Child appears to shoot dead ‘alleged Israeli spy’ in new Isis video – Our forensic scientists review whether the footage is authentic?
Having examined the footage internally Senior Forensic Scientists from Forensic Equity made the following observations
Whilst we cannot be certain, without seeing the original footage in its native format, the shooting does appear to be authentic.
From a forensic firearms perspective you can see the recoil of the pistol, which appears to be a 9 mm Glock. The movement of the slide and barrel, and the ejection of the cartridge case appear to be correct for that type of weapon and all of the movements of the weapon are consistent with its calibre.
Questions have been raised as to why a muzzle flash cannot be seen. With it being daylight a muzzle flash can be difficult to see, however there does appear to be a smoke cloud produced, as one would expect. Furthermore as a result of the muzzle blast, the prisoner’s hair is blown back from the blast. In addition the entrance hole does appear to have blackening around it, which is what one would expect in these circumstances.
Questions have also been raised as the videos authenticity based on the lack of an exit wound in the victim’s head. With regard to an exit wound, it is not unusual for a bullet from a single head wound to remain within the skull, particularly with the calibre of firearm used.
Secondly, from a forensic video analysis perspective there are no obvious signs of post-production or manipulation and therefore nothing obvious to suggest that the event was staged however, without access to the original file in its native format and the ability to examine the meta data it is impossible to offer an authoritative opinion.
There is nothing which at present leads us to derive that it was not the boy who fired the shots however given that at no stage do you see the boy’s face in the same shot, at the exact moments at which the gun is fired, it is entirely possible that it might not have been him who actually fired the fatal shot.
It is also clear that the child has been trained in using the firearm. It is clear that he knows how to hold the gun and clearly uses a ‘trained’ stance from which to fire. It is certainly not the first time that he has fired a gun.
Read the full story in the national press via:
Copenhagen Shootings. Getting a gun legally in Europe may be hard, but terrorists have little trouble - Forensic Equity provides analysis to the Washington Post
Getting a gun legally in Europe may be hard, but terrorists have little trouble
By Griff Witte and Karla Adam February 19 2015
COPENHAGEN — Europe, a continent long known for the rarity of gun violence, is confronting twin challenges that give the issue sudden urgency: a growing population of radicalized young men determined to strike targets close to home, and a black market awash in high-powered weapons.
The problem has been rendered vividly in recent weeks by a pair of deadly assaults that each paralyzed a European capital. In Paris and Copenhagen, the attacks were carried out by former small-time criminals turned violent extremists who obtained military-grade illicit weapons with apparent ease.
In contrast with the free-firing United States, Europe is generally seen as a haven from serious gun violence. Here in Denmark, handguns and semiautomatic rifles are all but banned. Hunting rifles are legally available only to those with squeaky-clean backgrounds who have passed a rigorous exam covering everything from gun safety to the mating habits of Denmark’s wildlife.
“There’s a book about 1,000 pages thick,” said Tonni Rigby, one of only two licensed firearms dealers in Copenhagen. “You have to know all of it.”
But if you want an illicit assault rifle, such as the one used by a 22-year-old to rake a Copenhagen cafe with 28 bullets on Saturday, all it takes are a few connections and some cash.
“It’s very easy to get such a weapon,” said Hans Jorgen Bonnichsen, a former operations director for the Danish security service PET. “It’s not only a problem for Denmark. It’s a problem for all of Europe.”
European leaders have made tighter controls on weapons trafficking a priority in recent weeks, following the killing of 17 people in Paris by three attackers. The shootings in Copenhagen this past weekend, which left two people dead, raised the ominous prospect of copycat attacks across Europe.
But officials acknowledge there is no clear solution. The same open-border policies that allow people and goods to flow freely across the continent also make it extremely difficult to crack down on illegal weapons — a fact that arms dealers have been all too eager to exploit.
“You can find Kalashnikovs for sale near the train station in Brussels,” acknowledged a Brussels-based European Union official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record. “They’re available even to very average criminals.”
In the case of the Paris attackers, they were able to obtain an entire arsenal: AK-47 assault rifles, pistols, a Skorpion submachine gun and even a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher. All of it was purchased in Brussels for about $5,000, according to Belgian media reports.
The availability of such weapons in the heart of Western Europe isn’t new. The flood of high-powered weaponry began with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and continued through the 1990s as war raged across the Balkans. Many of the weapons from those periods are still circulating. They have lately been supplemented by an influx from the turmoil in North Africa, with weapons smuggled on ships across the Mediterranean.
The guns have been used primarily by criminal gangs that turn them on one another during periodic turf wars.
But beginning with attacks in the French city of Toulouse in 2012 that left seven people dead, guns have also become the weapon of choice for Islamist terrorists in Europe.
That’s a shift from the last decade, when bombs were used in mass-casualty attacks on transit systems in London and Madrid.
The new tactics may reflect the lone-wolf nature of the recent assailants, who seem to have operated with relative autonomy and not as part of centrally directed terrorist plots.
Analysts say explosives can be easier to detect than guns and are harder to transport and assemble. Guns also require less expertise, allowing even petty gangsters such as Omar Abdel Hamid el-Hussein, the assailant in Copenhagen, to carry out deadly strikes.
The use of guns has enabled terrorists to pick their victims more precisely. In Paris and Copenhagen, the targets were the same: cartoonists, police officers and Jews.
Guns have also been the weapon of choice in other recent lone-wolf attacks carried out in Ottawa and Sydney, suggesting the problem is hardly limited to Europe.
But it is a particularly challenging issue for Europe because of the continent’s open borders. With 28 countries in the European Union, each with its own rules and regulations, controlling the flow of weapons has been nearly impossible.
“A firearm that is illegal in one country may be legal in another,” said Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the London-based Royal United Services Institute. “You have continuous land all the way through to Russia and into the Balkans, which of course until a few decades ago was a war zone.”
Even assessing the scale of the problem has proven too difficult for Europe. A comprehensive European Commission study released last year cited an estimate of 67 million illicit firearms across the continent. But it also noted that the total was probably overstated and concluded that “no accurate quantification of the problem is feasible.”
U.S. law enforcement has long maintained an extensive database of lost and stolen weapons. But Europe has only recently begun to do so, working in concert with Interpol. So far, the database is believed to contain only a small fraction of the total.
One country that has largely succeeded in keeping illicit firearms out is the United Kingdom. Because Britain does not participate in the continent’s open-borders program — and because it is an island with strictly enforced weapons laws — guns are rare. Out of desperation, criminals and would-be terrorists in Britain have occasionally turned to antique weaponry — flintlock pistols and Wild West-style revolvers — as the most deadly options available.
Hussein, who first attacked a cafe and then struck at a synagogue, had a much wider selection to choose from. His primary weapon — an M95 assault rifle that can fire up to 900 rounds a minute — was stolen from the home of a member of the Danish Home Guard in 2013, police say. Hussein probably purchased it illegally, along with two semiautomatic handguns.
Analysts say the M95, which was used by the Danish army from 1995 until 2010, is more uncommon on the black market than other weapons. Kalashnikovs are “fairly easy to get ahold of. It’s the heavier-caliber, larger machine guns that are more difficult,” said Philip Boyce, a firearms expert with Forensic Equity.
But thefts can bring them into circulation. In 2009, more than 200 weapons — including grenade launchers and machine guns — were plundered from a Danish military barracks in what prosecutors later said was an inside job.
Even with the high-profile gun attacks of recent weeks, there’s been no major push in Denmark or elsewhere in Europe to loosen the gun laws. While American firearms advocates preach the necessity of self-defense, the argument holds little sway on a continent where citizens have seldom had to worry about gun violence — and hope the recent killings prove an aberration.
“As I see it,” said Rigby, the Copenhagen gun dealer, “more guns on the streets only means more trouble.”
Our Firearms Expert helps tie pistol clues from London father of four to Jihadi John - Sunday Times Article
Written by Dipesh Gadher and Mark Hookham
Nero Saraiva tweeted this picture of himself in Syria, intended for his young son in London
A FATHER of four from east London is suspected by western security services of being a right-hand man to the British member of Isis known as Jihadi John.
Nero Saraiva, 28, travelled to Syria more than two years ago and is now thought to be one of the most senior jihadists from Britain in the terrorist group’s ranks.
He appears to have access to a large personal armoury, including firearms similar to those used by Jihadi John, and stands accused of discussing the supply of weapons to an al-Qaeda-linked group in east Africa.
The former engineering student, who moved to Britain from Portugal more than a decade ago, also seems to be privy to advance information about the beheading of hostages by Isis.
Saraiva was raised as a Catholic before converting to Islam in the UK and has relied on a Christian preacher in London to keep in touch with one of his young children.
Yesterday it was reported in Portugal that at least 10 British nationals may have been radicalised and recruited by Saraiva and his east London Isis cell and sent to Syria via a network of safehouses in Lisbon.
A joint investigation by The Sunday Times and Expresso, a Lisbon-based newspaper, has discovered that Scotland Yard recently contacted one of Saraiva’s brothers in Portugal about his activities.
It is understood that officers questioned the brother about a comment Saraiva posted on Twitter last July, which suggested he knew that an American hostage was likely to be murdered.
Saraiva’s tweet — written 39 days before the beheading of the journalist James Foley by Jihadi John — stated: “Message to America, the Islamic State is making a new movie. Thank u for the actors.”
Isis, also known as Islamic State, announced Foley’s death in a YouTube film called A Message to America.
This weekend it emerged that hours before Saraiva posted his prescient tweet, he sent a cryptic warning to The Guardian’s website. Signing on to the site with his real name, Saraiva responded to an article about Iraq with the comment: “America [h]as run out of options. Anyway, the Islamic State will sort them out, don’t worry.”
The postings have led intelligence officials to conclude that Saraiva and up to four other Portuguese immigrant jihadists from east London may be involved in the production and distribution of Isis videos showing the beheadings of western hostages in Syria.
“He has an important position, influential inside the organisation, and is not just a foot soldier who went to fight and die in Syria,” said one security source.
Saraiva’s Twitter account features images of his weapons arsenal, including a Glock 19 pistol with an extended magazine, allowing him to fire 33 rounds. A similar gun — with the extended magazine — is also carried by Jihadi John.
Philip Boyce, a firearms expert from Forensic Equity, said such guns would have a retail price of about £500 and would cost more on the black market.
A former Isis hostage — one of the few westerners to be freed alive — believes he saw Saraiva at a police and judicial building used by the terrorist group in the northern Syrian town of Manbij last summer.
Ahmad Walid Rashidi, a Danish charity worker who was captured while trying to rescue twin jihadist sisters from Manchester, said: “He had a gun at the office.”
Saraiva’s name has also appeared in a trial in Tanzania involving an alleged terrorist plot by al-Shabaab, the east African affiliate of al-Qaeda. The plotters are alleged to have been in contact with Saraiva, seeking “material and financial” assistance...
Forensic science standards risk slipping
‘Forensic science standards risk slipping since work was transferred to in-house police labs and private firms,’ according to a recent report by the National Audit Office (NAO). ‘Police are commissioning more work from their own laboratories - with an estimated £122m being spent this year - but the NAO said many in-house labs did not meet accreditation standards’.
The NAO also said that : ‘The Forensic Science Regulator, which monitors the work, does not have complete data on which police labs are accredited and has no statutory powers to enforce them to comply with standards’.
These drastic changes in the quality of forensic science services means that your client’s right to a fair trial is being eroded. It is no longer a given that any forensic evidence offered by the prosecution will be either sound or comprehensive. It is therefore vital, in all cases, that you have the forensic evidence presented against your client independently examined.
How can we help ensure your client receives a fair trial?
If you have a case where a forensic statement forms part of the evidence please send it to us:
One of our senior forensic scientists will undertake an initial review of the case in order to check that the forensic evidence is correct and of a sufficiently high standard for court.
If it is not, and we find cause for concern we shall offer a proposed case strategy to independently re-examine the evidence and provide an estimate of costs for LAA funding approval in order to do so.
Please note that all services provided prior to Legal Aid funding approval are provided completely free of charge.
Safe in our knowledge - Why choose Forensic Equity?
Forensic Equity is uniquely placed to review any forensic evidence, comment on its quality, challenge the prosecution’s findings if they are not up to standard and carry out further forensic examinations and analysis if necessary.
Our forensic scientists are all highly qualified and are all highly respected authorities in their chosen fields.
Most importantly, all of them have worked in properly accredited forensic laboratories, including the government run Forensic Science Service, which effectively used to act as the quality watchdog for all forensic work prior to its demise in 2012. Our forensic scientists are therefore in no doubt as to the standards that should be complied with in regard to forensic evidence and they will not hesitate to take the prosecution to task on your client’s behalf should those standards not be met.
Helmand hero ‘was victim of friendly fire’ - Forensic Equity reviews the evidence for the Sunday Times
Written by Toby Harnden and Mark Hookha- 16 November 2014
The bullet that killed a Welsh Guards officer in Afghanistan in 2009 was of the type fired by a British Army machinegun, according to a newly discovered Ministry of Defence ballistics report that indicates a strong possibility he was killed by “friendly fire”.
Lieutenant Mark Evison, 26, was mortally wounded when he was struck in the back by two bullets near his Haji Alem base in Helmand province, after his patrol came under attack from the Taliban.
He died despite the heroic efforts of his men, one of whom was awarded a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, after it took more than an hour for a helicopter to pick him up. His death drew national attention after his diary was published posthumously, highlighting equipment shortages and faulty radios.
A 2010 inquest concluded that Evison was killed by the Taliban, though key details in the ballistics report were apparently not considered.
David Evison, the officer’s father, this weekend described the inquest as “a farce” and called for a fresh one to be held.
“I would welcome another inquest and am prepared to write to the attorney-general,” he said.
The ballistics report, written by Andre Botha of LGC Forensics, states that the copper jacket recovered was consistent with a 7.62mm Nato bullet. Among the weapons used to fire such bullets are the army’s general purpose machinegun (GPMG), the American M14 rifle and the Heckler & Koch sniper rifle, none of which is generally used by Taliban fighters.
There were five GPMGs at the base and at least two gunners opened fire after Evison’s patrol was attacked about 400 yards away. One gunner fired about 7,000 rounds, many of them at compounds close to where Evison was, using three GPMGs as barrels overheated.
This gunner’s radio did not work, so he was reliant on a soldier shouting the whereabouts of enemy positions. The gunner, who was not called to testify at the inquest, said there was “no way” Evison had been killed by friendly fire.
Another gunner said he had “never thought” that friendly fire was a possibility. He added that he would “like to think that we’re all professional enough” to have avoided endangering fellow soldiers.
It is believed that the MoD did not carry out tests on the GPMGs at the base, which could have linked a weapon to the fatal bullet.
The Sunday Times interviewed three ballistics specialists who have acted as expert witnesses in court cases.
He said he was a “little surprised” friendly fire was not considered by the inquest given that “the bullet was consistent with a Nato cartridge” and a soldier firing from the base would have needed to have moved his gun’s barrel only “an inch or two” to have hit Evison’s position.
John Baron, a Tory MP and former army officer, said: “There should always be absolute transparency at any inquest, given that this can help the family with the grieving process. The fact that Lieutenant Evison may have been killed with a Nato round now needs explaining, if necessary through a fresh inquest.”
Aidan Cotter, the Birmingham coroner who conducted the inquest but has since retired, said: “One, I’m not allowed to talk about cases I’ve held. Secondly, it was so long ago I really can’t remember any detail.”
The MoD said: “There has been a full and thorough inquest and we support the findings of the coroner, who concluded that Lieutenant Evison was killed by the enemy whilst on active service for our country. The MoD co-operated fully with the coroner before and during the inquest.”
The revelations about Evison’s death are in a new edition of Dead Men Risen: The Welsh Guards and the Defining Story of Britain’s War in Afghanistan by Toby Harnden, published this week
Khat is now a Class C Controlled Drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971
By Anne Franc
Khat is now a Class C Controlled Drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971
What is khat?
Khat refers to the young leaves and shoots of the khat tree (Catha edulis), cultivated in the highlands of the Horn of Africa, Southern Arabia and along the East African Coast. In parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Yemen, khat leaves have been chewed for centuries for their mildly stimulating properties and for many people native to those regions khat use is a regular part of social life. Migration from the Horn of Africa has been associated with a spread of khat to neighbouring countries, Europe, the USA and Canada and the rest of the world.
A unit of khat is known as a ‘piece’ or bundle. There is no fixed weight for a bundle, but it has been described as consisting of about 40 leafed stems. The majority of khat users are purported to chew 1 or 2 bundles of khat in an average chewing session.
There are Somali, Yemeni and Ethiopian communities spread across the UK and there are also hundreds of ‘khat cafes’ around the UK where men from those communities go to chew khat, a pastime which is generally considered an integral part of their culture.
Why has khat been classified as a class C drug and made illegal?
Banning khat in the UK brings us in line with many EU countries and the USA. In Europe khat is currently controlled in over half of the EU member states and in Scandinavia and it has been illegal in the USA for several years.
The official Home Office reason for the ban (Home Office fact sheet) is that:
“Khat contains natural ingredients which are already controlled drugs both in the UK and internationally because they are harmful. To help protect local communities from the potential health and social harms associated with khat and to ensure that the UK does not become a hub for international khat smuggling, it will become illegal to produce, possess, supply and import or export khat without a Home Office licence.”
The health issues relating to the ban are not at all clear cut and The ACMD (The Advisary Council for the Misuse of Drugs), the body that advises the government on which drugs should be controlled and why, concluded in its report that: "Beyond contradictory anecdotal statements no credible evidence has been found to show a direct causal relationship between khat and the various harms for which its consumption is claimed to be responsible."
UK hub for international khat smuggling
The threat of the UK becoming a hub for international khat smuggling is probably a far more pertinent reason for the decision to control khat, with several cases of large scale khat smuggling to the USA having gone through the UK courts in the last couple of years. Some security experts have even argued that African extremist groups such as al-Shabab have profited from the export and sale of khat, a belief which has much credence in the USA.
What was the legal situation before the ban?
Prior to this ban, khat could be legally imported into the UK and its use was also perfectly legal. The importation of khat was even subject to VAT. Khat was imported into the UK from Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen and HMRC sources suggest that shipments arrived regularly several times a week from Kenya and less frequently but regularly from Ethiopia and Yemen. HMRC figures for 2010 suggest that the total volume of khat consignments imported per week into the UK was 57.7 tonnes (equivalent to 9136 boxes – 7000 from Kenya and the rest from Ethiopia and Yemen combined).
Previously, when khat arriving at Heathrow had cleared HMRC it was transported to a nearby warehouse, where legitimate dealers and distributors would collect their consignments before distributing them to hundreds of retailers throughout London and other UK cities. The retail trade was said to be fragmented with most retailers taking three to four boxes of khat at a time, retailing individual bundles of Kenyan khat at between £3 and £6.
What is the legal situation now?
From 24 June 2014, police are now able to use ‘khat warnings’ and ‘Penalty Notices for Disorder’ (PND) for adults. This means that if the police find someone with khat which is meant for their own personal use they can:
Be given a warning for a first offence.
Be given a penalty notice for disorder (a £60 fine) for their second offence.
Face arrest for their third offence.
The ban on khat will apply to public and private places so, unlike the situation with licenced cannabis cafes in the Netherlands, it will not be legal to chew khat in khat cafes in the UK.
If people continue to trade in khat after the ban now that it has become a Class C controlled drug, then the police will take action and they risk prosecution. As a Class C drug, it is now illegal to supply, possess with intent to supply, and import khat. Penalties for these offences are up to 14 years' imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both. Supplying khat to friends, even if it is given away, is also considered as ‘supplying’ under the law.
What problems could the ban on khat bring?
Forensic Equity's leading drug expert believes that the control of khat could lead to some significant legal issues.
The Home Office fact sheet on khat suggests that they expect police officers to police khat in the same way as they currently police cannabis. However, cannabis has a characteristic appearance and police officers have been trained to recognise it. Most police officers will never have encountered khat and its appearance. In the opinion of our drugs expert, is not characteristic enough to allow it to be identified by visual appearance alone. It could be mistaken for spinach or some sort of salad leaf. We believe that the only way to be sure that what someone has in their possession is khat is to have it analysed by an independent forensic services provider to confirm that it contains cathinone its major active ingredient.
Charged with possession or supply of an illegal substance?
With regards to the amount of khat that a person is found with, where will the police draw the line between possession (a relatively minor offence) and supply (a much more serious one)? With cannabis the amounts needed for personal use are relatively well defined but not prescribed. For khat the situation will be very unclear, as the amount of khat needed to have the desired effect will be far greater than that needed for cannabis. Cannabis users consume cannabis in hundreds of milligram (one thousandth of a gram) amounts in one cannabis cigarette (reefer), while khat users could consume khat in hundreds of gram amounts in one chewing session.
Sampling of illicit drugs for quantitative analysis – Part III updated
Sampling of illicit drugs for quantitative analysis – Part III: Sampling plans and sample preparations
M. Bovens (a,*), T. Csesztregi (b), A. Franc (c), J. Nagy (b), L. Dujourdy (d)
Published 28 April 2014
The findings in this paper are based on the results of our drug homogeneity studies  and particle size investigations . Using that information, a general sampling plan (depicted in the form of a flow-chart) was devised that could be applied to the quantitative instrumental analysis of the most common illicit drugs: namely heroin, cocaine, amphetamine, cannabis resin, MDMA tablets and herbal cannabis in 'bud' form (Type I). Other more heterogeneous forms of cannabis (Type II) were found to require alternative, more traditional sampling methods.
A table was constructed which shows the sampling uncertainty expected when a particular number of random increments are taken and combined to form a single primary sample. It also includes a recommended increment size; which is 1 gram for powdered drugs and cannabis resin, 1 tablet for MDMA and 1 bud for herbal cannabis in bud form (Type I).
By referring to that table, individual laboratories can ensure that the sampling uncertainty for a particular drug seizure can be minimised, such that it lies in the same region as their analytical uncertainty for that drug.
The table shows that assuming a laboratory wishes to quantitatively analyse a seizure of powdered drug or cannabis resin with a ‘typical’ heterogeneity, a primary sample of 15 × 1 g increments is generally appropriate. The appropriate primary sample for MDMA tablets is 20 tablets, while for herbal cannabis (in bud form) 50 buds were found to be appropriate.
Our study also showed that, for a suitably homogenised primary sample of the most common powdered drugs, an analytical sample size of between 20 and 35 mg was appropriate and for herbal cannabis the appropriate amount was 200 mg.
The need to ensure that the results from duplicate or multiple incremental sampling were compared, to demonstrate whether or not a particular seized material has a ‘typical’ heterogeneity and that the sampling procedure applied has resulted in a ‘correct sample’, was highlighted and the setting up of suitable control charts (R or S charts), for quality control purposes, was strongly recommended and examples given.
Furthermore, although this particular study relates to the sampling of illicit drugs, it should be remembered that it is based on general sampling theory and therefore the same approach could be applied to other disciplines where ‘correct sampling’ of powders and solids is important.
© 2014 Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved
How to get forensic evidence re-examined
By Simon Franc
Getting the forensic evidence re-examined just got easier
As providers of independent forensic advice and opinion for a number of years, we at Forensic Equity know that engaging a forensic scientist to re-examine forensic evidence on behalf of the defence is not always easy.
There may be frequent delays in response from both the CPS and the police to the requests for access to case notes and exhibits.
It may take numerous phone calls and emails and a lot of perseverance on your part to get the required authority for your chosen expert to view crucial exhibits at a forensic laboratory, to examine the case notes and to talk to the prosecution scientist who provided the original statement for the Crown.
Meanwhile the clock is ticking towards the court date and courts are not always sympathetic to requests for postponements; even if the delays are not of the defence’s making.
How can we help to ensure that the forensic evidence is re-examined in time?
Forensic Equity is here to help you cut through the red tape and ease the bottlenecks in gaining access to crucial forensic evidential material. We pride ourselves on knowing the system and the scientists and police officers within it.
As forensic scientists we occupy a unique non- adversarial role, where we find that we often don’t encounter the same reticence that police officers or CPS officials may have to cooperating with the defence solicitor in allowing prompt access to those crucial forensic exhibits.
If you can get us the initial contact details of the CPS official and/or police officer dealing with your case then, with your written authority, we can do a lot of the necessary chasing for you, saving you a substantial amount of time and leaving you free to deal with other aspects of the case.
Our commitment to you
We pride ourselves on being very responsive and meeting tight deadlines wherever possible. So having gained access to the forensic exhibits we will do our very best to produce our expert witness report before that all important court date and will keep you updated of our progress at regular intervals.
Use our forensic services and instruct our forensic scientists and we guarantee that you will never have second thoughts about commissioning that all important forensic defence review again.
Sampling of illicit drugs for quantitative analysis—Part II. Study of particle size and its influence on mass reduction (M. Bovens, T. Csesztregi, A. Franc, J. Nagy, L. Dujourdy, 2014)
08 Jan 2014
Sampling of illicit drugs for quantitative analysis—Part II. Study of particle size and its influence on mass reduction
M. Bovens (a,*), T. Csesztregi (b), A. Franc (c), J. Nagy (b), L. Dujourdy (d)
Published 7 January 2014
a. Forensic Science Institute Zurich, P.O. Box, 8021 Zurich, Switzerland
b. Hungarian Institute for Forensic Sciences, P.O. Box 314/4, 1903 Budapest, Hungary
c. Forensic Equity, 39 Chatsworth Ave, Wokingham, Berkshire RG415EU, United Kingdom
d. Institut National de Police Scientifique, Service Central des Laboratoires, 31 Avenue Franklin Roosevelt, 69134 Ecully Cedex, France
The basic goal in sampling for the quantitative analysis of illicit drugs is to maintain the average concentration of the drug in the material from its original seized state (the primary sample) all the way through to the analytical sample, where the effect of particle size is most critical.
The size of the largest particles of different authentic illicit drug materials, in their original state and after homogenisation, using manual or mechanical procedures, was measured using a microscope with a camera attachment. The comminution methods employed included pestle and mortar (manual) and various ball and knife mills (mechanical). The drugs investigated were amphetamine, heroin, cocaine and herbal cannabis.
It was shown that comminution of illicit drug materials using these techniques reduces the nominal particle size from approximately 600μm down to between 200 and 300μm.
It was demonstrated that the choice of 1g increments for the primary samples of powdered drugs and cannabis resin, which were used in the heterogeneity part of our study (Part I) was correct for the routine quantitative analysis of illicit seized drugs. For herbal cannabis we found that the appropriate increment size was larger.
Based on the results of this study we can generally state that:
An analytical sample weight of between 20 and 35mg of an illicit powdered drug, with an assumed purity of 5% or higher, would be considered appropriate and would generate an RSDsampling in the same region as the RSDanalysis for a typical quantitative method of analysis for the most common, powdered, illicit drugs. For herbal cannabis, with an assumed purity of 1% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) or higher, an analytical sample weight of approximately 200mg would be appropriate.
In Part III we will pull together our homogeneity studies and particle size investigations and use them to devise sampling plans and sample preparations suitable for the quantitative instrumental analysis of the most common illicit drugs.
2013 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved
To read the full paper click here to be taken to the relevant Forensic Science International Journal page
Hand grenades 'rare - but they're out there' - Forensic Equity discusses Britain's murder weapons and those used by Dale Cregan with the BBC
By Keith Moore and Mick Tucker
Hand grenades 'rare - but they're out there
Dale Cregan's killings of David Short and PCs Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone are the first time hand grenades have been used as murder weapons in Great Britain.
Following Cregan's conviction it can be reported that on 3 June Greater Manchester Police found 10 grenades at an address in Oldham, believed to be the rest of his supply.
At Cregan's trial, a witness told the court that at one time the killer had had a bag of around 20 hand grenades.
Firearms experts have told the BBC that while criminal possession of grenades is rare, some are still on the streets.
Figures from the National Bomb Data Centre at Scotland Yard show that between January 2008 and September 2011 police recovered 42 grenades.
During that period - which does not cover Cregan's killings - there were eight recorded explosions, most of which were attributed to one criminal gang in Merseyside.
Police have consistently said there is nothing to suggest grenades are a growing problem, but in the aftermath of the killings of PCs Hughes and Bone, there was some concern that grenades were still on the streets of Manchester.
Grenades acquired by criminals in the UK come from two main sources, experts told the BBC - leftover grenades from conflict in Eastern Europe and dummy grenades that have been re-activated.
Stockpiles of weapons
The grenades used by Cregan originated from the former Yugoslavia.
"Clearly post the Balkans breakup, there were a vast quantity of weapons that were then taken by, in the main, organised criminals and were then sold to the highest bidder," says Charlie Edwards, who is director of national security and resilience studies at the Royal United Services Institute and previously worked on security and counter-terrorism at the Home Office.
"Some of those in the early 1990s certainly found their way to Northern Ireland. It was a bonanza for Northern Ireland terrorists in terms of the quantity, and certainly a small amount of those weapons - including grenades - would have been sold to organised criminals over the years."
Although it is not yet clear how long ago the grenades used by Cregan came to the UK from Eastern Europe, an investigation by BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast has revealed there are still 17,000 tonnes of surplus weapons and ammunition stockpiled in Bosnia and Herzegovina alone.
Dale Cregan Greater Manchester Police have recovered the rest of Cregan's supply of grenades
The UN and an international mission run by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - which includes the UK - are working to secure and destroy those huge stockpiles because there are fears the weapons will put the civilian population at risk, could get on the black market, or be stolen.
Lt Cdr Gareth Jones, of the Royal Navy, who is in Bosnia providing advice on how to dispose of the weapons, told the BBC that the commander of the UK mission, General Sir Richard Shirreff, thinks the work to deal with weapons surpluses is not being done quickly enough.
Lt Cdr Jones said: "With multiple sites and these weapons not being destroyed at the rate that everybody would like them to be, there are risks there.
"There are risks to safety from how the sites are managed and there's a risk of what would happen if one of these sites were broken into and weaponswere taken."
Matt Eades, who was in the army for 25 years and is now a project manager for explosives company Alford Technologies, says grenades from the former Yugoslavia are similar to those used by the British army. He describes them as "a nasty bit of kit up close".
Both he and Forensic Equity's firearms expert Philip Boyce say the free movement of people within the European Union has made it easier for people to bring weapons across to the UK.
But grenades are not just smuggled through customs - de-activated grenades can be bought on the internet for as little as £45 and re-activating them is "fairly easy", says Mr Boyce.
"The easiest way is to cut open 12-gauge cartridges - or any ammunition - and use that," he explains.
"It's surprising it's not more common."
Peter Kirkham, who was a detective chief inspector in the Metropolitan Police, says grenade attacks are so rare because they are more imprecise and indiscriminate in their impact than guns.
He dealt with one grenade incident in his 21-year police career - one was thrown into a pub in Fulham, west London, in 1985.
They have typically been used more as a threat by organised criminals, than as a weapon to injure and kill.
Even in a military setting they are normally used alongside other weapons rather than as the main weapon of choice.
The last well-known case of grenade use by criminals in the UK, prior to Cregan, was also in the north-west of England.
Merseyside-based men Kirk Bradley, Craig Riley, Joseph Farrell and Anthony Downes were sentenced to life in prison for firearms offences in 2012, having carried out a series of shootings and leaving a hand grenade on the garden wall of former Liverpool Football Club manager Kenny Dalglish in a botched attempt to attack his neighbour.
The police have always said there is minimal danger of grenades being used by criminals.
But - former government security expert Mr Edwards warns - despite grenade attacks being rare, there is still uncertainty about weapons criminals have access to.
"I think we should bear in mind that no-one has a really credible number of how many illegal weapons there are floating around the UK," he says.
"What I have seen is that it is at best an estimate and it is based on what they have retrieved in the past."
Assets saved, as police drop drugs on banknotes case
Cash assets worth in the region of £10,000 were saved from confiscation, when police dropped court proceedings, as a direct result of an expert witness report written by our Principal Forensic Scientist Anne Franc.
The police had tried to confiscate the cash under the proceeds of Crime Act(POCA) by claiming that their ‘in house’ testing of samples of the seized cash had shown levels of cocaine on them that were in excess of what one would expect to find on banknotes in general circulation in the UK and therefore by implication the cash was believed to be ‘drugs money’.
Our forensic expert not only challenged the procedures used to test the cash (a screening device known as the ‘Itemiser’) but also found the background data used to interpret the results was woefully inadequate.
Anne Franc commented “Police testing of seized cash is now commonplace and in my experience there is always scope to challenge the results and the confiscation order”
Please contact us should you wish to find out more in relation to this case or to request a free case review of your clients case involving confiscation proceedings related to drugs on banknotes
How safe are your client’s assets?
In an effort to apply sanctions more punitive than minor custodial sentences to drugs crimes, police forces around the UK are increasingly seeking to attribute defendants’ cash assets to the proceeds of drugs-related crime, so that they can seize the cash under POCA (The Proceeds of Crime Act).
How easy is it for your client’s cash assets to be confiscated in this way? The answer is easier than you might think.
Seizure of what are seen as relatively minor cash assets (up to a few thousand pounds) are normally attempted via the civil courts, where the outcome is decided on the basis of the balance of probabilities and not on proof beyond reasonable doubt.
Because of this lowering of the evidential standard, many of these allegedly drugs-related cash seizures are now being tested in-house by the police, using a piece of drugs screening equipment (often used at airports) known as the ‘itemiser’. This device can only indicate the presence of certain controlled drugs on banknotes, but cannot unequivocally confirm their presence. Previously this testing of banknotes was always carried out by a forensic provider using equipment that could unequivocally identify controlled drugs on seized banknotes.
Forensic Equity has forensic scientists with years of experience in assessing the significance of the contamination of banknotes with particular drugs and who also have detailed knowledge of both forensic and police testing of banknotes in asset seizure cases. Our scientists have successfully challenged both forensic and police evidence in this respect.
For further information on this topic, to request a free no obligation review of the prosecutions forensic evidence in your clients case or any other aspect of the forensic services that Forensic Equity offer please contact our case work manager at
Is it a dangerous weapon or not?
With violent crime making the news on a daily basis, enforcement of firearms rules is becoming ever more stringent. But our recent experience shows that police are charging individuals with firearms offences (a charge that potentially carries a custodial sentence) when on secondary forensic inspection our scientist found that it could not be categorised as a ‘lethal’ weapon.
Most air weapons are of such limited power that they do not require to be licensed, however there are exceptions to this rule. The Firearms (Dangerous Air Weapons) Rules 1969 require that certain air weapons, whose muzzle velocities exceed a prescribed limit, can only be held legally on a firearms certificate.
It is possible to measure the velocity of pellets, discharged from an air weapon, by the use of an electronic chronograph. From these measurements the kinetic energy of the pellet at the muzzle can be calculated. However this testing needs to be carried out by a suitably qualified and experienced ballistics expert. It is not sufficient to fire a couple of rounds and say that a weapon does or does not come under the dangerous air weapons rules. Muzzle velocities are based on rigorous repeated testing of a weapon and the odd firing that generates a higher than permitted muzzle velocity may not count if all the other firings produce lower ones.
Forensic Equity’s firearms expert Philip Boyce is the best in the UK and has years of experience in examining and assessing weapons of all types in both civilian and military situations.
For further information on this topic, to request a free no obligation review of the prosecutions forensic evidence in your clients case or any other aspect of the forensic services that Forensic Equity offer please contact our principal scientist Anne Franc at
Cannabis – Is it really worth it?
By Anne Franc
The valuation of cannabis is an integral part of the trial and sentencing process in cases where possession with intent to supply and cultivation with intent to supply are suspected.
But can the prosecution valuations always be relied on?
The value of cannabis will vary depending on its general type, the area of the UK where it may be sold and whether it is sold in small retail, larger retail or wholesale amounts (i.e. 1 gram, 1 ounce or 1 kilogram amounts).
The police valuation experts will usually value cannabis at the lowest possible saleable denomination, which is a 1 gram deal, thus making any valuation at the higher end of the scale of value for any particular amount of cannabis. They will also usually value cannabis as ‘skunk’ (a ‘street’ term describing cannabis in the form of non-seeded female flowering top material) which commands the highest street price, based on the crown scientist’s description of the cannabis that they examined.
It is not uncommon for the actual nature of the cannabis seized to be different from what the police valuation expert assumes it to be. For example, cannabis described in the crown scientist’s statement as including female flowering top material may be assumed by the person valuing it to be all ‘skunk’ cannabis and be valued at several thousand pounds, when in fact it may be virtually all cannabis leaf material with some flowering top material included and therefore be relatively worthless.
It is therefore very important to your clients that the nature of any cannabis they are accused of supplying is properly assessed and then correctly valued.
Forensic Equity boasts the UK’s leading cannabis expert who, with over 40 years of experience of cannabis in general and 20 years of experience in cannabis cultivation, is uniquely placed to determine the true nature and value of the cannabis in any case.
Should you wish to discuss this subject further or any of the other forensic services that we can provide then please contact us via our contact form, phone or email.
Alps shooting victim’s ‘secret meetings’ - Forensic Equity's firearms consultant Philip Boyce comments for the Times
By David Brown in Saint Jorioz, Adam Sage in Paris and Fiona Hamilton
Last updated at 9:42AM, September 11 2012
Times article - view original source >
The father shot dead with his wife and mother-in-law in the French Alps had a series of secret meetings during the family’s caravan holiday, it emerged last night.
Saad al-Hilli had suddenly moved his family from one campsite to another less than a mile away only two days before a lone gunman attacked them in an isolated car park.
Yesterday his daughter Zainab, 7, indicated that she remembered the attack in which her mother, Iqbal, 47, grandmother Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, and a passing French cyclist were also killed last Wednesday. Zainab was shot in the shoulder, beaten around the head and left for dead. Police believe that she survived because the gunman ran out of bullets, having fired off 25 rounds. Each victim was shot twice in the head and at least once in the body.
Having emerged from a medically induced coma, Zainab was said to have expressed fear but seemed to remember what she had been through.
French police believe that she could provide crucial details to help piece together what happened. A source said: “They have been able to speak to her but they could not go into any detail . . . the child was very tired.”
Her sister Zeena, 4, who survived by hiding under her mother’s skirt for eight hours, was flown back to Britain on Sunday and is now under the care of social services.
Police said yesterday that only one gun was used in the attack. Experts believe that it could be a Czech-made Skorpion vz.61 sub-machinegun issued to Soviet forces during the Cold War.
The Hilli family, from Claygate, Surrey, had arrived in the Lake Annecy region on Saturday without making a reservation and booked into the €30-a-night Village Camping Europa site in the village of Saint-Jorioz using a discount coupon.
On Monday last week, the day Zeena was due to start at Claygate Primary School, the family moved to the Solitaire du Lac, a short distance away.
Annemarie Souderman and her friend Jan Janssen stayed close to the Hillis at the Europa site and said that they believed that the family had intended to remain for the week.
Mr Hilli, 50, a design engineer in the aerospace industry, left the site alone in his BMW estate car four or five times each day, she said.
“He went out for 20 or 30 minutes each time. The first time we thought he was going to the shops but it was very odd to go out so often alone.”
She added that although they did not see anyone visit the family, they noticed an unusually smartly dressed man at the campsite. He appeared to be an Eastern European, she said.
A French police source said that investigators were aware that Mr Hilli met people on his own during the holiday but not all had been identified.
It also emerged that Mr Hilli had driven his family 12 miles to the isolated mountain car park where they were shot and that they had been there for at least an hour before the attack.
Mr Hilli, his wife and his mother-in-law were killed in their locked car, while Zainab was found staggering outside. She was rescued by an RAF veteran who was cycling past.
Sylvain Mollier, 45, the passing cyclist who was killed, lived in a nearby village. He was shot seven times.
Police were last night using power tools to try to open a safe in the Hilli home. Mr Hilli had told friends that he was concerned about the security of “important documents”.
Earlier neighbours were evacuated after an Army bomb disposal squad was called to the house to examine material connected to Ms Hilli’s work as a dentist that was kept in a garden shed. No hazardous items were found.
Mrs Hilli was born in Iran but grew up in Sweden. She met her husband in Dubai a decade ago.
Her sister, Fadwa al-Saffat, a pharmacist who recently finished a PhD at the University of Reading, is believed to be at Zainab’s bedside.
A silent but deadly weapon
French investigators now believe that a single 7.65mm sub- machinegun, most likely a Czech-made Skorpion vz.61, was used in the shootings (John Simpson writes).
The 25 empty cases would have flown about 5ft upward and forward before clattering to the ground. Very little further noise would have been heard if, as seems increasingly likely, the weapon was fitted with a silencer.
“It was adopted by covert forces because the bullet would fly slower than the speed of sound, and if the bullets fly slower, that makes a [silencer] more effective,” Forensic Equity's ballistic forensics consultant Philip Boyce said.
The gun could have dispatched all 25 bullets in two seconds, though it is more likely they were loosed one by one in this case. The model was discontinued in 1982, with about 200,000 made
Drug abuse soars as nation struggles to cope with austerity - The Times
The bleak economic outlook and welfare cuts have been blamed for Scotland’s position as the drug abuse capital of Europe.
A new survey has revealed soaring levels of Ecstasy use in Scotland, where the drug is abused at more than double the level seen in most other countries, and the highest level of LSD abuse in Europe.
The statistics compiled by the European Monitoring Centre for Drug and Drug Addiction show that 9.3 per cent of people between the ages of 16-59 have taken Ecstasy, which is undergoing a huge resurgence after years in decline.
Scotland also has the third highest cocaine problem in Europe, with 8.4 per cent of the population having used the class A drug. More than a quarter of the population has smoked cannabis.
Sean McCollum, head of operations for the Scottish Drugs Forum, said: “The high rates of drug use highlighted by the report comes as no surprise. Last year, we said that poverty was probably the biggest component in Scotland’s drugs problem and the current economic climate has put an even greater spotlight on the link between drug use and poverty.
“Recent and proposed changes to the welfare system will exacerbate this and these UK government policies have the potential to undermine the Scottish government’s strategy to address problematic drug use.”
John Arthur, of Crew 2000, an addiction charity, said: “We were expecting a rise because of the recession, but it seems that rather than more people using, it’s a case of people who are already using are now taking more.”
Ecstasy has been linked to at least three deaths in Scotland in the past two years. Police seizures of the drug increased by 60 per cent last year.
The Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency said that of the 157.7kg of Class A drugs seized last year, almost 100kg were Ecstasy tablets.
Gordon Meldrum, director general of the agency, said: “We have seized the largest amount of Ecstasy seen in Scotland for many years . . . indicating a direct shift in the product of choice for serious organised crime groups.”Police have also warned of a renaissance of cannabis in Scotland as criminal gangs flood the market with the class B drug, which is often smoked by middle-class professionals.
In the past year drug enforcement officers have seized £200,000 worth of the drug from a gang operating in Fife and dozens of plants with a street value of £180,000 from a flat in Kilmarnock.
Chinese gangs who were traditionally involved in cannabis growing in Scotland were targeted in a police crackdown and have largely been driven out. However, Scottish gangs who have moved into the trade are proving harder to detect because they are using small sites to grow the plants.
Anne Franc, an expert on cannabis cultivation at Forensic Equity, a company that specialises in forensic services for the police and court system, said: “The profits are substantial, it’s easy to grow and there’s huge demand. Unlike Class A drugs, cannabis use crosses the social boundaries. It’s as popular among the middle classes as it is among those on lower incomes.”
Homegrown dope gangs move in - Sunday Times Article
Written by Mark Macaskill Published by the Sunday Times, 14 July 2012
Organised crime gangs in Scotland are cultivating cannabis on a massive scale to cash in on growing demand for the drug.
Senior police officers have warned of a “renaissance” in the Class B drug fuelled by rising demand for cannabis in its natural, herbal form.
Many users are “discerning” middle-class professionals who prefer to smoke the dried buds and leaves of the cannabis plant, rather than resin.
Demand has seen the cost of cannabis soar to about £10 per gram, roughly three times the cost of resin.
Scottish gangs are said to be establishing a strong foothold in the homegrown cannabis market, prompting concern that the streets are being flooded with the dangerous drug; heavy cannabis use is linked with psychotic illness, lung cancer and increased heart and blood pressure.
“There is evidence that indigenous crime groups are getting involved in cannabis cultivation,” said Kenny Simpson, from the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA). “We should be concerned because the huge profits from cannabis feed the economy of organised crime. It causes conflict with other criminal groups, not to mention the serious health effects linked to smoking cannabis.”
The warning comes ahead of publication of the SCDEA’s annual report on drug seizures. Notable cannabis seizures in the past year include £200,000 worth of the drug from organised gang members in Fife and dozens of plants with a street value of £180,000 recovered from a flat in Kilmarnock.
Simpson said that until recently, resin imported from countries such as Afghanistan and Africa dominated the Scottish market.
Growing cannabis used to be almost entirely the preserve of Chinese gangs but their approach to mass cultivation — often taking over entire houses — made detection relatively easy. The pungent smell from cannabis plants could be picked up by sniffer dogs and intense artificial lighting needed to grow the drug could be detected by thermal imaging cameras mounted on police helicopters.
The SCDEA said the Chinese gangs had been driven out since 2006 but that Scottish gangs had moved in. They grow smaller amounts of cannabis in numerous locations, using special tents lined with foil that contain the smell and make it harder to detect with thermal imaging.
Detectives said the availability of cannabis-growing equipment online was a “challenge”. Internet sites offer cannabis-growing packages for as little as £400. These include a tent, exhaust fans, nutrients and electronically timed lights.
“Very seldom did we come across cannabis cultivation by indigenous crime groups on any kind of scale but that is changing,” added Simpson. “The Scottish gangs are moving in. A lot of thought is going into the equipment being used. They prefer small, satellite cultivation sites and a lot of thought is going into the equipment, such as grow tents, available on the internet, which reduce smell and reflect heat.”
Anne Franc, a leading authority on cannabis cultivation at Forensic Equity a Berkshire-based consultancy, said: “The police and the governments are concerned about the scale of cultivation of cannabis in Britain. The profits are substantial, it’s easy to grow and there’s huge demand. Unlike Class A drugs, cannabis use crosses the social boundaries; it’s as popular among the middle-classes as it is among those on lower incomes.”
The cannabis plant contains more than 400 chemicals, including cannabidiolic acid, an antibiotic with similar properties to penicillin.
The main active ingredient in cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). One type, skunk, is particularly potent as it contains two to three times as much THC as other types.
There is evidence that cannabis use is linked to health risks. It damages the ability to concentrate, decreases motivation and more than occasional use in teenagers can affect psychological development.
Users can become anxious, suspicious and paranoid. Heavy use increases the risk of psychiatric illness.
View the article on the Sunday Times website >
Fingerprint analysis – The potential flaws, weaknesses and limitations
Following the public inquiry into the Shirley McKie fingerprint scandal at the end of last year, fingerprint analysis has been placed under renewed pressure for improved methods and more careful conclusions. While the inquiry found that there was no reason to suggest that fingerprint comparison in general is an inherently unreliable form of evidence, it recommended that practitioners give due consideration to the limits of the discipline.
Among the key recommendations “for future action” from the inquiry’s chairman, Sir Anthony Campbell, was that “fingerprint evidence should be recognised as opinion evidence, not fact.” He further advised that examiners “should discontinue reporting conclusions on identification or exclusion with a claim to 100% certainty.’
The inquiry also recommended that examiners receive training which emphasises that their findings are based on personal opinion.
Further studies led by Itiel Dror of University College London investigated the potential weaknesses in fingerprint analysis. One study looked at how automated fingerprint identification systems (AFIS), which are frequently used to search print databases and provide a list of possible matches, could influence judgement. Dror gave 23 examiners a print and AFIS lists of possible matches, but changed the position of the actual match on some of the lists. While examiners should regard all AFIS-generated prints as possible matches, Dror’s study found that experts spent longer looking at prints at the top of the list and were more likely to identify one placed here as a correct match, often dismissing the genuine match if it was lower down the list.
Dror said of his study: “This is not a fatal blow to fingerprints, but it means we need to take countermeasures to minimise the effects of bias.” Building on the recommendations of the Fingerprint Inquiry, Dror adds that examiners should always analyse crime-scene prints and document their findings before seeing a suspect’s print or any other contextual evidence in order to avoid bias.
Due to the nature of personal opinion, interpretation and possible bias inherent in criminal fingerprint analysis it is essential that the fingerprint evidence is re-examined by an independent fingerprint expert.
Our forensic fingerprint expert David Goodwin has over 30 years’ experience in the specialism of fingerprints and having previously held the position of head of fingerprint services at Northamptonshire police is uniquely placed to provide current, credible forensic opinion on any form of fingerprint evidence.
The Role of Forensic Science in the Criminal Justice System
By Simon Franc
Forensic scientists have a very important role in the criminal process: from initial crime scene investigation to forensic laboratory analysis to providing expert forensic statements and culminating in their appearance in court as an expert witness. Forensic scientists do not just perform forensic analyses and report on the results. As expert witnesses they are allowed to provide opinion as well factual evidence in criminal cases. Interpretation of certain factual evidence and opinions relating to it may vary between forensic experts; which is where forensic defence experts come in to the equation. Many will be extremely experienced and long serving forensic scientists who can use their experience and expertise to re-examine the forensic evidence and peer review any statements from the Crown’s experts. Where appropriate, they can offer alternative forensic expert interpretation and opinion and appear in court as an expert witness for the defence.
Forensic science is divided into several disciplines and most forensic scientists who act as expert witnesses will usually specialise in one or two particular disciplines, which is what makes them ‘experts’ rather than just someone with a general knowledge of forensic science as a whole. These forensic disciplines include Forensic Biology and DNA, Forensic chemistry(which includes marks and traces), Forensic Drugs, Forensic Toxicology, Fingerprints, Firearms and ballistics and Road traffic accident investigation. In many serious criminal cases the trial may involve obtaining forensic evidence from forensic scientists in a whole range of forensic disciplines.
To get a better idea of the role of the forensic scientist let us consider a few case scenarios:
1. The crime scene of a violent assault/murder where the victim’s body is still at the scene.
At a crime scene of this nature there may be contact trace exchange, such as blood, DNA, hairs, fibres etc. between the victim and their assailant. This will involve a forensic biologist and necessitate forensic DNA analysis as well as fibre analysis, blood pattern analysis and should also include the examination of the victim’s and suspect’s clothing. All of this forensic evidence can then be interpreted by an expert forensic biologist.
There may be blood stains, smears and splashes, all of which if interpreted correctly by an experienced expert forensic biologist can indicate a possible scenario of what took place at the crime scene before and after the victims death.
There may be fingerprints to be lifted and examined by a fingerprint expert and shoe prints to be photographed and compared by a forensic chemistry expert to shoes found on the person or at the home of a suspected assailant.
It may be that it was suspected that the murder occurred after an argument fuelled by drugs and/or alcohol. Blood samples would then be taken at post mortem and sent to the forensic laboratory for forensic analysis for drugs and alcohol by a forensic toxicologist. The results of these analyses would then be interpreted by a forensic toxicology expert.
In a case of this type there could be several expert witness statements: from a forensic biologist, a forensic chemist, a fingerprint expert and a forensic toxicologist. The content of these statements may or may not be pulled together by an overarching statement from the ‘lead forensic scientist’ in the case.
2. The crime scene of a large scale cannabis cultivation run by a serious organised crime group.
Drugs scenes of this nature are invariably ‘forensicated’ by police personnel (PCs and SOCOs - Scenes of Crime officers). Photographs are usually taken, cannabis plant samples are submitted to the forensic laboratory for forensic examination and forensic analysis and then usually the whole scene is dismantled and all the other cannabis plants are disposed of. This makes the job of a forensic drugs scientist quite problematic as they have to make their interpretation of the scene from photographs and the few sample cannabis plants submitted, with the rest of the forensic evidence having been destroyed.
The role of the forensic cannabis cultivation expert is to identify and analyse the cannabis plants submitted and, based on the photographs and police information about the crime scene to give opinions on the conditions under which the cannabis plants were grown and to estimate the potential yields of cannabis which could have been produced at the scene and ultimately sold. As the information available to the forensic drugs expert is limited, opinions of Crown and defence experts about potential yields can often vary and crucially depend on the levels of experience and expertise of the forensic experts involved. Cannabis cultivation on a large scale is usually a carefully controlled process as any deviation from optimum conditions could dramatically affect potential yields and the monetary value of a crop. It is important to assess plant yields properly as sentencing and asset seizure(under the proceeds of crime act) depend on crop value.
Established and experienced forensic drugs experts engaged by the defence may also be able to estimate crop values, based on their long-term knowledge of drugs markets and the different types of cannabis products sold in them. Original crop values are usually estimated by police ‘experts’.
There are occasions where a forensic cannabis cultivation expert will be asked to interpret a scene of a cannabis ‘factory’ and estimate yields from photographic evidence alone.
3. The scene of a fatal Road traffic accident involving two vehicles
This type of scene may also need the expertise of forensic scientists from at least two forensic disciplines.
A road traffic investigation expert can examine the scene and the vehicles involved to assess whether vehicle failure, climatic conditions or driver error or a combination of all three may have caused the fatal road traffic accident. In the case of a forensic defence expert they may have to interpret the scene from photographs and police reports, although the vehicles may still be available for forensic re-examination.
Blood samples would normally be taken from the deceased at post mortem and the surviving driver by a police surgeon, if possible. These blood samples would be sent to the forensic science laboratory to be analysed for drugs and alcohol by a forensic toxicologist, to see if either driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol or both when the accident occurred. The role of a forensic toxicology expert witness is to assess the effects that any drugs and alcohol detected in the drivers of the vehicles may have had on their ability to drive at the time of the accident.
Where the accident involves a ‘hit and run’ a forensic scientists specialising in chemistry may be asked to compare bits of broken vehicle component, such as a headlamp, found at the scene with a damaged component found on a vehicle believed to have been involved in the fatal collision.
4. The scene of an armed robbery where a firearm has been discharged
Scenes of this nature will involve a firearms and ballistics forensic scientist. The role of the forensic scientist and firearms expert may be to compare spent ammunition found at the crime scene with ammunition found in the possession of a suspect or to compare marks found on the spent ammunition with those made on ammunition fired from a recovered weapon in order to ascertain whether it is the weapon used in the armed robbery.
There may be other evidence which requires the expertise of a forensic chemist who may be asked to compare shoeprints found at the scene with shoes worn by a suspect.
If the glass in a door or window is smashed to gain entry to the premises the forensic scientist specialising in forensic chemistry may also be asked to analyse and compare the glass from the scene with fragments of glass found on a suspects clothing.
A forensic fingerprint expert may also be needed to recover fingerprints left at the scene and compare them to those of potential suspects.
The statements of the Crown’s expert witnesses in cases like those previously described will be disclosed to the defence prior to the case going to trial. Defence solicitors may decide to engage one or more forensic defence experts to re-examine parts or all of the forensic evidence and decide whether or not the prosecution scientist’s investigations were carried out properly and whether they agree or disagree with the prosecutions version of events. If the independent forensic scientists disagree they may offer alternative interpretations and opinions relating to the crime and the crime scene
This article just gives just a few examples of the roles that forensic scientists plays in the criminal justice system. There are many forensic disciplines, some covering broad topics like forensic biology and some very specialised like forensic entomology, but there are forensic scientists available to give expert opinion in all criminal cases and in cases involving all forensic evidence types.
If you are engaged in defending someone in a criminal case and you have evidence which requires appraisal by an experienced forensic expert witness then please do not hesitate to contact us.
We will determine whether the forensic evidence can be challenged completely free of charge and will subsequently put together an estimate of costs for approval should you wish to have an independent forensic scientist comment on the forensic evidence against your client.
We have experts in a full range of forensic disciplines including amongst others drugs, drugs on money (POCA), drugs valuations, toxicology, drink diving, drugs driving, biology/DNA, blood pattern analysis, fingerprints, shoeprints, vehicle examination and firearms.
‘New Forensics’ is not ‘Value for Money’
After viewing a recently televised session of the Select Committee investigating the closure of the Forensic Science Service (FSS), we were appalled by the seemingly superficial and cost driven decision to close the Forensic Science Service, as outlined by the evidence of Crime Reduction Minister James Brokenshire.
As a forensic scientist with over 40 years’ experience, our principal forensic scientist Anne Franc has worked for the Forensic Science Service both before and after it became a government company, as well as for two major private providers, Forensic Alliance and LGC Forensics. In addition to undertaking both scientific and management roles within these organisations, Anne is now the principal scientist at Forensic Equity, and as such felt uniquely placed to comment on this issue.
Our principal forensic scientist Anne Franc comments -
In my opinion, since the inception of the National Framework for Forensic Services and the awarding of individual ‘Lots’ of work to a myriad of private providers, there has been a marked decrease in the quality and ‘fitness for purpose’ of forensic evidence delivered to the courts. This is particularly evident in the more complex forensic work that surrounds more serious offences, where expert opinion based on experience and specialist expertise, is crucial.
The National Framework tendering process may have driven down the costs and delivery times of many forensic examinations, through marketplace competition. However, it has not, as suggested by the Forensic Science Regulator and ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers), improved quality or ensured real ‘value for money’.
The fact that the key players are apparently blind to these flaws in the new system is because the whole criminal process is hugely fragmented. From the collection of evidence, the forensic examinations and the charging of suspects, right up to the presentation of evidence in court, the final verdict and eventually sentencing, the overall process is not monitored by anyone in authority.
However, to experienced forensic scientists who are regularly involved in the majority of the process, particularly when giving evidence in court, the flaws are all too apparent.
The concept of ‘value for money’ in terms of forensic evidence, should be based on the premise that the amount spent on forensic investigations and reports leads to a sound, safe and correct verdict in court. The forensic part of any investigation represents a tiny fraction of the total cost of bringing a case to court, a fact that is consistently ignored by those who wish to cut the cost of the legal process.
Unfortunately, the police view of ‘value for money’ revolves around how quickly and cheaply a forensic service can be delivered and does not address how the results might affect the criminal proceedings as a whole. If prosecutions are based on weak or flawed forensic evidence or opinion, they may eventually fail in court, with the tax payer incurring huge bills as a result.
The introduction of the National Framework tendering process has caused a reduction in the operating costs of the private providers and diminished the amount of work carried out in a case. This is in order for them to be competitive and to win tenders, which in my experience are normally awarded by financial managers on the basis of cost alone, with very little consideration for the quality of the science.
As long as the provider chosen meets minimum standards set by the Forensic Regulator, cost wins out over quality.
These reductions in operating costs have been achieved, in part, by keeping wage bills down and employing less experienced scientists to carry out the work. Research and development budgets have also been heavily cut, with some minor providers not even having one at all.
In contrast, these cost cutting options have not been readily available to the Forensic Science Service to date, as they have a core of very experienced and hence more expensive forensic specialists, causing them to come off badly in the tendering process and placing them in financial difficulty.
The net effect is that although the forensic examinations in a case may be delivered cheaply and quickly, they do not always serve the best interests of the criminal justice system in delivering verdicts based on sound science and expert opinions. Through my extensive experience I regularly see the effects of this ‘dumbing down’ of forensic science, including prosecution failures, reduced charges and occasionally more serious miscarriages of justice.
Before taking the irreversible step of closing the Forensic Science Service, I believe that the Home Office and the Crime Reduction Minister in particular, should take a long hard look at the whole criminal justice process and the place of forensic evidence within it. They should seriously consider the critical impact of losing the vast expertise of so many forensic scientists.
The majority of the most senior Forensic Science Service specialists will not find or want new jobs within the private sector. The private forensic providers cannot afford to keep their costs down and pay the salaries of such experienced scientists. As a result, a raft of specialist proficiency will be lost to the criminal justice system forever; or at least to the prosecution.
No private provider will be willing or able to replace that expertise, with the current constraints on prices that can be charged within the National Framework tendering process. It takes years to properly train a scene-going forensic scientist and even longer for them to gain the experience necessary to give critical expert opinion in a serious criminal case.
It would be far better to rethink the whole relationship between forensic science, the Police and the rest of the criminal justice system and how it should work for the benefit of all. The Home Office should seek to retain that forensic expertise which is so desperately needed and stop the potentially dangerous ‘dumbing down’ process which is currently taking place.