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25

T

he forensic meteorologist carries out an

investigation into the weather over a few

hours, days, or even, on occasions,

months or years. So, why do the courts need an

expert in meteorology?

Although meteorology is an everyday science,

in that almost everyone understands the terms

fog, snow, rain, hail, and so forth, the forensic

meteorologist is required to examine weather

records and offer an opinion based on the

minutiae of the science. This almost always

involves preparing the equivalent of a weather

forecast or backcast. The meteorologist is

required to explain to the court why, when, and

where the weather occurred and how it affected

the incident.

The meteorologist’s part is to describe to

the court, by means of a written report and,

if required, verbally in the witness box, the

evolution of a weather event, and from the

records, witness statements, and other sources

give an opinion on any matter concerning the

weather that affects the case. For example, it may

be a question of howmuch rain fell, how strong

the wind was, or what time ice formed. On some

occasions, a forensic entomologist needs to know

the weather over a number of days, in particular

temperature and humidity, to assess the effect

of the weather on the development of fly larvae

in a body.

The role of the meteorological expert witness

is the same as any other: to give an honest and

unbiased opinion, based on sound scientific

principles, with supporting data and references

to published work.

The weather is a matter of record and is well

documented, not only in the weather records

but, in the case of severe weather events and

often road traffic accidents, in newspapers, on

television, in witness statements, and so on.

Although there is a time element involved, the

changes of the various weather parameters in

terms of time are fixed. It is therefore a problem

of spatial separation of the weather events at the

nearest weather stations and the weather at the

site of the incident that the expert has to consider.

The opinion is based on weather data from a

variety of sources: the internet, the Met Office,

witness statements, the media, and on some

occasions CCTV from the site of the incident.

‘Dreamspace’: Ameteorological investigation

Although meteorological evidence is not vital in

many cases, occasionally it is very important. Such

a case was

R v Agis

(24 February 2009, Newcastle

Crown Court).

Agis was the designer of ‘Dreamspace’, an

inflatable artwork that was erected in a park

in Chester-le-Street in July 2006. It was a large

plastic structure measuring about 50 metres by

50 metres, and comprising five-metre-by-five-

metre ‘rooms’, each of a different colour, through

which the public could walk while listening to

music. The structure was tied down by ropes

pegged into the ground.

Agis was charged with manslaughter and

breaking health and safety laws after the structure

broke free from its moorings and lifted off the

ground, injuring 20 or so people and killing two.

He pleaded guilty to the latter charge and not

guilty to the former.

I was instructed by the defendant’s solicitors to

prepare a weather report.

There were many witness statements and CCTV

footage available for examination. Data was also

available from three weather stations: Durham,

Newcastle Airport, and Albemarle (upper air

sounding station).

The meteorological expert for the prosecution

gave as his opinion that the cause of the accident

was a strong gust of wind, which should have

been anticipated.

The day of the incident, 23 July 2006, was bright

and sunny. Air temperatures were around 23

>>

John Coates-Greetham

discusses the role of forensic meteorology experts in interpreting

weather records and applying them in civil and criminal cases

Meteorology in legal cases

SJ 160/6

Expert Witness Supplement Spring 2016

John Coates-Greetham is a

consultant forensic meteorologist

and former head of legal enquiries

at the Met Office

www.coates-greetham.co.uk

FEATURE

FORENSICMETEOROLOGY