Since all residual stress measurement methods have inherent limitations, it is normally impractical to completely characterise a three-dimensional residual stress field by experimental means. This lack of complete information makes it difficult to incorporate measured residual stress data into the analysis of elastic–plastic fracture without resorting to simplified methods such as the Failure Assessment Diagram (FAD) approach. We propose a technique in which the complete residual stress field is reconstructed from measurements and used in finite element analysis of the fracture process. Residual elastic strains and stresses in three-point bend fracture specimens were measured using neutron diffraction and an iterative method was used to generate a self-consistent estimate of the complete residual stress field. This enabled calculation of the J contour integral for a specimen acted on by both residual stress and an externally-applied load, allowing the interaction between residual and applied stress to be observed in detail.