A Journey of a Final Year Project in Forensic Investigation

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.

Gareth Griffiths

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.

Gareth Griffiths presenting his research

“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 Northfield, Senior Lecturer in Forensic Investigation, Staffordshire University.

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 

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”.

Ninth, Annual FACS Conference

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.

Laura Walton-Williams also presents a Careers Talk for anyone interested in pursuing a career in Criminology, Forensics, Law, or Policing.

You can watch all of the videos of the FACS Conference here.

Well done to everyone who took part!

An international survey into the analysis and interpretation of microscopic hair evidence by forensic hair examiners

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.”

Placement in Germany: Germany Evofinder Training

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.

Miniaturised aerial view of Lübeck

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.

Forensic Student Has Article Published About ERASMUS Placement

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:

CSFS_Interfaces_Issue_97_Mar19

British Conference of Undergraduate Research 2019

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.

Kirsty Chevannes presenting her research on the Evaluation of Methods Used Within Forensic Anthropology in Comparison to Digital Methods

 

Mauricio Chase discussing his research into The Development and Evaluation of Fingermarks on Firearms from Areas Frequently Handled

Symon Dowell investigated Whether Cutting Agents within Seized Cocaine Affects Quantifiation by HPLC. 

 

Stacey White presented on The Tertiary Transfer and Persistence of Biological Evidence in Child Sexual Offence Cases. 

 

Jessica Woodman – An Investigation into Whether the Partial Drying of Blood Drops Can Aid in the Determination of Sequence of Events of a Crime 

Gareth Griffiths – A Validation Study of Faro Zone 3D for Blood Pattern Analysis

Rodgers Nyika – A Verification into the Effects that Different Temperatures and Substrate Types have on the Effectiveness of Fingermark Development 

 

Rebecca Johnston carried out her research on The Migration of Volatile Organic Compounds through Various Polymer Membranes in Relation to Analysis of Arson Related Materials. 

Mollie Barker presented her poster showing her work on The Creation of an Assessment Tool for Heat Damage to Textiles 

 

Matthew Ballam-Davies presented his research about The Determination of Pedestrian Throw Types using Small-Scale Reconstruction

Lucy Colley – The Use of Non-Destructive Methods to Detect and Measure GSR Spread for the Estimation of Firing Distance at Close Range 

 

Leah Ashton conducted her research project on the Chemical Interpretation of Post Mortem Submersion Interval Changes in Murine Models

 

Katie Evers – A Prediction of Textile Damage from Acid Attacks to Aid the Reconstruction of Events 

Danielle Smith – Determining if Common Child Abuse Injuries are Still Visible on hard and Soft Tissues after Burial 

 

Well done to everyone who attended and presented their research; what a valuable experience! 

Dean Northfield (Forensic Investigation Course Leader, 6th from left) at the conference with our students

Eighth-Annual Student-Led Conference

Last Wednesday afternoon, The Forensic and Crime Science Society (FACS) held the eighth-annual, student-led conference in the Science Centre. 

Students from the FACS Society, including President Aimee Girdham (second from left), with Guest Speaks Deneen L Hernandez (centre) and Dr Maria MacLennan (second form right).

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.”

 

Dr Rachel Bolton-King (centre) with Guest Speakers Deneen L Hernandez (left) and Dr Maria MacLennan (right)

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. 

Olivia Hodgetts presenting her research on Blood Pattern Analysis and the effects of alcohol on blood. 

 

Tina Kaur has researched the impact of a speculum and specimen capture device in semen recovery rates during sexual offence examinations

 

Anthony Smart presented on the impact of heating bone following a knife injury to determine whether you can determine temperature of heating or knife type

“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.

Robin Parson, PhD Researcher (DNA Fingerprint and Recovery)

 

Mark Broadhead, PhD Researcher (Firearms and Ballistics)

The students were delighted to have four, external Guest Speakers accept their invitation to present on a range of topics about various forensic disciplines. 

Dr Anna Williams, Forensic Anthropologist at the University of Huddersfield

 

Deneen L Hernandez, Forensic Examiner in the FBI

 

Forensic Jewellery with Dr Maria MacLennan

Jonathan Allen, Forensic Presentation Officer at West Midlands Police

“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.”

 

 

Practical CSI Experience for Students from University College Leuven Limburg

Twenty-five students from University College Leuven Limburg visited us at Staffordshire University, Stoke Campus, for three days in March in order to take part in a Crime Scene Evidence Analysis short course. 

 

The students signed up to the short course after seeing a guest lecture by Associate Professor, Dr Claire Gwinnett at University College Leuven Limburg last March. The visit was organised so the students could get hands-on crime scene investigation (CSI) experience.

Day 1

The first day provided an overview of crime scene documentation, photography, packaging and evidence handling with Dr Claire Gwinnett and PhD Researcher Laura Wilkinson. A lot of examples were shown and discussions were had about the best way to preserve evidence. The day ended with a fingerprint powering session to brush up skills for their crime scene investigations. 

Day 2

CSI teams of five students were each given a case scenario, ranging from a missing persons investigation, potential kidnapping and assault and murder. They aspent four hours at the crime scene house investigating their case – some were focused on a bedroom scene, others in the kitchen and lounge and others investigating a vehicle outside.  

The teams had to work together to identify, document and retrieve evidence ready for future analysis. Later that day, teams created forensic strategies for the investigation and the analysis of the evidence, prioritising evidence so as to enable the ‘what, when, where, who, how and why’ questions to be answered. Our UCLL interns Bart Bogaerts and Koen Geurts, who are here at Staffs till June conducting research, helped out at the crime scene house with evidence packaging.

Day 3

Evidence analysis day meant the teams had to identify the analysis techniques and tests that they wanted to conduct on their evidence: including body fluids identification, presumptive testing of drugs, document analysis (using VSC), ink analysis (using Raman Spectroscopy), hair and glass analysis, chemical development of fingermarks and Electrostatic Detection Apparatus for ID of the presence of any indentations on paper evidence and DNA submissions.

Each team could only submit three items for DNA analysis, meaning that the evidential value of each item of evidence had to be scrutinised and an effective forensic strategy developed. 

Teams collated their findings and presented these via an ideas board to the rest of the course with the team delivering the most accurate and well thought-out interpretation of the case winning a prize

Staffs Uni Wins ‘Best Collaboration between a University and Employer’ Award with Staffs Police

Friday evening at the National Undergraduate Employability Awards (NUE),in collaboration with Staffordshire Police, Staffordshire University won the award for ‘Best Collaboration between a University and Employer’ for the Staffordshire Forensic Partnership

Dr John Wheeler, The Associate Dean of Students for the School of Law, Policing and Forensics, said “this is a fantastic achievement and a great recognition of the innovative and excellent work that is undertaken between Staffordshire University and its partners.  Everyone who has played a part in the partnership should rightly be very proud of their achievements.”

The Forensic Parternship goes back to 2009 when John Beckwith, Head of Forensics at Staffordshire Police, and Andrew Jackson, then Head of Forensic and Crime Science at the University came up with the plan. The partnership was formally launched in 2016 and this year sees the third anniversary of this.

“Since then, many students, both in traditional and digital forensics have undertaken placements and project work, numerous research questions have been explored and answered, and a phenomenal relationship has developed between our two organisations. Many people have made significant and telling contributions to the Partnership over the years and have made it into the award winning success it is today.”

“I would like to express my personal thanks and gratitude to everyone who has been involved in the Partnership over the years, including colleagues at Staffordshire Police who have been incredibly innovative in their thinking and receptive to breaking down barriers in forensics and policing.  I am extremely proud to have played my part in the Partnership, but it has been, and continues to be, a huge team effort and it is a privilege to work with you all.”