Forensic Friday: The Sherlock Holmes Factor

Anyone who knows me will know that I am an avid reader of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s series of Sherlock Holmes novels.  I read them, conservatively, three or four times a year from cover to cover.

I have had cause to read the complete collection of Holmes novels again over the last couple of weeks and was struck by how some of the underlying tenets of Holmes’ approach to investigating apply to those undertaking a forensic exercise or investigation.  You will recall that in my first “Forensic Friday” post that I defined the task of a forensic accountant to be the answering of how, where, what, why and who questions (

An examination of those questions will involve, necessarily the probing of the factual matrix surrounding the matter in question.  It is here that Sherlock Holmes provides a significant guide to budding forensic accountants in the following quotes:

‘There is nothing like first-hand evidence.’

(from “A Study in Scarlett”)

‘It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.’

(from “A Scandal in Bohemia”)

“Data! Data! Data!” he cried impatiently. “I can’t make bricks without clay.”

(from “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”)

These quotes combine to form what I call the “Sherlock Holmes Factor” that should pervade all forensic inquiries.  It is simply that one should never draw conclusions before one has received and reviewed all of the data relevant to the investigation.  It is a very easy trap to fall into, in my experience, to commence an investigation with a prejudged position in mind because of what one has been briefed with at the start of the investigation.

Going in with a theory in mind as to what the outcome of the investigation might be will necessary direct your mind to what you are looking for and the questions that you ask.  The danger, obviously, is that you might miss something because you already have your “blinkers” on.  Applying the Sherlock Holmes Factor to forensic enquiries reduces this danger.

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