Page 1

CFS Bulletin

Issue 2 January 2012

jdi centre for the Forensic Sciences @UCLForensicSci

in this issue: • Professor James Robertson gives us his take on the current state of forensic science in the UK • New MSc in Crime & Forensic Science to be offered by UCL in September 2012 • JDI alumna Jen Mailley (MSc Crime Science, 2005) tells us how the floods in Thailand have affected the work of TRACE, a charity specialising in wildlife forensics • News and events from the Centre for the Forensic Sciences and elsewhere including a new CFS Research Seminar on 21st March 2012

Forensic science: a damning verdict? Professor James Robertson has worked in forensic science since the mid-1970s, as an academic in the UK and for the last 27 years in Australia as a practitioner, senior manager and leader. He is now back in an academic role as a Professorial Fellow at the University of Canberra. He was kind enough to give a talk to the forensic science PhD students and other academics at the JDI Centre for the Forensic Sciences in early November 2011. What follows is a summary of his talk, focusing on the major factors that have influenced the development of forensic science over the last 30 years. “DNA, the ‘CSI effect’ and advances in technology have all impacted on the delivery of forensic services worldwide. Taking DNA as an example, while the development of techniques in identification through DNA has been a paradigm-shifting event for forensic science, it has also had potential negative effects on other areas. The emphasis on DNA means that fewer resources may be available for other areas of forensic science;

indeed there is arguably an overemphasis on identification as the most important part of forensic work. In addition the technology has sometimes lagged behind and been too slow to support the broader justice system. The impact of the so-called ‘CSI effect’ is still widely debated and disputed, but research undertaken at the University of Canberra has suggested that it has resulted in jurors expecting forensic evidence to be presented – and drawing incorrect conclusions when it is not. This seems to be because jurors, and arguably others, do not understand that in our adversarial system the obligation on the prosecution is to present relevant facts pertaining to the ‘issues’ which may be disputed. A major role for forensic science is therefore to assist in defining which facts are likely to be disputed, hence much – if not most – forensic work goes on behind the scenes and will never be presented in court. New rules in the UK around forensic evidence will mean that even less forensic material makes it to the courtroom. The third major area of change

has been technological advances, allowing more and more sensitive analysis. This can raise issues with interpretation: what is a meaningful difference in forensic work that is largely comparative? Getting a balance between quantitative and qualitative assessment has proved tricky – jurors largely assess information using qualitative measures but scientists are more comfortable with numbers! The situation in England and Wales is unique, in that a move towards a commercial market has been taking place over the last 20 years, resulting in the Forensic Science Service (FSS) becoming a government-owned company. This resulted in a shift in their vision statement in the mid-2000s from a public service ethos to a more commercial stakeholder statement. The FSS moved from providing over 90% of the analytical laboratory work to about 60% in recent years, with other providers winning some of the work from police forces. Last year the UK government announced the closure of the FSS by March 2012 and this has led to the closure of at least 5 major laboratories, with well over 1,000 forensic scientists being made redundant. Whilst there has already been some in-sourcing of forensic work by the police and some expansion by other providers, this is a major change in the UK forensic landscape. The UK Forensic Regulator has indicated that all forensic work in the future will have to be done by organisations meeting relevant ISO standards. Currently only 4 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales have any accreditation of their in-house forensic work. Hence, if there is

a move to in-source some of the forensic work, as seems inevitable, it is hard to see how the appropriate standards and formal accreditation can possibly be met in the very short time frame before the demise of the FSS. The clear implication for UK forensic education providers is that there will be a very tight employment market for several years to come, and that this, along with the introduction of substantial student fees, could mean troubled times ahead for many of the 72 institutions offering over 450 forensic programmes. The programmes that survive will do so by ensuring that transferable skills are a strong component of their content, and that their teaching is underpinned by excellent empirical research. Solutions to the big problems of the future will only be found through bringing together researchers in both crtitical numbers and with diverse skills as is the case with the JDI Centre for the Forensic Sciences. The CFS has set itself ambitious goals to address the critical issues facing forensic science today and tomorrow.” With thanks to: Dr James Robertson Professor of Forensics University of Canberra

If you know anyone else who would like to receive this bulletin, tell them to visit our website and join our mailing list:

New MSc programme From September 2012 UCL will offer a taught MSc in Crime & Forensic Science. Students will gain an insight into forensic science as a discipline, and how forensic evidence is interpreted in court. They will be able to take specialist modules offered by various departments within UCL, including: • • • •

Molecular Biology Forensic Archaeology Forensic Osteology Intepretation of Evidence

In addition, students will have the opportunity to take a module in Crime Scene Investigation at the Metropolitan Police Service Crime Academy - see below. Details of the course and the open evening on 21st February 2012 can be found on the UCL website:

Crime Scene Investigation Students on the MSc in Crime & Forensic Science will have a unique opportunity to learn from professionals at the prestigious MPS Crime Academy. We are very pleased that the Metropolitan Police Service has chosen to collaborate with UCL on this module, which is the only one of its kind available anywhere in the UK. Students who take part will gain an invaluable insight into how the police undertake crime scene investigation and how they work with forensic scientists and lawyers to pursue justice.

Wildlife forensics in South-east Asia JDI alumna Jen Mailley is currently working for TRACE Wildlife Forensics Network in Malaysia. Here she tells us about the impact of the recent floods in Thailand on the work of forensic scientists in South-East Asia. Few readers will be aware that one of the implications of the recent floods in Bangkok is that a DNA sample from a tiger that may have been laundered from the wild into the tiger farming industry cannot be processed. The sample will have to wait until Thailand’s Wildlife Forensics Services laboratory, WIFOS, is no longer flooded. WIFOS was opened in December 2010 aligned to a project funded by the UK’s Darwin Initiative. Now in its third year, the project has already trained scientists from Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia in DNA based species identification and individual identification, and has also developed a novel methodology for sexing tigers (McEwing et al., in press). Perhaps most importantly of all, the scientists have been trained in how to develop new species identification tests, and new individual identification tests. The region is therefore less reliant on foreign support for wildlife forensics casework than it was when the project started. Enforcement officers from throughout Southeast Asia have also been trained in sample collection, chain of custody and storage techniques,

and how to think outside the box. When you patrol a forested area, in dense jungle, you may not always have access to a sterile swab and a fridge. The project is headed by TRACE Wildlife Forensics Network, a UK based NGO. The need for the project stems from the illegal trade in wild flora and fauna continuing at a rate which threatens to drive some species to extinction. The recent rise in rhino poaching in Africa, and the theft of horns from museums and holding stores in the UK, provide better known examples. But there are many other species affected. Pangolins, scaly ant eaters, are traded in their thousands every year for food, and because their skin is used to make shoes. Bears, and specifically bear paws, are traded because their parts are believed to have medicinal properties. Tortoises, turtles, gekkos, snakes, orchids, corals and seahorses have all been documented as being traded illegally between and within countries. Many species originate in Southeast Asia because it is a ‘biodiversity hotspot’. Many species are also consumed in the region because of long held traditions and beliefs in the medicinal powers of various animal parts and derivatives. So how can forensics help to tackle the illegal wildlife trade? There are three main questions typically asked by border patrol

and customs officers who come across animals, parts or bottles of medicine that they cannot identify: What is it? Where did it come from? Is it wild caught or captive-bred? The question of what a specimen might be can be answered by DNA techniques if there is a shortlist of possible species, for which the sample can be tested. The question of origin can be answered if there exists a valid and validated reference sample collection of genotype distribution across geographies. The question of whether a sample was wild caught or bred in captivity can be addressed if the putative parent samples are available, to conduct parentage testing. The results can be used in court, as for human forensics, if the chain of custody is intact; if the laboratory procedures are validated and SOPs followed; if the scientists can provide reliable and accessible results, and if the courts understand the implications. That’s a lot of ‘ifs’. Anyone interested in reading more about how the project is turning those ‘ifs’ into ‘whens’ can visit the website at We will keep you posted on the progress of the tiger sample, when it’s dry enough and legal to do so. (Photos: sampling blood from a vehicle, Kuala Lumpur, 2010; demonstrating the technique for drilling ivory prior to DNA extraction.)

Stay in touch To keep up-to-date with news from the CFS, events we are running and external news and events in the forensic science field, why not visit our website and follow our newsfeed on Twitter?

News and events CFS Research Seminar Wednesday 21st March 2012 We are delighted to welcome Professor Norman Fenton (Queen Mary, University of London) to give a seminar on his current project: the Bayes and Law network. Intended to explore the role of Bayesian reasoning in criminal justice, this network has attracted senior academics in the fields of statistics, law, computer science and forensic science, as well as civil servants across Europe. Places at the seminar are limited, so if you would like to attend please email us for details. Enterprise Award funding for CPD project The CFS has been awarded funding by UCL to develop a continuing professional development (CPD) course for forensic practitioners. We are taking on a new member of staff to coordinate the project, which will include a significant online component. This exciting project will benefit from the expertise of our CFS steering group, whose cutting edge research will contribute to the course content. If you are interested in being involved, particularly if you are a forensic practitioner

who might be willing to take part in an initial focus group, please get in touch.


PhD studentship

Twitter ID: @UCLForensicSci

Professor David Balding (UCL Genetics Institute) has been awarded a BBSRC CASE PhD studentship with industrial partner Orchid Cellmark: “Advanced interpretation of DNA profile evidence: low template, mixtures, degradation, sequences and methylation�. Anyone interested in applying, with a mathematical/computational background and some knowledge of (or at least interest in) forensic genetics, should contact Professor Balding directly:


External news Fingerprint Inquiry Scotland - report published December 2011 The report can be downloaded from the website:

The Fingerprint Society Conference April 2012 The next conference will be held in Derbyshire from 13th - 15th April 2012. For more details, visit their website:

Ancient dna laboratory given the green light The JDI Centre for the Forensic Sciences is collaborating with the Department of Biosciences and the Institute of Archaeology to build an ancient DNA laboratory at UCL. These facilities will be a fantastic new addition to the university and will enable academics and students within the CFS to carry out valuable research, analysing degraded DNA both ancient and recent. Work will be completed on the facilities (to be housed in UCL Institute of Archaeology) in summer 2012. cfs bulletin january 2012 Editor: Kirstie Hampson The next issue of the CFS Bulletin will come out in April 2012. If you would like to contribute, please email me using the contact details above.

CFS Bulletin Jan 2012  
CFS Bulletin Jan 2012  

Quarterly newsletter from the JDI Centre for the Forensic Sciences