Wednesday 21 January 18:11
The Unexpected Fingerprint
Towards the end of my examination of a burglary scene, once I’d collected trace evidence and taken photographs, I carried out a fingerprint examination of objects that had been handled by the burglar. Sadly the burglar had made quite a mess, scattering objects across beds and floors. One item which had been handled was a ‘Learn Italian’ CD box, left in one of the bedrooms. I powdered the box and lifted fingerprint detail thinking it could either be the burglar’s, or more likely the householder’s. This was labelled as exhibit number 8.
A few days later the fingerprint was identified and not as the householder. Instead, a male living in Scotland had left his fingerprints on the box. The Detective assigned to the case did his detective work and started piecing it together. The householder stated that she bought the CD’s from Amazon about 3-4 years ago. Some research was done on the product and it was being sold by a seller through Amazon, based in Scotland. The company were contacted and a person with the name provided had worked for them for a few months during a Christmas period.
So he was in the clear and everything checked out. What was remarkable was that the fingerprint had lasted for a few years. The most obvious explanation I can think of is that this product had hardly been used by the householder, so the fingerprints had been well preserved. Now thinking about it, I didn’t hear anyone speaking Italian.
Sunday 28 December 10:36
The Murder Hoax
In 2009, Police were called to a wooded area behind a row of houses after receiving a call from a male phoning from a telephone kiosk. The male stated that he would like to report a murder which happened the previous day. He described seeing a man murder his girlfriend and bury her body in the woods. He claimed the clothes of the victim had been left behind the row of houses by the offender.
A police unit attended the woodland and here found women’s clothing neatly laid out on the ground. Cordon tape was placed around the area and the scene was guarded until my arrival.
On the ground was a blue dress that the informant stated he saw the female wearing. A watch lay on top of the dress. A pair of underwear and slippers, placed neatly next to each other, were also on the ground. There appeared to be no bloodstains or signs of damage on any of the clothing. The clothing was photographed, showing the condition it had been left in, and then seized into paper exhibit sacks.
Police then attended the telephone kiosk but the informant was not there.
CCTV from the store behind the kiosk was viewed and a male wearing a beige top and blue trousers, aged about 50+ was seen entering the phone box, making the call at the time logged.
A vehicle registered to the name the caller had provided was seen on the ANPR system. This was then stopped by a Police unit who confirmed that the driver did not match the description of the male calling from the kiosk, even though their names were the same. The driver stated that his neighbour may be responsible for making the call. Therefore, it was believed that another person had used his name to make this call.
A work address for the woman who was claimed to have been murdered was later found. She was seen and spoken to, both alive and well.
After several enquiries it was proved to be a false allegation. A suspect (the neighbour) was identified and arrested for wasting Police time. The suspect matched the appearance of the male on the CCTV footage and the clothing had been laid out close to his address. He also had a history of using his neighbour’s name.
This hoax took up many resources. It began with the initial call handler, who could’ve been taking a more urgent call. Police units were then deployed to the scene, the telephone kiosk, the “victim’s” work address and the vehicle seen on ANPR. A CID team were involved, as was I.
I would strongly discourage anyone from making hoax calls. The time Police had to spend on this investigation could’ve been spent with those who genuinely needed assistance.
Tuesday 18 November 14:41
Some footwear casts from a recent burglary scene. The detail was left behind in mud, so I used my plaster type casts to capture the detail. #forensics #csi #footwear #plaster #police
Friday 31 October 15:25
My scariest scene
It seems appropriate for me to post this today (Halloween night). One question people often ask me is ‘what’s the scariest scene you’ve dealt with’. As most will get nightmares tonight anyway, here goes…
I was called to a house fire and tragically, someone had died due to smoke inhalation. They had sustained no injuries and I’m hoping it occurred whilst they were asleep, so they didn’t suffer.
The scary part was that there was no lighting. My torch is designed for close up work, not to illuminate a room. Also as there’d been a fire, the walls were black, covered in soot. It was darker than night.
The scene needed photographing, so I used my flash as it was pitch black. I’m stood in the room with the deceased, not being able to see anything, click to take a picture, and I get a glimpse of the body for a split second before returning to utter darkness.
I was convinced that in my next photograph he would be gone.
I was fairly new in at the time, and had a more experienced CSI with me. No hand holding occurred. I like to think I don’t scare as easily now. I’ll let you know after tonight!
Wednesday 17 September 21:18
Attempted Murder on the Dance Floor
This blog post covers a Grievous Bodily Harm scene I attended at the site of a rave. Wasn’t quite an attempted murder, but I needed a punchy title.
The rave had taken place in a large, unused warehouse. A rather big sound system was located by the doors, which had been forced to gain entry. Many people had attended that night and consumed alcohol and drugs. In a place with music, drugs and no security trouble was soon around the corner. A male was hit over the head with a glass bottle, causing nasty injuries thought to be life threatening at the time.
My first task was to search for the scene where the assault occurred. With so much ground to cover it took me a while before I finally found a large bloodstain on the ground.
Marker 1 shows the location of the bloodstain.
The biggest problems I faced were the amount of ground covered and number of potential exhibits. It was going to prove tricky to specify where each exhibit had come from, and the relevance they had. I decided to use a technique I’d learnt during a bomb scene training course, and I split each section into zones. These zones were labelled in my notebook, and I used reflective markers to separate the areas.
I seized exhibits from Zone 3, the area of assault. The exhibits included drugs items, beer cans and footwear marks. I was particularly searching for a broken bottle, which I found and labelled with the marker 3. Unfortunately no mouthpiece to the bottle could be located after an extensive search. I wonder if the offender discarded the bottle top.
Sadly after all the work that had gone into this case away from the scene, the victim decided he did not want to pursue the matter. It was a real shame as all the pieces were there to present a good case to the courts, but the victim and witnesses were key to that. I cannot speculate as to why the victim withdrew from the case, but I hope he knows the support would’ve been there had he stayed with us.
Friday 22 August 17:09
The little lost keyring
I’ve got a real heart warming story to share with you.
A few weeks ago I was forwarded an email from a mother who took her 5 year old son, Jamie, to the 999 Day in Eastbourne. They spent some time with the CSI’s and he became fascinated in what we do. The CSI’s took his fingerprint and put it on a keyring, which became his new ‘prized possession’. He took it everywhere. Until one day, whilst out on a stroll along Brighton Pier, he sadly lost it. There were tears all the way home.
Hearing this story, I decided to contact the mother and ask for her address. I hate seeing or hearing anyone in distress, including a 5 year old missing a keyring! I put together a nice pack which would hopefully cheer him up.
In the pack I provided two keyrings (just in case the same event were to unfold), a notepad, two bookmarks and some ink strips. I wrote him a quick letter, something for his scrapbook!
I soon received an email from his mother thanking me. Apparently Jamie was so excited and had taken the whole families fingerprints. They were all put ‘on the database’! Jamie had also taken the time to send me a picture he had drawn.
Something for my scrapbook!
All the best Jamie. Might see you in 15 years time wearing our uniform!
Sunday 3 August 20:47
Explosive Scene? Or just your average day...
I was asked to attend to a burglary scene at a retail unit, but this burglary wasn’t your typical one. For starters, I didn’t expect to see the Fire Brigade there. A cordon had been put across the town centre with fire crew guarding the building. Unusual, as this is normally done by the Police.
Both Police and the Fire Brigade had been inside the building, and had both come to the same conclusion - powdered explosives may be present inside one of the offices. Everyone had backed away until my arrival.
I spoke with my manager over the phone and he came up with a great plan - ‘Stick your head in Chris and see what you think’. I slowly made my way upstairs, above the shop and into the staff area. Before making the tip-toe journey, I turned all my phones off as a precaution. It’s something I picked up from my explosives training. Another thing I picked up was sending a robot in rather than myself! But into the scene I went.
Behind the door at the top of the stairs was where the office with explosives was located. It felt like I was entering Narnia for the first time!
The room was a mess inside, with powder all over the place. A worktop had been overturned, which a Police Officer had described to be used ‘as a shield’ by the person wielding the explosives. Near to the worktop was a safe, with a square hole cut out. Once the metal exterior was cut through, a circular hole was made on the inner safe wall.
Below is an image of the counter, or ‘shield’, which was positioned opposite the safe.
It didn’t take me long to figure this one out. Near to the safe was a fire extinguisher, a POWDER fire extinguisher.
Just to be sure, I studied the nozzle of the extinguisher, which was facing away from the safe. The nozzle revealed the same colour powder to that on the floor. This also showed that it had been used, although this couldn’t be dated. As it was facing away from the scene where the explosion may have occurred, the nozzle would’ve been protected from the small blast, and unlikely that particles of powder should enter the nozzle.
It was suggested the ‘explosives’ had been used to force open the safe. Now that’s a very straight cut on the outer metal casing for explosives, perhaps an angle grinder was used?
The circular hole to the safe appeared as though it had been forced with a different item. Something hard, with a circular base.
Damage to the base of the fire extinguisher suggested this was the tool used to force open the inner wall of the safe.
As for the ‘shield’, I guess the counter was overturned to allow access to the safe. Would be a bit annoying having a counter over your head as you’re trying to angle grind something.
This scene was the perfect example of how every CSI needs to have a clear mind and fresh approach to a scene, taking into consideration what others have told you but not being lead by anything other than the evidence.
I’ll end on that cheesy CSI Miami style paragraph.
Sunday 1 June 20:02
Social Media in the hands of a CSI
When I get to a crime scene, after all my initial thoughts (what’s happened, how can I help the victim, what evidence could I obtain etc) I then have to think about if this crime scene would be suitable and interesting for social media. If I tweet about a break in to a garden shed, it probably wouldn’t generate much interest. If I tweet about forensically examining a door key found with bones in a woodland, it might get a bit of publicity (picked up by the Daily Mail, and can be found in my blog).
However, I could jazz up a story about a garden shed break by hash tagging the area it occurred in. Mr Joe Blogs who lives in Hove may be interested if he finds out all these shed breaks are happening on his doorstep.
Social media is a great asset for me to help others. If a burglar has spotted a weakness to someone’s property through complacency, I can help advise others not to fall into the same trap. There might also be a series happening in a particular area, so I can warn people to keep vigilant.
“Attended a garage compound in #Rustington where 10 garages had been broken into” & “Please consider adding additional locks to your garage, and do not leave valuables within” – Both tweeted May 21st 2014.
A helping hand is always good to have at a scene. Instead of taking a picture of something interesting, I might get someone to take a picture of me taking a picture of something interesting! It can be hard for me to demonstrate what I do when I’m the only member of police at a scene. I only have one pair of hands, and not the best at multi-tasking.
Another limitation I have with social media is whether or not I could tweet about a certain subject. For more sensitive cases, I normally wait until after the court case to blog/tweet about the subject. I was waiting for a while to blog about the key/bones case. My tweets, like everyone else, could be seen to influence a jury, so if I know it’s a sensitive matter I will keep quiet until the case has concluded.
A trick I’ve found to generate lots of interest is post pictures with dogs, so I’m always happy to see the Police Dog Unit at a scene. I’m still waiting to meet the Arson Dog since I started tweeting. It’s just a shame dogs and forensics don’t meet more often!
If there’s anything you feel I can do to improve, please let me know. I’m always interested to hear how I can enhance my tweets and blogs. And I’m here on social media for you, so if you’re interested in what I do please get in touch.
Sunday 6 April 15:18
Bloodstain Pattern Analysis – Projected Patterns
Warning, this blog isn’t for the faint hearted!
The definition of Projected patterns is a result from the ejection of blood under pressure. These stains are normally found where an artery has been punctured and the subject has moved around the scene. They are a good sight for a CSI, but a bad one as a human, as you then realise someone may have been seriously injured. I see these patterns more often at stabbing and serious assault scenes than your typical high street scuffle.
During a training course we carried out some exercises so we could see what Projected patterns looked like on various surfaces, both vertically and horizontally. We used a syringe and ejected the blood onto the different surface types. On a smooth wall they look rather nasty; blood will often run down the wall following gravity, leaving a rather sinister look.
Blood was ejected onto both carpet and paper. Where the carpet is more absorbent the pattern is more contained than on paper, where ‘spines’ and ‘satellite stains’ were found (refer to previous blog).
The biggest difference between the horizontal and vertical surfaces is the lack of those sinister flow patterns running down the wall, which are obviously not seen on the floor. However you still can see a fine line of blood in both, and this is how I notice these patterns on each surface.
Further to my previous blog where blood was found in a kitchen, the assault between the two males then continued upstairs in a bedroom. Blood was found on the carpet which appeared consistent with a Projected pattern, especially in the bottom right corner of the image where the blood loops around. This suggests that someone was suffering with a nasty incision/laceration which likely hit an artery whilst in the room.
These patterns can sometimes give you an idea of the direction of travel the depositor is going. By gaining information from the hospital, or sadly the mortuary, regarding the injuries sustained can help piece together bloodstains at the scene. For example, if a victim has sustained injuries to an artery on their right side, blood would have a higher chance of being deposited to their right. If you were looking down a hallway and a Projected blood pattern was on your right, the depositor was likely walking down the hallway (away from you).
Projected patterns are one of many different blood patterns I found at this assault scene. I aim to continue writing about different patterns I found. Stay tuned!
Friday 21 March 21:03
Bloodstain Pattern Analysis - Drip Patterns
Drip patterns and Passive bloodstains have been of high importance to me in recent months, as they have provided some excellent intelligence on the movements of offenders within crime scenes. ‘Drip Pattern’ is the classification given to a certain bloodstain, a pattern resulting from a liquid that dripped into another liquid (one of which is blood). The most common pattern I find is blood into blood!
To give you an idea of what a drip pattern looks like, here is an example of a single drop of blood.
Now here’s an image of what happens when many blood drops fall in and around the same area.
Notice that this creates smaller blood drops, known as ‘Satellite Stains’. If you look really closely, you may be able to see ‘Spines’ which are sharp lines of blood connected to the original spot. Think of a hedgehog, you have a round ball with spikes stemming away from it.
Now how can this be of importance at a crime scene? Well, this type of pattern is classified under the Passive category, meaning that these stains are gravity induced. As such, this would suggest that the blood is likely to belong to the person stood stationary above it, unless the scene is telling you otherwise.
Let me give you a real life example. An assault took place in a house where two people fought each other. Both sustained bleeding injuries. After the initial scuffle both men went to different rooms in the house; one to his bedroom and one into the kitchen.
Below is a picture of the kitchen.
A drawer was slightly open, with blood on the drawer, worksurface and floor.
Most of the blood on the kitchen drawer appeared to be Contact stains, where a blood bearing surface had come into contact with another surface. As both parties had bled, it would be more difficult to say who was at the kitchen drawer by the Contact Transfer blood. Eg. if an offender had the victim’s blood on their hands, the victim’s blood would be on the drawer but the victim would not be present there.
Below the drawer on the kitchen floor was this blood pattern.
These blood drops are similar to a Drip Pattern, where blood drops have fallen close together. This would suggest that the subject was stood stationary at this location as blood fell from their person. When blood reaches a certain volume (around 0.08ml) it will form blood drops. These drops are more likely to belong to the person stood at the kitchen drawer than the stains on the drawer itself.
This blood was swabbed on the kitchen floor and identified a male which fitted with witness statements and injuries. This blood helped the case become an Attempted Murder rather than a Grevious Bodily Harm, as it showed there was pre-meditation to harm someone by retrieving a knife away from the area of initial assault.
All photographs taken by myself. Credit to Bevel & Gardner, and the Netherlands Forensic Institute for the knowledge they’ve given me.
Friday 21 March 19:57
How people dress at crimes scenes on British crime shows
How people dress at crime scenes on American crime shows
One is slightly more accurate!
Sunday 2 March 15:50
Sometimes in this job you’re faced with tough, hard hitting scenes that can be a burden on your emotions for a few days. Other times, they can be a right laugh! Here’s a job that initially looked like a distressing scene, turned into nothing but humour.
I believe it’s common practice for new build developers to hire Archaeologists; make sure new homes aren’t being placed on any historic memorabilia, unstable ground, spaceships etc. In a large, open desert of flat mud, two of these Archaeologists made a discovery that at first was quite disturbing, and prompted a fast response from police. They claimed to have discovered bones belonging to a small infant human. Alarm bells rang, two specialists had found bones to a small child? This could turn into a massive case, as potentially an unforgivable crime had been committed.
My manager and I turned up to the scene, greeting a Detective Sergeant, Detective Constable, scene guards and the two Archaeologist. We all waited in anticipation for the Forensic Archaeologist to turn up. I prepared my camera to record the scene under her direction. When she did arrive, she gathered her equipment and began carefully dusting away the soil from around the bones.
She worked the dirt away for a few minutes before turning to us with a smile. She then uttered the words,
“It’s a cat.”
The faces of the two building Archaeologist’s dropped, like they’d smelt a bad smell, and hardly spoke a word after that announcement. The Detective Sergeant then joked,
“At least it wasn’t a KFC bargain bucket.”
It’s never nice having your time wasted, but we were all relieved no infants were harmed.
Saturday 21 December 20:09
CSI's in pursuit of Drink Drivers - #DrinkORDrive
We may not have the quickest of vehicles, blue flashing lights, or training in fast paced vehicle manoeuvres, but CSI’s will help chase those who decide to get behind the wheel after a few drinks. Sometimes linking a stolen motor vehicle to a suspect can be challenging, but what happens when the suspect is the owner of the vehicle? How might we link such a person to committing a crime like drink driving in their own vehicle? This blog is a demonstration of how I identified the driver of a vehicle after it had crashed and been abandoned.
CSI’s should always keep an open mind. If a vehicle has been reported stolen after the accident it could be a genuine claim. The car may have been stolen without the owners knowledge, and the crash could come before the owners first phone call to us. It has also been known for drink drivers to report their vehicle stolen after they’ve suffered an RTC (Road Traffic Collision). The cheesy phrase ‘follow the evidence’ may make me snigger when watching TV programmes, but it has some truth. CSI’s should document and record the evidence in front of them without any bias.
The vehicle I was tasked to examine had hit a few other cars until it finally collided with a brick wall. The driver was seen to flee by witnesses. My first task was to photograph and document my findings. One thing I will always do is comment on the appearance of the car, and play close attention to any forced entry (or lack of). In this case no forced entry or evidence of hotwiring were found.
The windscreen had significant cracks across it and during my visual examination I noticed hair caught in the cracks of glass, likely as a result of someone striking their head against it (also a great advert for seatbelts).
Due to the location and amount of hairs, this would hopefully prove to be strong evidence for the investigation. I collected and packaged these hairs in order for a DNA submission.
My visual examination continued and I located a stain on the drivers seatbelt which I tested for blood. The result showed a positive indication for blood and the stain was swabbed. The stain is located directly below the arrow, the number 4 relates to my sequence of exhibit numbers.
After my examination I returned to the office with a choice. One exhibit was to be sent off for DNA comparison between the hairs and the blood. This would save the force some money by only sending one item, with the potential for a second submission in the future. I submitted the hairs as this would be harder to challenge in interview and court. The blood could be challenged if it proved to be the owner of the vehicle’s. Without the ability to age blood the owner could say this is historic, and they cut themselves previously. The hair would be harder to challenge either by the owner of the car or a thief.
The results from the hair analysis identified a male with access to the vehicle, so we weren’t looking at a SMV (Stolen Motor Vehicle) crime. Instead the hairs helped prove the man was responsible for crashing the car.
More sensitive forensic work can be done, especially if an air bag has deployed. Air bags shouldn’t be handled by anyone other than the person striking it in a collision. In this case, no air bag deployed.
I hope this has opened your eyes before you get behind the wheel feeling rather tipsy. Thankfully no one was seriously hurt in this case, others haven’t been so lucky. Please challenge anyone you suspect of drink driving, you could save their life.
Tuesday 26 November 20:18
Training exercise in body recovery #forensics #csi #training
Tuesday 26 November 20:17
Training exercise in body recovery #forensics #csi #training
Tuesday 26 November 20:16
Training exercise in body recovery #forensics #csi #training
Tuesday 26 November 20:16
Training exercise in body recovery #forensics #csi #training
Tuesday 26 November 20:15
Training exercise in body recovery #forensics #csi #training
All posts >
Friday 22 November 16:51
Crime - keeping it within the family
Last year I attended a burglary scene where point of entry was gained around the rear of the property. The owner had left her keys in the kitchen door, which were in easy reach by someone poking an arm through a cat flap. Strangely once the offender had opened the door, they locked it behind them. Nothing inside the bungalow had been disturbed, and the only thing stolen was cash from a living room coffee table. Point of exit must have been the front door which could be pulled shut and secured with the latch style lock.
The only signs of forced entry were to pieces of parcel tape across the cat flap, which had been broken. Otherwise there’d be no signs of where the offender had entered and I’d be scratching my head.
I examined both sides of the door for fingerprints using ‘Magneta Flake’ powder, made up of small iron filings. I developed marks on the inside of the door, between the cat flap and the door handle. These marks were in a prime location to be the offenders.
I took the owner’s fingerprints so a comparison could initially be done with her prints. She told me that she had suspicions about a young family member. The fact that the property was locked up by the offender afterwards showed that they had a slight conscience, and were possibly attached to the victim in some way. Although this couldn’t be proven at the time.
A few days later the fingerprints all came back negative. The reasoning was none of the marks were suitable for comparison. The Fingerprint Expert felt that there wasn’t enough detail in the fingerprints for an identification to be made, however I felt that at least one of the marks were suitable. I was on the phone to the Expert and asked them to review the case, which they kindly did.
I later received a Fingerprint Identification, which came up as the nephew of the owner. The nephew was arrested and interviewed. I was soon asked to complete a statement for presentation at Court, and once the trail began I was called into Court.
I gave evidence as to how I developed the fingerprints and where I found them. I presented my photographs and showed where the identifying mark was located (middle arrow in picture). The nephew was found guilty by the Magistrates.
Sadly, the hunch that the owner had about a family member appeared to be correct. The location of the fingerprints played a part in the conviction, and hopefully the offender has learnt from the experience.