Aimee Girdham graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Forensic Investigation in 2019. This short blog from Aimee discusses her recent experiences that saw her completing her degree in Stoke-on-Trent and then working in the Caribbean.
My course at University was fantastic, allowing practical, hands on experience in the world of Forensics whether in the Crime Scene House or in the State-of-the-Art Laboratories. A variety of specialist subjects were taught, that allowed a wide range of investigation and analytical skills to be developed. Getting involved in other activities, such as the Staffordshire Police Partnership Placement and International Week in Belgium, helped develop myself as a person but also my employability skills, which are incredibly important post-University.
All the lecturers were supportive throughout the course of my degree and it was after a chance conversation with Dean Northfield that he put me in touch with Acumè Forensics (a digital forensics presentation company). After being invited for an interview, I was successful in gaining a position as Courtroom Operator in the Turks and Caicos Islands. I received training in the Birmingham and Bristol Magistrates Court, learning about what my role would entail.
“My course at University was fantastic, allowing practical, hands on experience in the world of Forensics whether in the Crime Scene House or in the State-of-the-Art Laboratories. A variety of specialist subjects were taught, that allowed a wide range of investigation and analytical skills to be developed.”
From getting the job, to training to flying out to the Caribbean took place within a couple of weeks.
For the few months I was out there, I was having a brilliant time! The courtroom was built in the old hospital building specifically for this trial which is now in its fifth year. The trial has produced over 2,000 different documents as exhibits. During the trial, there have been a few incidents when the computers have gone down but nothing major and I have been able to fix the problem. Power cuts also make an appearance from time to time and the whole system goes down but again, thankfully nothing major and the issues are fixable. Before this job I wouldn’t go near technology, but I now have more confidence to at least look for the solution and attempt to fix it myself.
I have also been updating iPads using an Apple Mac, making sure the Judge and the Barristers have the correct and updated documents, which I have never done before and actually like doing. The case is an interesting one and I am enjoying being a part of it and I enjoy doing the job I do. When I explain my role to other people, it sounds simple just getting exhibits up on the screen for the court to see and following instructions, but it is so much more than that.
“The case is an interesting one and I am enjoying being a part of it and I enjoy doing the job I do”
I work for 3 weeks then get 1 week off and also have weekends off, so have plenty of time to explore. Before Coronavirus, I booked a trip to New York during the week off at the beginning of May, but unfortunately had to cancel. I hope to rebook at some point though and also have other trips to more places in the USA, such as Miami and around the different Islands like Grand Turk.
The culture in TCI is amazing with a weekly Fish Fry event on a Thursday night. Here, they have several food and souvenir stalls with live music. Live music is common and popular in bars and at restaurants throughout the week. I go out to lunch on a Friday afternoon with the Barristers so get to sample different restaurants. It is nice to hang out with them in a different setting, as you get to see a different side to them. Tony and Co who are ex-financial investigators and ex-police officers involved in the prosecution team are out there with me and they have all been brilliant. I would be lost without them and they are great fun and I am learning lots from them too.
There are lots of events that happen every month throughout the year including the 11th Anniversary Race for the Conch Charity Swim in August, Into The Pink 12th Year Anniversary Party in October fundraising for the National Cancer Society and the Annual Conch and Caribbean Food and Wine Festivals in November.
There was an annual fishing tournament which I witnessed not long before coming back to the UK. Every year competitors fish for the biggest/heaviest fish they can get, and the one that weighs the most wins the competition and then the fish are auctioned off afterwards. You get to see the weighing and auction take place and is very interesting to watch.
I have tried the local delicacy of Conch. It is a bit like Calamari but chewier and comes in many forms: cracked, blackened, chowder, fritters etc. As expected, there is a lot of seafood on the Island. I tried Lobster for the first time (which is delicious but only available during the Lobster season) Coconut Shrimp, and even Shark. At the Fish Fry event, you can even see Conch being pulled out of its shell and if I knew what it looked like before I tried it, it would have deterred me.
It is a whole different way of life over there compared to the UK. Nothing is completed with any urgency, but it is very relaxing. I am lucky to be able to walk on the beach after work watching the sunset, go snorkelling and diving during the weekends, and have recently been introduced to yoga on Sundays, which is extremely refreshing! It is also more expensive to live over there, with a bag of grapes costing anywhere between $6 and $10! I do miss Aldi!
I have really settled into it and have met so many different people which is really nice. I got introduced to someone through one of the Barristers and she has now moved into the apartment above mine, so we have naturally become good friends.
I play Netball on a Wednesday night and hope to help set up and run a Lacrosse programme when I go back, alongside a Coach that comes occasionally.
I can now drive on the Island – first time driving an automatic car which has changed my views of driving a manual car. It is a bit different and slightly bigger than my Citroen C1 but that’s all part of the experience.
In February, I officially became an SSI Open Water Certified Diver. It is incredible and a different world to see, even to swim among sharks!
I am currently back in the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic, but I hope to go back to Turks and Caicos Islands in the near future, possibly September time if everything goes to plan. In the meantime, I will be working in the Acumè Forensics office in Leeds, working remotely towards the end of next month. I hope to be out in the Turks and Caicos Islands until the end of the trial, however long that might take. I am making the most of my time over there and I am loving the work and life experience it has given me.
This blog details the journey through a final year project of Gareth Griffiths, who recently graduated from the School of Law, Policing and Forensics with a BSc(Hons) in Forensic Investigation. It includes comments from Project Supervisor Mr Dean Northfield and Industry Expert Eugene Lisco, who helped Gareth on his journey.
To find out more information about our forensic investigation degrees please visit the Staffordshire University website.
Gareth’s research project title was ‘Accuracy of Area of Origin Analysis on textured, wallpaper surfaces’ using FARO ZONE 3D (FZ3D).
Gareth states that “Networking skills gained throughout the course allowed me to connect with professionals within the forensic field. I connected with Eugene Liscio on LinkedIn, where I discussed my final year project. Eugene invited me over to Canada to work with himself, Helen Guryn and Quan Le on my project. They trained me on FZ3D and assisted in the practical work.
“I also attended the International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts (IABPA) Conference, where I was introduced to experts within the BPA community. After analysing the data, I was invited to present my findings at the IABPA conference in Ottawa. This allowed me to gain confidence and public speaking skills. During the conference I assisted in workshops training police officers on FZ3D.
“I also presented my findings at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR) [where our attendance was] organised by Staffordshire University. I decided to publish my research in the IABPA journal, which was accepted in March 2020. I am proud of the publication, since the paper has been published many experts within the BPA community have praised me for my work ethic and determination to succeed.
“I am currently doing a PhD in Forensic Science at Staffordshire University. I will be returning to Canada in the near future to work with Eugene on other projects relating to my PhD. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Eugene Liscio, Helen Guryn, Quan Le, Dean Northfield and David Dustin for their constant support throughout my final year project. I am currently writing two papers with my PhD supervisor Professor Graham Williams. I intend to have these published in the Journal of Forensic Science by December 2020”.
Here is the link for the ‘Accuracy of Area of Origin Analysis on textured, wallpaper surfaces in the IABPA journal.
Dean said “It is great to see the journey that so many of our forensic investigation graduates undertake. As a Lecturer and a project supervisor it is wonderful to see new and innovative ideas being explored, projects planned, data collected, analysis being conducted and reports generated.
“It is inspiring to witness hard work being rewarded. Gareth’s journey demonstrates the wonderful experience and opportunities that exist through networking with professional experts in the fields of forensics, I am proud of Gareth’s achievement to date, as I am of so many of our past and present Forensic Investigation students and graduates; present and past many of whom I remain in contact with”.
Eugene Lisco, ai2 – 3D said “when Gareth first contacted me over the internet, I wasn’t sure what to think (since I get regular inquiries from students internationally). However, it was clear from the beginning that he was committed to coming to Canada and was going to learn how to perform an area of origin analysis in 3D. He spent many days with us preparing, learning and setting up his experiment. Once he was ready, he pushed through all the data capture and analysis. I was most impressed with his passion and dedication to his project.
“During the few short weeks he was in Canada Gareth attended a forensics conference, fired a handgun for the first time with the York Regional Police, finished all his data capture and was a great representative for Staffordshire University. To top it all off, Gareth was able to publish his work in the latest IABPA Journal. Gareth Griffiths has come a long way in a very short time and we wish him all the best in his future PhD studies”.
On the 22nd April, the Forensic and Crime Science Society (FACS) held their ninth, annual student-led conference. This event usually takes place in the Science Centre, but this year our students didn’t let Covid-19 deter them and hosted the event online.
The event was organised by Jade Wheeler, the president of the FACS Society and a Forensic Investigation student, along with Dr Rachel Bolton-King and “our brilliant, friendly and brave level 6 students in forensics and policing to share the findings of their final year research”.
Rachel also said that “I think the students have done a brilliant, professional job with their presentations”.
Rachel kicked off the conference with a Welcome Talk, outlining the importance of the conference.
Jade Wheeler then outlined the event and introduced each of the presenters and their research topics.
Lauren Yare, a Forensic Investigation student, presented her research first on the ‘Effect of Fabric Type on Knife Identification using Stab Damage’.
Next was Lauren James, a Forensic Investigation student, who present her research on the ‘Effects of Restricting Air Circulation and Oxygen on Decomposition’.
Third was Rebecca Neville, a Policing and Criminal Investigation student, who presented her research on ‘The Reliability and Accuracy of Available Doorstep Crime Data. This video is confidential and is therefore unavailable to view.
Finally, Shan Pryce, a Forensic Investigation student, presented her research on ‘Public Perceptions and Reporting of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Associate Professor Rachel Bolton-King concluded the event with a Closing Speech, congratulating the students for all of their hard work.
You can watch all of the videos of the FACS Conference here.
Well done to everyone who took part!
Congratulations to Dr Claire Gwinnett and Laura Wilkinson (PhD Researcher) who have had their paper published, ‘An international survey into the analysis and interpretation of microscopic hair evidence by forensic hair examiners’
“This investigated global approaches to forensic hair examinations in criminal casework – something that has not been done before in this manner and this sets the current scene in the perceptions and methods being used in forensic hair examinations by forensic hair experts. This comes post global scrutiny of such evidence and highlights still the need for change and better standardized objective methods for interpretation.”
Symon Dowell, an MSci Forensic Science student, tells us about his exciting placement in Germany.
In my final year of my Forensic Science MSci undergraduate degree it is a requirement to conduct a three-month placement. This can be in research, a work placement, or a mixture of the two, inside or outside of Staffordshire University. My placement, in ballistic imaging, is to develop a database for statistical modelling and forensic firearm identification. The placement will consist of using the ScannBi Evofinder to image fired test samples sent by firearm experts from all over the world.
In order to conduct my placement Dr Rachel Bolton-King and I travelled to Lübeck, Germany, to conduct training on the Evofinder, being taught by the company, ScannBi. A huge thank you to everyone at ScannBi but especially to Aleksandr Skvortsov for being an excellent trainer. The ScannBi Technology company was founded by a group of specialists in different fields to create an effective tool for ballistic expertise.
The training started from the very basics of the Evofinder system teaching us how to use the system, and what every single icon does on the software and when we would need to use them. A cassette is used to hold the bullet or cartridge case in place and is inserted into the Evofinder. There are many different adaptors available to hold the samples in place and we were taught which component to use with different types of samples. We also got to have plenty of hands on practise with the Evofinder, imaging some samples which were in good condition with easily identifiable impressions to other samples with very little visible impressions or were just fragments of a bullet, which were interesting to image but required more skill with the equipment to image them properly.
This was my first experience of being taught outside the UK and working in a technology company environment. Although I was nervous, I was also very excited to learn about their technology and to be able to use it confidently and hopefully competently. It was very interesting listening and speaking to both the ScannBi owner, their employees and Rachel regarding ballistic examination around the world.
The training took place during normal working hours, 9am to 5pm, meaning all other time outside of this was ours. This allowed us to travel around the wonderfully colourful German Christmas markets, of which there were many, with a variety of different stalls, with the main theme of food, drink (some alcoholic of course!) or crafted objects, or a mixture of the three. Every lunchtime we would walk to the same café which served some amazing food, and, in the evenings, we would dine on food from the Christmas markets. Except, after the first day of training the ScannBi Company kindly invited us out for a very delicious meal.
Conducting this training has not only given me the skills to be able to use the Evofinder competently but has given me the confidence to be able to travel to a new environment and be taught by professionals, learning new information, developing existing and new skills.
‘The ScannBi Technology company was founded by a group of specialists in different fields to create an effective tool for ballistic expertise.’
I chose to apply for this work placement with Rachel because I wanted to do something that would be fun and interesting, and I did not have a clear idea as to what I want to do after my university degree. Therefore, I decided to go for an area where I have little experience in. The requirements for this placement were to have good attention to detail and to be able to carry out repetitive work sticking to operational guidelines, but it was not necessary to have a vast knowledge of ballistic examination.
The alternative option
for conducting this training would have been for Rachel to attend the training alone and to teach me at the start of my placement in January. This would have given me a free week back in December to go on holiday, relax and enjoy the start of the Christmas break not conducting any work. However, this was never an option for me, I wanted the experience of traveling to a new country and to learn new information. I am glad I went to Germany, as I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the trip and would recommend to anyone else in this situation to conduct the training first-hand instead of the alternative.
My advice to anyone who is currently on the Forensic Science/Investigation MSci course or anyone looking at changing to the MSci course or doing a placement year apply for something different, potentially out of your comfort zone as you may never of thought of doing that area in the future but after doing your placement that’s exactly what you could be doing. Also, like myself, you may get the chance to travel abroad and receive training, or conduct research, and add a new experience to your CV.
You may have read our blog piece about Jacqueline McDermott’s experiences on an ERASMUS placement in Italy. The Forensic Investigation student was at Istituto di Scienze Forensi in Italy, one of our EFEN partner companies (the European Forensic Education Network).
She has now written an article about her experiences, which has been published in Interfaces, a newsletter publication from The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences.
The Society states that “The aim of Interfaces is to keep readers up to date with Society developments. Interfaces contains articles submitted by members, current Society updates, book reviews, events information and more.”
In the piece, Jacqueline explains that “while working at ISF, I have been given the opportunity to get real experience of what working as a Forensic Consultant entails. I have received many opportunities to expand my knowledge theoretically on areas such as road traffic reconstructions, fire investigation, 3D reconstructions and anti-counterfeiting. I have then applied this newfound knowledge practically to real-life scenarios. Throughout my time at ISF I have visited fire scenes, where I have had to take a series of photographs and make my own analysis on
points of origin and what caused the fire.”.
Congratulations Jacqueline, on your placement and publication.
You can read her entry, ‘An Italian ERASMUS Experience’, here:
Associate Professor, Dr Claire Gwinnett, became an adviser for Closer Magazine Group in January.
This month, Claire was featured in a new magazine from the group called Crime Monthly. It focuses on a ‘day in the life of a Forensic Scientist’.
Last week, fourteen of our undergraduate Forensic Science and Forensic Investigation students presented their research at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research at the University of South Wales.
The annual conference, which took place on the 15th-16th April, is held at different universities each year and allows undergraduate students to present their research in a variety of disciplines (read about last year’s here).
The students present their final-year project research in a digital or poster format.
Well done to everyone who attended and presented their research; what a valuable experience!
Last Wednesday afternoon, The Forensic and Crime Science Society (FACS) held the eighth-annual, student-led conference in the Science Centre.
Aimee Girdham, the President of the FACS Society and a level 6 Forensic Investigation student, explains that the “society is run alongside the Criminal Justice and Forensic Science [department within the School of Law, Policing and Forensics].
“We organise events throughout the year including Escape Rooms and the end of year ball, but most importantly we organise the annual Student-Led Conference. We invite external guest speakers to present alongside current Level 6 students to present their project work. It’s a great afternoon to network with a wide range of people from a variety of forensic disciplines.”
You can watch Associate Professor, Dr Rachel Bolton-King talk about the event on the School of Law, Policing and Forensics Facebook page here.
The event opened at 1pm, where level six undergraduate students, Olivia Hodgetts, Mauricio Chase, Tina Kaur and Anthony Smart, presented their project research.
“Level 6 students, Olivia Hodgetts, Mauricio Chase, Tina Kaur and Anthony Smart presented their research from their Independent Project which I hope was inspiring to the Level 4 students in getting them to think about the different Forensics areas and the process that’s involved in completing the project for them to make their own decision next year.”
Mark Broadhead and Robin Parsons, two PhD Researchers, also presented their research on Firearms and Ballistics and DNA AND Fingerprint Recovery.
The students were delighted to have four, external Guest Speakers accept their invitation to present on a range of topics about various forensic disciplines.
“It was an intellectual afternoon with great turn out from external guest speakers from a range of forensic disciplines, including a Forensic Examiner from the FBI, a Forensic Jeweller, Forensic Anthropologist who discussed her lead on establishing a human taphonomy facility in the U.K, and a Forensic Presentation Officer who uses 3D scanning to scan the crime scene and turn it into a 3D image to be used in the courtroom for the jury.”