One must be very careful when stating as fact, that the person you identify is actually the person concerned, especially in criminal cases. But even in non-criminal cases your identification if wrong could have a devastating effect on the life or career of the person concerned.
A particular story comes to mind, when as a young PC aged about 23, one night duty in 1953, I was mistaken for somebody else. I had parked my very old car near the police station, and looking for my cape on the back seat, realised that I had left it at home. It was raining heavily, and so got into the station quickly, and my sergeant agreed that I should borrow one, of a PC from another relief who was actually off sick at that moment in time,
We had no raincoats in those days, and after the parade, and inspection by the night duty inspector, I donned this other PC's cape. Every police station was the same, when the whole relief of 15 men would walk out of the station in crocodile fashion, all in single file, all in the gutter, with the section sergeants walking alongside, and the PCs would peel off when their beat was reached.
It was still raining outside, and I noticed a young woman under an umbrella peering at all fifteen of us as we passed. I gave her a friendly smile as I passed, and her face lit up. After some time I realised that she was following us. When I reached my beat, I got into a shop doorway, before I started the long night of trying shop door handles. This young lady joined me, and I asked if I could help her.
She looked at the silver number that was on the strap across the front of the cape, and said "I wasn't sure if it was you John. I was waiting for you."
I said "Before you go any further, I must stop you. I'm not John I've just borrowed his cape. He's apparently off sick at the moment." She looked at me as if I was lying, and I said "When did you last see him?"
"About a month ago" she said, "Where was that" I asked. She mentioned a residential footpath at the back of some housing, saying, "I always go in the back way to our house, as its quicker, and I first met him there, are you sure it's not you, your not kidding me are you?"
"Last month, John was posted to that beat for a month of night duty, so you have only ever seen him in the dark really." I said, at the same time taking off my helmet and cape so she could see my face in the street light, and my own number on my uniform. She looked crestfallen that she had picked the wrong man and apologised. She appeared to be on the verge of tears, and I asked if I could leave a message for John.
She said, he had walked her home along that rear pathway every evening for a month, and they became friends, and one thing led to another, she wouldn’t tell me anymore, but when his posting to that beat finished he had moved away from her life. I did in fact leave a message for John, and although a young man full of life, as you would expect an ex-sailor to be, I felt that he was man enough to do the honourable thing for her, if what I was thinking was true.
As I walked the beat that night, I thought of the awful possibilities, if she had complained to my Chief Inspector, as she had only seen him during the hours of darkness, on an unlit pathway at the rear of her house. Plus the fact the PC and I were very similar in age, and there was a certain resemblance to each other. Thank God she remembered his divisional number.