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HOLMES 2 (Home Office Large Major Enquiry System) is an Information Technology system that is predominantly used by UK Police forces in order to investigate major incidents including serial murders and multi-million pound frauds. The system is a single application which was developed by Unisys for the Police Information Technology Organisation under the Private Finance Initiative. It provides total compatibility and consistency between all the Police forces of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, as well as the Royal Military Police. The name of the system is a backronym for the fictional private investigator, Sherlock Holmes.


History of development

HOLMES 2 is an advancement of the first HOLMES version. This one was introduced in 1986 in order to enable law enforcement agencies to improve effectiveness and productivity in crime investigations. Like HOLMES 2, it was an administrative support system which was primarily designed to assist Senior Investigation Officers in their management of the complexity of investigating serious crime. To this end, HOLMES carefully processed the mass of information it was provided with and ensured that no vital clues were overlooked.

But the system had some crucial weaknesses, too. It provided very little support to the investigation of the crime per se and had only very limited opportunities to link separate incidents, especially across police force boundaries. What was needed was a solution that allowed an increased amount of information exchange combined with a better use of the information.[1]

Against this background, the British Police Service started a plan to replace the existing system with a new, improved version in 1994. The new version, HOLMES 2, overcame the known weaknesses of HOLMES. Additionally, it is more flexible for future changes and provides a speedier and more efficient access to information. The system was finally released to the first forces in 2000, while the last forces became operational in early 2004.


As mentioned above, HOLMES 2’s most important function is the one as a crime investigation tool. For this purpose, it is based on an organised and methodical approach, whose structure concentrates on the Major Incident Room (MIR). This is the administrative center where further investigation actions are coordinated and all the information from members of public, enquiry officers and other sources is gathered. With the help of several input masks, HOLMES 2 is provided with the relevant information and used by the Senior Investigating Officer to direct and control the course of the enquiry. In this respect, the system uses a combination of COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) components and purpose-built software to provide the most cost-effective system for the Police Service. Furthermore, the improved HOLMES embeds Computer intelligence for the first time. The Dynamic Reasoning Engine (DRE), for example, makes it possible to combine the skills and experiences of crime investigators with the acquired knowledge of the system in order to identify new lines of enquiry in an investigation.

The features of HOLMES 2 can be outlined as follows:[2]

  • Document Management enables the flow of all documents to be monitored and controlled throughout the investigation. Senior investigating officers can view the state of each document and quickly identify any bottlenecks in the process.
  • Workflow Management allows law enforcement organisations to tailor HOLMES 2 to suit their individual work practices.
  • Graphical Indexing provides the facility to visualise the indexing by the automatic generation of a link chart. The user can also index directly from a marked up copy of the document, thus eliminating the need for the user to re-key the data.
  • Record Management enables all structured data to be quickly retrieved for research and analysis. Structured data is searched before creation to reduce the risk of duplication. Powerful search facilities include exact matching, truncated matching, synonym matching and wild card searches.
  • Task Management facilities allow the user to allocate actions to investigating officers and monitor the progress. Actions can be prioritised and the priority level of an action can be modified at any time. HOLMES 2 provides the facility to view a graphical representation of outstanding actions and officer workload to assist in the assessment of work outstanding, staffing levels and bottlenecks in the process.
  • Exhibit Management provides a facility to manage and track the movement of all crime-related property throughout the investigation. A full movement history is maintained for each exhibit.Whenever an exhibit is taken from its storage place, the details of the removal are recorded. This maintains an audit trail that can be presented to anyone questioning the integrity of the exhibit.
  • Research and Analysis provides the possibility to produce sequence of events charts and association (link) charts, and compare databases to identify potential links with similar investigations.
  • Disclosure Management manages the disclosure of unused material in an investigation. It allows the Disclosure Officer to perform primary and secondary disclosure to assess the material and produce the relevant schedules for the Crown Prosecution Service.
  • Court Preparation facilities allow all material required for court, including documents and exhibits, to be prepared efficiently and professionally. The graphical presentation allows the system to be used in court to show how complex information flows are linked.

Another important use of HOLMES 2 lies in Disaster Management. The reason for this can be seen in the similarities that exist between the investigation of a major incident and a major disaster. In case of a disaster, HOLMES 2 collaborates with the facilities for disaster management via the Casualty Bureau.[3] The additional functions required for Casualty Bureau operations, like recording Interpol data and specific action management facilities, are fully integrated into the HOLMES 2. HOLMES 2 also provides the ability to pool resources in order to handle more effectively the initial peak load of missing person calls from the public.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that there is also a fully mobile version of HOLMES 2 available which can be run on a Laptop computer for use in Courts or on the go.

Technical Details

The Client/Server architecture of HOLMES 2 is based on Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional or NT 4.0 workstations with UNIX servers running either Solaris or UnixWare. The system network communicates by using TCP/IP network protocols for LAN und WLAN communication.

Furthermore, HOLMES 2 uses a 2-tier approach for local database access and a 3-tier approach for remote database access, whereby remote database access is user-configurable from the front end. A freetext database allows users to ask unstructured questions and to present the results in order of relevance. Apart from that, a dual operation was adopted to increase the speed of the system. While searches themselves were tuned at the SQL (Structured Query Language) level, additional indexes on the RDBMS (Relational database management system) tables were deployed.[4]


  1. ^
  2. ^, p. 2.
  3. ^ For further information about the role of Casualty Bureau see
  4. ^ For further information about the technical details of the system see

See also

External links



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