Investigation Step #1: Google Suspect

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Every journalist (and police officer, for that matter) should start their investigative work with a Google search. They may find it’s all they need.

You’ve probably read by now of the disappearance, reappearance and arrest of the former British prison officer John Darwin, who turned up at a police station this month saying he’d lost his memory after a kayak incident in 2002. Everyone was relieved, including his wife, who had apparently reconciled herself to his passing and moved to Panama a week earlier. But one person was skeptical: an unnamed woman who turned to Google, as this Guardian story by Matthew Weaver reports:

A single mother put police and journalists to shame in their attempts to unravel the mysterious reappearance of the canoeist John Darwin by using a simple Google search, it emerged yesterday.

The woman found the picture that apparently shows Darwin with his wife, Anne, in Panama City in July last year.

When confronted with the picture, which was published in the Daily Mirror yesterday, Anne Darwin is reported to have admitted: “Yes, that’s him. My sons will never forgive me.”

The photograph was available on a website of the firm Move to Panama. It was found by the anonymous woman after she tapped in the words “John, Anne and Panama” into Google. She forwarded the picture to Cleveland police and the Mirror. She said that when she sent the picture to detectives, she was told: “You’re joking.”

I believe she actually did a Google image search, which, at the time of writing, still throws up the same image as the number one result, although the actual image has been removed from the site.

Police and journalists should share the shame and blame for not doing some basic Google sleuthing.

Caught in the web | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited