Imagine being a victim of a horrific crime, only to have your case go unsolved for years or even decades. This is the reality for many victims of historical sex crimes in the UK.

Cold Case Investigators: Solving Britain’s Sex Crimes which aired on BBC2 yesterday shows how a dedicated team of cold case detectives is working tirelessly to bring hope and justice to these victims, using advanced forensic techniques and unwavering determination.

The UK has a staggering number of unsolved rape and sexual assault cases, with tens of thousands of cases lying dormant in police archives. For victims, the trauma of these crimes never disappears, even as time passes. The lack of closure can be devastating, leaving many feeling as though their attacker has evaded justice.

Operation Painter, run by the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit, is tackling this issue head-on. Established in 2016, the operation began by reviewing 5,407 unsolved rape and sexual assault cases dating back 50 years. Using the latest forensic science, the team is working to uncover new evidence and bring perpetrators to justice.

Key to Operation Painter’s success is the use of cutting-edge forensic techniques. DNA evidence from original investigations is being re-examined using modern methods, which can uncover previously undetected traces of DNA. This has led to the generation of full DNA profiles, which can be cross-referenced against the National DNA Database to identify suspects.

However, the real driving force behind Operation Painter is the dedicated team of detectives. Det Con Hayley Dyas, who worked on a successful case resulting in a 13-year prison sentence for the perpetrator, says that delivering justice for victims is her favourite part of the job.

The power of dedicated cold case teams is exemplified in the case of Karen (not her real name), who was brutally raped by a taxi driver in Luton in 1993. Despite DNA evidence being collected at the time, techniques were not advanced enough to create a full profile.

However, when Operation Painter reopened her case, modern forensic methods were able to generate a complete DNA profile from the original evidence. This profile matched to Zahid Majeed, a taxi driver from Luton, who was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison for rape and three years for kidnap.

For police forces looking to tackle historical sex crimes, the message is clear: dedicated cold case teams, armed with the latest forensic techniques and staffed by experienced professionals, can deliver real results. Whether it’s through in-house teams or leveraging models like Peel Solutions’ Teams-as-a-Service, investing in this capability is crucial.

Operation Painter and the work of cold case detectives across the UK offer hope to victims of historical sex crimes. By harnessing advanced forensics, the determination of dedicated professionals, and innovative resourcing models, police forces can bring criminals to justice and provide closure for victims.

How is your police force tackling historical sex crimes? Share your experiences and insights with us.