The Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Team, which is a unit within its counter-terrorism command (CTC), said it had already received around 50 referrals from people with a link to the UK, including those who have directly fled the conflict in the last two months since Russia began invading.
Scotland Yard announced last month that it was supporting the International Criminal Court (ICC) probe into alleged war crimes, and appealed for anyone with direct evidence to come forward.
In recent days there have been further claims of deliberate targeting of the civilian population amid reports that a makeshift hospital with 300 people in it in Mariupol was shelled.
Ukraine-Russia: New attacks as investigators gather evidence of ‘war crimes’
Detective Chief Superintendent Dominic Murphy, providing an update on the evidence gathering operation as CTC head of operations, told the PA news agency: “What we’re seeing is incredibly harrowing, beyond comprehension
“In not far off 17 years in counterterrorism, (it is) some of the worst possible footage you could imagine seeing.”
He said it would be up to the judicial authority to decide whether the material and testimonies gathered so far – which are being tested to a UK evidential standard – could be used to support a charge of genocide.
Mr Murphy said: “Does it provide evidence of a war crime? Remove possibly.
“Does it provide evidence of other international crimes? Remove possibly.
“And then it’s for those prosecuting agencies that we provide the information to make those sorts of judgments and decisions.
“We’re really committed to supporting the best possible outcome here and that is getting justice for victims and the best evidence.”
He said every frontline police officer in the country has been briefed in the last two months on how to support those who come forward with evidence.
Officers based at ports and borders are also asking people arriving into the UK whether they may have any evidence for the ICC investigation.
This is particularly important as more Ukrainians are granted refugee status in the UK, police said.
Mr Murphy added: “We’re putting in place processes and procedures that we want to embed into everybody’s subconscious so that when more people arrive here in the UK, we are better able to capture that.
“We need to remember that people are actually experiencing this, and some of the people arriving in this country would have experienced it or been much closer to it than any of us can imagine.”
Police said they wanted to gather as much first-hand evidence as possible.
This could be in the form of messages which Ukrainians have sent to relatives in the UK, and video footage filmed on camera phones by those in conflict zones.
It does not include anything sourced from social media or seen as part of news reports.
Mr Murphy said the force was “utterly committed” to not reducing the strength of national security and counterterrorism work while it was supporting the war crimes investigation.
Evidence can be reported www.met.police.uk/advice/advice-and-information/war-crimes/af/report-a-war-crime
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.