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LEGAL AID COURT CASE

A woman was charged with deliberately setting a fire in her house, putting her partner and child at risk.

Background 

Fire Forensics was asked to review a case for a woman charged with deliberately setting a fire in her house, putting her partner and child at risk. Witness accounts reported a candle at a window which possibly ignited the curtains of said window. However, the police reported that deliberate ignition was likely the cause. The deliberate ignition was identified as the use of an open flame from a cigarette lighter being applied to a couch.

The Legal Argument

The police argued that the lack of evidence of a cigarette lighter was evidence of application of an open flame to the couch. However, they also argued that the lack of evidence of a candle igniting a curtain was evidence that this had not occurred.

Fire Forensics’ position was that these two arguments are contradictory. It cannot be argued that the lack of evidence for one ignition mechanism (open flame/cigarette lighter) equals deliberate ignition on one hand; whilst the lack of evidence for another mechanism (candle igniting curtains) equals no evidence that it had occurred. This is a problem of logic and reasoning.

In addition, Fire Forensics investigators believe there was a hint of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is where you only consider evidence (or lack of evidence) which supports a pre-determined position, ignoring or dismissing all other evidence. As a result of two hypotheses which had the same physical evidence, the ignition mechanism for the fire must be undetermined.

The Outcome

The Legal Aid lawyers were able to successfully call into question the police case concerning a lack of evidence to support the police opinion. The accused was acquitted of all charges.

Image information

Room of origin – lounge.

Armchair noted by police as being ignited with an open flame (orange circle).

Location of sideboard and candle/window noted with green square and arrow.