Mistaken identity
Sometimes people say something like 'haven't I met you before?' and my stock response is 'you've probably seen my face on a wanted poster'.

The idea is to get a laugh (and sometimes it does) but it is a fact that the police did once issue a Photofit picture of me. Fortunately, even though I was going into police stations fairly regularly in those days, I didn't get arrested. Well, I haven't been arrested up to this point anyway.

This was nearly forty years ago and I was working for my local paper, the Waltham Forest Guardian-Independent. I called to see an old lady who had been visited by a couple of conmen (at the time I was an apprentice journalist and this was the sort of thing we did).

When I knocked, Edith Eastwood (who was nearly 90 then and must be deceased by now) was terrified. She was convinced that I was one of the conmen returning to do her further mischief.

It took a lot of persuading to convince her that I wasn't one of the felons but a local newspaper reporter. Even so she said I looked just like one of them.

She also said she had an appointment with the police the following morning and would be trying to help them identify the villains.

The identikit pictures subsequently issued by the police reveal some of the short comings of the system. Clearly the mouth is the same (see my NUJ card picture taken at about the same time) and there's the trademark long lanky hair (though probably darker than mine was at the time). The nose is similar but somehow longer. The eyebrows are very dark (as mine were then and still are) but instead of being angled they are just like the eyebrows a child would draw.

But clearly it's me. At the time I was going into police stations several times a week (in order to pick up crime reports). I also spent a lot of time at the Waltham Forest Magistrates Court where there were usually a dozen or more police officers.

Nobody ever identified me.

Of course, I didn't actually commit the crime (I'd hardly have gone back to see Edith Eastwood if I had) but that's not really the point.

What it reveals is that the whole system is really designed to confirm suspicions that people already have, rather than identify people out of the blue. If you feel someone you know might be a criminal and then see a Photofit that looks like them, then you may tip the police off. But any villain could probably walk down the busiest high street with complete confidence even if his face was on the front page of every newspaper.