Steve Hatton, for an introduction and overview of his career thus far.
Having worked within various police forces over the past eighteen years, Steve joins IntaForensics as a Senior Cell Site Analyst. He brings with him invaluable cell site and RF signals expertise. Reflecting on his experience within digital forensics, Steve reveals one of his most memorable cases to-date involved a group of missing King Charles Spaniels and a microchip scanner that was used to convict the offender!
When did you first know that you wanted a career in digital forensics?
“As a detective I would pursue all lines of inquiry and then as technology developed, the focus of investigations became increasingly digital over traditional ‘wet’ forensics. There was a case I worked on where several King Charles Spaniel dogs had been stolen. I used all digital lines of inquiry to get a conviction – including using a Microchip Scanner. I took this to the manufacturer and managed extract the data linking it to one of the stolen dogs. This was a real breakthrough in this case! It was the key moment where I realised the power and impact of digital evidence.”
“It’s all to do with the capability of it. You may find a fingerprint at a crime scene, but you won’t necessarily be able to establish when it was put there. However, with digital evidence you can find this sort of information out. You can retrieve data from a router that shows exactly when the device was connected, and this is really powerful.”
“I was Temporary Sergeant in the Criminal Investigations Department and then I saw a Digital Media Investigator position advertised. I realised after the successful application of digital evidence in the King Charles Spaniel case, that I wanted to specialise in digital investigations… and I haven’t looked back since!”
What are the most rewarding aspects of your job?
“The best thing about it is that you can take something that appears really complicated and present it in a way that anyone can understand.
“Digital evidence has had a huge impact on cases, even the ‘bigger’ cases like murder investigations. I’ve been involved in a murder investigation where the report that I’ve submitted to court has led the defendants to change their whole account mid-trial… one defendant even ended up inadvertently admitting to the crime whilst in the witness box!
“I would say the most rewarding part is being able to apply my specialist knowledge and expertise on serious cases and make a significant contribution to achieving the right results at court.”
What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
“It’s probably the amount of data that you have to go through, the attention to detail that’s required and then presenting that in a way that someone with no knowledge of the subject can easily understand.
“When you’re working on big reports with a lot of detail, it’s easy to just see what you think is there rather than what is actually written on the page. It can then be a challenge to strike the right balance when asked to simplify the subject, whilst not omitting important factors. I would say those are the most challenging aspects of working with cell site and digital specifically.”
How has digital forensics changed throughout your career?
“When I started in the police, digital was never given a second thought in relation to a major crime scene. It would always be the Crime Scene Manager who would attend scenes of crime and formulate a strategy to gather the traditional forensic evidence, such as DNA and fingerprints. Wet forensics is still a huge part of criminal cases, but I’ve seen a shift towards digital that’s only increased over the years.
“I attended a crime scene where a victim’s ex-partner was arrested on suspicion of murder. However, by getting a Digital Media Investigator (DMI) like myself to the scene early on, I was able to establish that the cause of death was suicide. This saved the investigation around £80,000! It also resulted in the ex-partner being released from custody at the earliest opportunity.
“Nowadays, Crime Scene Managers will consider the digital aspects early on. Previously the earliest a DMI would get involved was typically around day three, but now DMI’s are often sent in with the CSI’s during those initial stages.”
Did you always want to work with cell site and RF signals specifically?
“Cell site wasn’t something that was utilised when I started out as a detective. We had the specialist equipment, but it was just gathering dust as no-one had the knowledge or capability to use it. I wasn’t even aware that it was something we could do!
“I was given the opportunity to attend a cell site training course. Upon realising just how impactful it could be, I jumped at the chance.”
What advice do you have to offer for someone new to the industry?
“It’s important to make as many contacts as possible, especially with those who are working in the role that you’re in. There’s so much experience out there for new starters to tap into and I would encourage those new to the role learn from other peoples’ experience and specialist knowledge as much as they can.
“You can’t expect to know everything straight away! In fact you’ll never know absolutely everything but it’s good to absorb as much knowledge as you can. I’ve had so much help from people in the industry. So I’m always trying to do my bit to help others. It’s a really good community to be involved in.”
What skills should a Cell Site Analyst have?
“To start with you need the correct training. It’s also essential to have a good eye for detail and a willingness to learn, and as I found out, a good understanding of Microsoft Excel!
“It’s also important to have a balanced mindset. In this industry it’s about knowing what you’re dealing with and working with the information that’s put in front of you. Don’t go in thinking ‘right, we are going to prove this one way or another.’ You just need to present the data in a fair and balanced way that can be easily understood by a layperson/member of the jury.”
What are you looking forward to working in the new Digital Investigations Unit (DIU)?
“It’s going to be great to be part of a team full of like-minded people. We are all interested in the same areas and have a lot of experience.
“Before I worked on my own for a couple of years as the only Digital Media Investigator in my force. Because of this I’m really going to appreciate working collaboratively on cases within the new DIU. It’s crucial to be able to get another specialist’s input on a particular piece of evidence where necessary. I’m really looking forward to making a positive contribution as part of IntaForensics’ DIU.”
IntaForensics provides a comprehensive range of digital forensic services. We support criminal investigations and civil litigations for both public and private sectors.