Friday 11 September 09:25
Not just criminals that end up in the back of a Police Car
Whilst I was out for a stroll off-duty I was stopped by an older gentleman who asked me for directions to an address. I got out my phone and looked on the Map App for where he needed to go. I found that he was quite far from where he needed to be, and he was heading in the wrong direction. I offered to get him a taxi, but he was politely insistent that he didn’t want me to get him one, claiming he needed the exercise! He looked at my phone for the directions and went on his way, but I wasn’t confident he’d reach his address without any further issues.
I couldn’t let him walk away. I contacted the Police’s non emergency number for advice, and spoke to a call handler called James. After getting advice from James, I went to speak to the gentleman once again to find out some more details from him. James was able to check to see if he’d been reported missing, either by his family or a care home, which he hadn’t. I asked the gentleman if he had any relatives nearby, but he only mentioned a daughter who worked in London. As I spoke to him, he sounded a little confused, so James called for a local unit to attend and give the gentleman a lift to his destination. He also confirmed that he was 95 years old.
As we waited, I got him to lean against a wall in the shade, and chatted to him for a while. If he was living with Dementia, I’m aware that his sort term memory may not be great, so I asked him questions about his working life and we had a good chat. As the police car pulled up, I asked if he’d ever been in the back of one before! I didn’t quite hear his response, although he looked rather excited to be getting in one.
Two officers helped him into the car and took him where he needed to be. I’ve now seen on the report that the officers made sure that he’s receiving the appropriate aftercare. Both Social Services and his kind neighbours are watching over him.
Know that the Police aren’t only here to help you in the event of a crime. If ever you’re in a situation where someone needs help, and it’s not a crime, you can seek advice using the Police’s non emergency number 101. The response I got couldn’t have been better.
Saturday 5 September 17:05
Social Media and Major Incidents
Social media has become a necessity for most of our lives. I personally cannot go a day without checking it, and with it being easily available in the palm of my hand it’s hard not to. It’s great being able to go home from work, unwind, and see what the world has been up to whilst I’ve been busy. Sometimes if I’ve had a particularly tough day at work, I may refrain from checking my Police Twitter account and stick solely to any personal social accounts.
Before social media we got our news from newspapers, television and the radio, by those trained and skilled to present it to us. These days, I can access the news at anytime using a smartphone. There isn’t a need for me to tune into the 6 o’clock news every evening, or pop down to the local to buy a paper. Which is partly good, but there’s also a downside to having news stories so easily available.
The news is now everywhere. Sometimes it’s given to us when we’re not expecting it, when we haven’t prepared ourselves for it. I log onto Facebook expecting to see what my mates have been up to; I don’t always expect to see alarming stories cramming up my social feed. Which is perhaps why sometimes they are more shocking than reading about it in a newspaper. We have different expectations opening a newspaper than we do when opening the Facebook app; we can prepare ourselves in different ways.
A CSI used to be able to easily avoid news stories of the cases they were working. When at a scene from morning until night, there wouldn’t be time to catch the news on television, or buy a paper. Therefore it may have been a little easier for the CSI to go home and detach themselves from what they have just done. These days, my biggest unwinding trick is also my nemesis. We’ve had a tragic air accident in Shoreham recently, where it felt like everyone was posting about it. My news feed was jammed packed with shared news articles and amateur photographs of the crash. There was no escape from it.
This made dealing with the scene more emotionally challenging. It felt like the only escape was to fall asleep. But I was able to turn it into a positive.
I received so many messages of support from people close to me and members of the public. Each time I then logged onto social media, I would be greeted with words of encouragement, that really did give me a boost. Rather than focusing on the news stories, I was able to focus on your messages. I’d like to share with you some of the messages I received:
Apologies to those posts which I haven’t been able to share, but know that every message was deeply appreciated. I took those words of encouragement with me and it gave me fuel each day to get through such an ordeal. The perception of police isn’t always magnificent, we always hear about the bad eggs when there are so many good officers out there, so it was great to see so many people getting behind the services working at Shoreham and backing us up.
But to throw in another negative, there were obviously people filming the air show. But when the accident occurred, people had captured it and posted that footage straight onto social media. There is this culture these days where people try for online fame, whatever it takes. The media showed the footage, but censored/edited certain parts as they are trained to do. They know how stories should be broadcast, whereas some members of the public may not. These people hadn’t properly thought about what they were posting before doing it.
Going back to the days before smartphones, what did people do in times of crisis? Did they run towards the victims to offer first aid? Did they comfort those who had witnessed it? Did they call the emergency services? These all seem more logical than recording the incident to post it online. But not all people recorded it for this purpose, there was footage handed in which hadn’t been posted online, which is assisting with the investigation.
So there are positives and negatives to social media when I’m working on a major incident. I hope this has offered you an insight into how social media can affect us at a scene, and please be smart with all you do when a crisis occurs. Know that you can have a real positive impact using social media. Thank you.
Saturday 18 July 16:35
Bloodstain Pattern Analysis Course
When I ask people what they think of when they hear the words ‘Forensic Evidence’, fingerprints and blood are two popular answers. Blood is something a Scenes Of Crime Officer will get excited about, just like Charlie and his golden ticket. I always feel like skipping down the road holding a blood swab, singing at the top of my voice, knowing there’s a good chance the offender will be caught. But blood doesn’t just tell us who it belongs to, it can also tell us a story.
On July 1st 2013 I attended the Netherlands Forensic Institute to participate in a week long course, learning the basics about Bloodstain Pattern Analysis. I looked at the itinerary for the week and my eyes lit up; each day was packed with interesting topics and experiments. The two instructors introduced themselves and both were operational Bloodstain Pattern Analysts. Everyone except myself and a German man were Dutch, but they all spoke exceptional English. Most laughed at my jokes, so people in the class knew when to be polite!
We were given an introduction into the topic, which dates all the way back to a case in Roman history. I couldn’t believe that the field of BPA dates back almost 2000 years. A wife had murdered her husband, and tried to blame it on her blind son. There were hand prints in blood on the wall that she stated the son left when feeling his way away from the body. However, a Roman Jurist called Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, born 35 A.D, did not believe this story as the hand prints did not diminish in volume. He also found that the size of the handprints were more similar to the mothers. She later confessed that she had planted the hand prints on the wall, and kept going back to the body to put more blood on her hands.
There was a discussion about the Dr. Samuel Sheppard case, which I had seen on a TV programme before attending the course. This was a really interesting case where BPA was first used in the court room by Dr. Paul Kirk in 1955, and managed to prove that Dr. Sheppard was innocent. He was later released from prison, and is the inspiration behind the movie ‘The Fugitive’.
What is BPA?
Bloodstain pattern analysis is the study of the shape, size, location and distribution of bloodstains in order to determine the physical events which gave rise to their origin.
Categories of Bloodstains
We learnt the basic terminology of bloodstains and what Scientists worldwide refer to them as. This terminology has been adopted by both the International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts (IABPA) and SWGSTAIN.
There are 4 main categories of bloodstain patterns, which can be further broken down. The first thing an analyst should do when viewing a bloodstain is determine which main category it belongs to.
1. Passive Patterns (gravity induced)
2. Spatter Patterns (force applied to blood source)
3. Contact Patterns (two surfaces come together)
4. Miscellaneous or altered patterns
These categories can be broken down further as different patterns fall under one category. Here are a few of those sub-categories:
1. Passive Patterns
1.1 - Drip Stain - a falling drop of blood, induced by gravity.
1.2 - Drip Pattern - a bloodstain pattern where liquid has fallen into liquid (one of which is blood).
1.3 - Splash Pattern - a volume of blood which spills or falls onto a surface.
2. Spatter Patterns
2.1 - Impact Pattern - where an object strikes liquid blood, leaving a pattern on nearby surfaces.
2.2 - Cast-Off - droplets of blood released from an object due to its motion.
2.3 - Projected Pattern - pattern created by the ejection of a volume of blood under pressure.
3. Contact Patterns
3.1 - Transfer Stain - when a blood bearing surface and another surface come into contact.
3.2 - Swipe Pattern - when a blood bearing surface and another surface come into contact, with characteristics that motion occurred between the two surfaces.
There are a wider amount of these categories, and if you’re interested do check out written work that’s out there. I did not manage to take photographs of some stains whilst at the course; like wipe patterns, expiration patterns, saturation stains, pool patterns, flow patterns etc.
All the pictures you see above are from experiments during the course, except for the footwear mark which is from a crime scene I attended a few years ago. The experiments were lots of fun, but at the same time were really interesting as acting out a crime is never something I practice! For an experiment to run smoothly you need a clear goal, and throughout the course we had 15 different experiments to complete. The two most memorable experiments for me were the following:
Influence of height on the shape of drip stains
For this experiment we had a pipette, blood and a ruler. We dropped blood from different heights and recorded the diameter of each stain, as well as commenting on any characteristics we could see. We started at 15cm from the floor and kept getting higher until we needed a ladder. Once on the ladder we progressed up it until we felt we needed something bigger. That’s when the forklift arrived!
Equipped with a laser measuring device, tests were carried out at each metre until we reached a height of almost 7 metres high. We found that the higher up you were, the larger the blood drop diameter would be until the drop reached its maximum velocity. This was at around 3 metres high.
Defining the location of impact by stringing
You may have seen the famous Dexter perform this task, and his techniques can sometimes be called into question by the real experts, but the principal of what you see him do is the same. By using mathematics and string you can work out the area of impact. Meaning if you have an impact pattern (seen previously) you can determine roughly where that person was positioned when they were struck.
By using equations I determined the angle at which a selection of bloodstains struck the wall. With these results I used string which I taped to the wall, and each piece followed the direction of the angle until it touched the floor. When I’d placed 12 pieces of string from either side, most came together and intersected, and this was the area of origin.
Chris’ final thought!
I will certainly perform my own experiments in the future, and keep you posted with what I get up to. I hope to go on a further advanced course to enhance my skills. I’d like to say a massive thank you to the Netherlands Forensic Institute for all they taught me, and credit them with the information contained in the ‘Categories of Bloodstains’ section.
Saturday 11 July 21:16
Vulnerable Victim Fraud
There are around 800,000 people living in the UK who suffer with Dementia. That scary sum could rise to 1 million by 2021, according to Alzheimer’s Society. Dementia sufferers will experience the following problems:
• memory loss
• thinking speed
• mental agility
A criminal may see these symptoms and look to exploit them. Thinking speed, mental agility and judgement are what we use when we open the door to cold-callers. If we lack these abilities, the criminals can take advantage.
Throughout my career I have been involved in a few cases where this has occurred. I will show you two examples of vulnerable victim fraud. The names of the victims have been changed.
John, who lived by himself, was approached by gardeners asking if he needed work doing. Gardening had become difficult for John over the years, so he decided to accept the offer. The gardeners cut part of the tree in his garden, charging him £500. Here is the work they carried out.
It’s then thought that the gardeners have prayed on John’s memory loss and lack of judgement by visiting him several times afterwards, each time asking to be paid. John, not remembering that he has already paid, has handed over his money. It’s believed that he handed over a total of around £4000. As this was all in cash, it could not be proved that it was handed to the gardeners.
The case was referred to CPS, who referred it to Trading Standards.
A social worker was assisting John. Whilst the police investigated, the social worker did an excellent job at looking after John during a no doubt stressful ordeal. The worker continued to watch over John, making sure an occurrence like this didn’t occur again.
The second case involves David, another Dementia sufferer who lives alone. His family all live far away, so he keeps to himself. David visited the bank to withdraw £2000. The cashier recognised him from a few weeks ago, where he withdrew £6000. She questioned his transaction, and he said the money was for builders who were mending his shed roof. The cashier has contacted police and reported it.
The work done by the builders was terrible. Rather than re-felt the whole roof, they put a sheet over part the existing roof. A five minute job.
Spotting his vulnerability, they too decided to keep coming back. But because of this, they were caught.
Sadly no prosecutions could be made, but these Rouge Traders were marked and put on watch by various Police Forces.
The ordeal brought David’s family closer to him, both they and the carers became more hands on in their care towards him. The bank capped the amount he could withdraw to help prevent him being targeted in the future. The police offered to put CCTV cameras up for him as a deterrent, but these were politely declined by the family.
It’s important to recognise the signs of Dementia. It could be that a vulnerable person is currently being victimised, but if you’re able to spot it you could help put an end to it. Look for signs of work being done, or is the person withdrawing money from the bank without a reason? If they are voluntarily handing over money to people, and unable to remember, it’s always hard for CPS to be able to prosecute.
If you’re over the age of 65 and worried about memory loss it’s important to mention it to your GP. Your GP can recommend the appropriate treatment and support for you.
I hope this blog will help you recognise the signs of Dementia. Please see this video which further highlights scams that fraudsters will carry out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZDpw_IDSps&feature=youtu.be
Credit to the NHS for information regarding Dementia. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dementia-guide/pages/about-dementia.aspx
Tuesday 26 May 16:39
Thinking like a Burglar
“I am a burglar, standing in front of House A. I walk down the driveway and through an insecure side gate. Nice of them to leave that unlocked. I notice a transom window at the rear of the house has been left open, likely to let in fresh air. This is handy, all I need to do is reach through and open the larger window. Job done, now I’m inside with ease. I walk up the stairs and into the master bedroom. I pick up some cash on the side. Wow, £300. I would’ve expected them to bank this. I see a jewellery box filled with expensive looking jewellery, I’ll have that. I go downstairs and can let myself out the front door, as the door is only on the latch. That was really easy.
I am a burglar, standing in front of House B. I walk down the driveway and come to a locked gate. That wasn’t hard to undo, it was only secured by the top bolt. I notice that all windows are shut at the rear of the house, but they’ve kindly left tools in the back garden. I can slip a tool into the window and open it. Job done, now I’m inside. I walk up the stairs and into the master bedroom. No cash in this room, but I see a jewellery box filled with expensive looking jewellery. I’ll have that. I go downstairs and notice that the front door is locked, but there’s a key hanging right next to it. I’ll let myself out using it. That was easy.
I am a burglar, standing in front of House C. I walk down the driveway and come to a locked gate. That’s pretty hard to open, it must have a padlock on the inner side. No worries, I’ll climb over it. There are no windows open round the back, and no tools left in the garden. That’s ok, I’ll throw this rock through the window and unlock it as the key is left in the window lock. I don’t like to create noise, but I might get away with a single smash. Job done, now I’m inside. I walk up the stairs and into the master bedroom. No cash in this room, and no jewellery box. That’s ok, I’ll search through the drawers and see what I find. Jackpot, and expensive looking watch. I’ll have that. I go downstairs and notice the front door is locked. That’s ok, I’ll go out the way I came, although I must be careful of the broken glass. That was pretty easy.
I am a burglar, a little bit weighed down from my stash, standing in front of House D. I walk down the driveway and come to a locked gate. That’s ok, I’ll just climb over… wait a minute, there’s trellis along the top of the gate. I can’t climb over that easily. I know, I’ll go back into House C’s garden and hop the fence. Well that wasn’t easy either, I landed in a prickly bush. I’ve had to take off my outer jacket to free myself from the thorns. Oh well, I’ll still give this a go. I can’t seem to find anything in the back garden for me to smash the glass with though. I’ll just give it a kick. Ouch, cut myself on the arm climbing through. That wouldn’t have happened had I been wearing my jacket. I walk up the stairs, but wait, an alarm is sounding. I better be quick. I walk into the master bedroom and see a jewellery box, but no decent looking jewellery is in it. Those wise guys, they must’ve hidden their expensive jewellery elsewhere. I don’t have time to look around what with the alarm sounding. I’ll go downstairs and out the way I came. That wasn’t easy.
I am a burglar standing in front of House E. I notice they have a dog. Why bother.
Oh hello officers, are you here because of all the noise I caused in House D? I knew a neighbour would put two and two together.”
Reducing burglaries is a priority for Sussex Police. Hopefully in this blog you can see what differences people can make to help prevent their home from being burgled. The simplest of things can have a dramatic effect. A determined burglar could’ve broken into House D, but most would’ve left it. Whereas most burglars wouldn’t have a problem getting into House A.
Closing windows when you’re out, in the hot summer months, can help protect your home from burglars. If you’ve recently done the gardening, don’t forget to put away your tools. And let those prickly bushes grow!
A smart tip is to leave your jewellery separate from your costume jewellery, in a less obvious place. A burglar may see a jewellery box and think this is all of it, and stop looking for the rest.
You can register your property using the secure https://www.immobilise.com/ website. Over 34 million items of property have been registered already, which greatly aids you and the Police in the event of these being stolen.
To learn more about Operation Magpie, follow this link - http://www.sussex.police.uk/policing-in-sussex/your-community/operation-magpie
This link takes you to statements from victims of burglaries. It’s a cruel crime, one that can often leave more behind than what’s taken. http://www.sussex.police.uk/burglary/summer-campaign
Here are a few tips to keeping your homes safe http://www.sussex.police.uk/policing-in-sussex/your-community/crime-prevention-advice/home-security
If you need any further help or advice, please send me a Tweet! chrisgee9
And remember, burglars hate guard dogs!
Thanks, and enjoy the summer.
Monday 18 May 20:07
Take me to Church, I’ll Worship like a Crook
Church, a place where people sometimes go to find hope. A proud, high standing building that can command the skyline. A place where weddings are made, children are christened and songs are sung loudly. It’s always a shame when buildings like this are disrespected.
I was asked to attend a burglary to a small church. Being in a secluded area, its following isn’t as great as your churches in large towns. Therefore those who did attend this church had a close bond with it. Like all churches, this one was happy to welcome most people into it. So much so that the front doors are left unlocked. The reverend said the doors are always left open to those who need it, whatever time of day.
Sadly someone took advantage of this and let themselves in to cause damage, likely hoping to find a small amount of cash. A door to a storage room was damaged and forced out of its normal position. It looked as though the whole frame of the door had been pushed inwards, but no entry had been gained. Unfortunately the door, being an uneven surface, wasn’t suitable to treat with fingerprint powders.
Where the door had moved from the wall, it left plaster dust on the floor. This was trodden on and footwear marks were left along the aisle. I took two lifts using ESLA (Electro-Static Lifting Apparatus). The device sends an electric shock through the foil I place along the floor. The static collects the dust and thus the footwear pattern. Such a helpful little device. It would be nice if ESLA got a film made about it, a bit like WALL-E, but I can’t see it happening.
The reverend pointed out a drinks bottle which had been left on the side. The church is always left in a tidy state, and there was a good chance this belonged to the offender. I took swabs from the mouthpiece of the bottle, hoping to capture saliva left by the drinker. I also dusted the bottle for fingerprints and lifted some detail.
When I returned to the office I forwarded my fingerprint lifts to the Fingerprint Bureau and the swabs went to the property store. All DNA work is completed externally, meaning the Police have to pay an independent forensic service provider to analyse the evidence. All our fingerprint work is done in-house, meaning it’s free. And free is a nice word, so we retained the swabs for now whilst awaiting the fingerprint results.
The fingerprints identified someone on the database and he was arrested. In interview he stated that he did go to the church, but was in the company of another male who committed the damage. The second male was then arrested and denied the offence, claiming the first suspect lied as suspect number two owes drug money to number one. Suspect one supposedly still had a grudge, which is why he claimed suspect two committed the crime.
It was deemed that not enough evidence was collected, both at the scene and in interview, to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
I was never asked to comment on the footwear marks, even though suspect number one has footwear of the same pattern as those left in the plaster dust. However, all this would prove was that the suspect was positioned right by the damaged door, and then continued along the aisle. It does not prove he damaged it.
These are the common problems us CSI’s face when examining a crime scene. Objects known as ‘moveable’ can sometimes have little value into the case. Someone can simply argue that the object was planted in the scene by an unknown person before authorities arrive. Forensics on fixed objects, such as doors and windows, can prove that the suspect was there. Another problem we face is public areas. As the church is open to the public, they are not committing an offence by being there. Public areas can be crucial when examining break ins to places like this, or pubs, flat blocks etc. If I recover forensics in the public area of a pub, the suspect could then state he was there for a cheeky pint. It doesn’t necessarily prove the offence.
It’s frustrating to see cases fall through. But it wouldn’t be beneficial to anyone to convict the wrong person. I wonder if the suspects ever returned to the church to confess.
Saturday 9 May 15:06
Inside the Crime Scene - Domestic Assault
It’s estimated that police receive a call about domestic abuse every minute (according to Victim Support). This could be anything from overheated discussions, public arguments, or the worst case scenario. When violence is introduced into an argument it never ends well. When people are being threatened or have been hurt, it requires the police to respond. This is an example of when my skills were required at a domestic assault.
Police received a call from a male stating he’d assaulted his partner. She was lying outside the house when police arrived, however it was quickly established that the assault had mostly occurred inside the home. It was all because the male had unjustified suspicions that the female was cheating on him.
The assault mostly occurred in the family room whilst a child was upstairs asleep. The male had subjected her to a beating causing her to bleed. Blood patterns were present around the family room, most significantly a child’s red plastic table which had been damaged. A television had been thrown, assuming in her direction.
As the two people involved were residents at the house, there was no requirement for me to place them inside the property. By this I mean carry out a fingerprint exam, look for footwear marks or trace evidence. Even if I found fingerprints on the damaged red table, the male would have a legitimate reason as to why they were there (having handled it at some point before). I concentrated on documenting the scene, by way of photographs and scene diagrams. If and when the case went to court, photographs of the scene could make a powerful statement.
I took swabs from some of the different blood patterns. Stories change, and the male may have claimed blood staining was left by him rather than his partner. Therefore I took swabs from the different patterns so it could later be determined who left the blood and where. The patterns included spatter on the wall and stains to the table. Furniture covers were seized which were also bloodstained.
Blood was on the outer door handle to the child’s bedroom. Seeing this was quite a powerful statement. Unbeknown to the child, bad things were happening outside their bedroom. As a kid I’d often lie awake at night, my imagination keeping me up thinking their were monsters outside. But how would I cope hearing real screams, knowing real pain was behind the door? I pray that the child didn’t know what was going on.
For all his abuse the male was sentenced to 7 years in prison. Hopefully this will give him the time to reflect on his actions and see that none of it was worth doing.
Don’t leave it until it’s too late. Talk to someone, whether it be us, charities or friends all willing and waiting to listen. I never look forward to these types of crime scenes, even more so when children are involved. If the male didn’t eventually stop and call the police, things could’ve been a lot worse.
Domestic abuse covers a variety of different traits, none of which partners should demonstrate. For more information on what the signs of domestic abuse are please follow this link to the NHS’s website:
There’s a section on the Sussex Police website with information on domestic abuse. We’ve also made a short video highlighting the importance of reporting domestic abuse early, before it’s too late.
There’s organisations out there, separate from the police, who are also there to help. Please take your time to look at the National Domestic Violence, Domestic Violence UK, Rise UK and Victim Support’s websites.
The solution isn’t always for you to leave your partner. It could be that education on domestic abuse will help solve the problems. Talk to someone about your options. It’s never a weakness opening up and talking, it takes a lot of strength. I hope you’ve found this beneficial and wishing you all the best.
Wednesday 29 April 22:26
We use a special footwear torch which is great for examining our footwear lifts. #csi #forensics #torch #forensicscience #police #crime #crimescene
Tuesday 14 April 20:11
Following the Blood
Most of the time each scene I go to is pretty much as initially described by the victim of crime. The victim will call our contact centre, run through what has happened, which gets typed onto a system I can view, and passed to me to attend. That is, for each job suitable for a CSI to attend. ‘Loose sheep in the road’ or ‘Facebook banter turned ugly’ won’t require the skills of a CSI and will be passed to the appropriate team. More commonly, we’ll deal with vehicle and burglary crime until something more serious hits the queue of jobs.
Every now and then I go to a scene which then turns into something completely different. You’re left standing there wondering if you turned up at the correct address. This was one of those moments when things started to make less sense, when what the victim was telling me didn’t quite add up. I never attend an address looking to prove the victim wrong. It’s not worth running the risk if they’ve genuinely gone through what they have done, and 99 percent of the time it’s real stuff.
This was a report of an attempted burglary dwelling to a ground floor flat. The residence suffered a smashed window but no entry was believed to have been gained. The occupier of the flat said he was visiting a friend overnight, between the hours of 2am and 9am, and was not home when the damage was caused.
The window suffered a circular break, not large enough for someone to climb through. The lack of disturbance to items along the window sill backed up the suggestion that no one had opened the window and climbed through.
Blood was pointed out to me in the communal area by the occupier. These consisted of a few circular drops on the floor. In my opinion these blood drops have passively fallen from a source to the floor thanks to gravity (I normally word it a little more professionally in my statements).
When I find blood, my next step is to follow a trail. Sometimes it will be small, sometimes quite some distance. Other times there can be no trail at all, and all you’re left with is the one bloodstain in front of you. I worked backwards, from the hallway to the front door. On the outer side of the front door was a bloodstain likely deposited by way of transfer.
The trail seemed to stop at the door, with no stains on the ground outside (between the smashed window and front door). This isn’t always surprising, as the blood flow can be stemmed by the sufferer who could cover their wound. Or of course, the wound could’ve been created at the front door, perhaps by someone trying to force it open.
Back into the communal hallway, I followed the blood trail in the other direction. I’d found one end of the string, now to find the other. The trail along the floor lead to the outside of the front door to the flat, however no bloodied transfer stains were left on the door. There only appeared to be one blood trail to follow, but it doesn’t always move in one direction. Sometimes it splits (see you later Zayn).
I stepped inside the flat to photograph the inner side of the broken window. As I stood there, camera in hand, I noticed a bloodied transfer stain about a cars length away from the window. It was enough distance away for me to know that no one could deposit it from the outside. Someone would have to be inside to leave it there.
I looked more closely at the front door to the flat, and noticed no signs of damage to it. I kept an open mind as doors just secured on a latch can be easy to force. I asked the occupier if anything was missing or disturbed from the flat, which it wasn’t. Then the key question, how was your front door when you found it? Locked, he stated. Anyone else have a key? No.
After my attendance Officer’s went door knocking to see if anyone had seen or heard anything (we call it House to House). One neighbour reported hearing a female banging at the front door shouting ‘LET ME IN OR I’LL KNOCK THE DOOR DOWN’.
The results from my blood swabs came back and identified a female.
The occupier of the flat claimed to know the female, but said he refused her access into his flat the day before.
So why was her blood found inside his property? When asked why the occupier wasn’t very forthcoming, and refused to assist any further in a police investigation.
All we could do was follow the evidence (classic cheesy CSI line).
My thoughts are that someone smashed the window and refused to pay for it. Not necessarily the occupier of the flat, more someone he knew. He may not have predicted such a thorough investigation, thinking he was appeasing the landlord at the time. I don’t blame him for reporting it, I just wish he’d been honest from the start, no matter what really happened.
Friday 27 March 18:20
It’s Friday. Which means I’m dressed to turn heads tonight!
Wednesday 25 March 19:34
CSI, Dexter, The Flash. Do these represent the real life work of a Forensic Scientist?
My most favourite TV programmes are those that couldn’t be more different to my everyday lifestyle. Whether it be watching a woman with three dragons go on a quest to sit on the world’s most uncomfortable chair, or a chemistry teacher packs in a stable job teaching kids to sell drugs. Neither of which I’d recommend you do. I used to love watching CSI but I just can’t bring myself to watch it anymore, mainly because I now do the job. The way the public perceive what we do isn’t always accurate and I think it can be down to shows like this. Here’s a run down of some of my experiences when watching popular TV shows.
An episode of CSI showed a car to be set alight and as a result the car’s battery melted. As it melted from a cube shape into a lumpy plastic puddle, the CSI managed to develop bits of a fingerprint that had now been separated due to it melting. The CSI then pieced together parts of the fingerprint and identified the criminal.
Ok, the car fire has likely been hosed down by the fire brigade. We can still develop fingerprints on items which have been wet; we usually use a treatment called Wet Powder Suspension. But after the battery has melted, I’d imagine the mark (if it remained on the surface) would be distorted. It would be like writing your name on a balloon, blowing it up, and what you’ve written before wouldn’t be the exact shape and size of what you’d then see.
But then the CSI pieces together the fingerprint like a jigsaw. Now surely they’d get in trouble for manipulating the evidence. How would the CSI be able to prove that all edges of the fingerprint marry up after all that’s happened beforehand.
And this picture looks like they’re about to walk down a catwalk rather than enter a crime scene.
The programme never shows a CSI attend a rural shed break in, be faced with a rough, untreated wooden surface that no fingerprint powders would adhere to, then go back to the office with no evidence in hand. It wouldn’t make good television! I work with a team here who do a cracking job, but we can’t solve them all. We don’t always have those Scooby Doo moments where we catch every criminal (who would’ve gotten away with it if it wasn’t for us meddling CSI’s).
Now Dexter. I got really into Dexter, mainly because his personal life was the complete opposite to mine! It sure was gripping seeing how he lived his two lives. But the thing that bugged me the most was how they dressed at crime scenes. Had they not heard of cross contamination? Here they are all in their normal shirts, trousers and shoes. But they’ve got gloves on, that’s a start I guess.
We wear scene suits, overshoes, gloves, hairnets and masks at our major crime scenes. This isn’t only to protect us from the scene but to protect the scene from us. We’d run the risk of shedding skin cells, depositing saliva, transferring fibres or dropping hair onto the crime scene. I don’t think Dexter and the detectives are too worried about that, more looking cool. To be fair, I wouldn’t like to wear a scene suit in the hot Miami climate. They’d get far too hot.
Also, who vetted Dexter? Someone didn’t look too closely at his previous doings before he joined the Police!
A new programme to hit our screens is The Flash. During the introduction the character says something like “to the outside world I’m an ordinary Forensic Scientist”.
ARE YOU BARRY?
In an episode the character, Barry Allen, found six footwear marks that were all the same, but managed to determine that the same pattern was left by six different people. It later transpired that the criminal could clone himself on the spot. Him and five clones then robbed a store, leaving six footwear marks on the floor. Now I can’t say that I’ve ever come across this one in real life yet, but how could he tell six people left the EXACT same mark. And by exact, I mean the same microscopic detail. You don’t seem like such an “ordinary” Forensic Scientist to me.
I’m not preaching for people to stop watching the programmes, because I’m not going to stop watching some of them! Just take what they do with a pinch of salt and don’t always expect a miracle when we arrive. Sometimes I will exhaust all I can do for it not to be fully appreciated because of the perception of these shows. The reality is we don’t always catch the criminal in 40 minutes. But we will do all we can with the tools we have to try to catch those responsible for the crime.
Pictures courtesy of fanpop.com (CSI); digitalspy.co.uk (Dexter); hypable.com (The Flash).
Tuesday 24 March 19:56
Cracking the code at the gym!
A CSI is never off duty. Just like paramedics, police officers and many other professions, it’s hard to switch off sometimes. Your brain goes into work mode when it should be relaxing. I’m a puzzle solver. I love being faced with a problem that needs sorting out, whether it be a sudoku or a tricky level on Tomb Raider!
Recently at the gym I got chatting to a member of staff as I peddled away on the bike. He knows what I do for a living, and spoke about property just disappearing from the lockers. Like any good detective should do (at least they tell me) I started by finding out more details and trying to ask the right questions.
“When could’ve the event/events taken place” is normally a good start, but not really in this case. It was occurring whilst the gym was open, which makes sense as most people take their stuff home when the gym shuts! It always happens in the male changing room. Now I’m not a believer in magic, so I started drawing up the possibility that the magician was perhaps a male thief.
After a few more questions I happened to ask one that took me forward in my off duty, mini investigation. What type of padlocks were on the unfortunate lockers? Coded padlocks that belong to the gym.
Ok. So if I wanted to borrow a coded padlock from the gym, I assume I’m given the code? Yes. And how often are the codes changed? Never.
Ah. So rather than magic, someone has probably been jotting down all the codes to the gym padlocks, stealing contents from within the lockers, then re-locking them once complete. Makes a bit more sense. The staff member now makes sure the codes are changed more often, and encourages people to bring in their own.
Also, the coin is already in their hand before they pull it from behind your ear…
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.
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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.