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Fingerprint Facts


Pauline Rowson and Jane Aston, Hampshire Fingerprint BureauI've been very fortunate to spend some intriguing hours with the Fingerprint Bureau at Hampshire Police Support Headquarters at Netley studying how the fingerprints taken at the scene of crime and of people in police custody are identified.

Over the years of research for my crime novels and my liaison with Hampshire Police I've learnt a lot of fascinating forensic facts.


Jane Ashton, Supervisory Fingerprint Examiner, showed me around the modern single storey building named Herschel House appropriately after the father of fingerprinting William James Herschel who was born in Slough on 9th January 1833.

Jane had several files on her desk of prints taken at crime scenes with the locations of where they had been lifted clearly written on the lightweight plastic squares. Some prints were quite clear, others rather smudgy, to me at least, although Jane with her vast experience and training quickly dismissed that, she could see through the grey smudges to clear prints. These had been lifted primarily from burglaries but I also saw some interesting photographs of prints lifted using chemicals taken from wrappings on a drugs hauls. The prints taken of those in custody were on paper and therefore were very clear.

Although the police have a computer system for fingerprints called IDENT1, fingerprints are still physically examined by humans, through an eye glass and careful study.

The trained examiners know exactly what to look for and how skin reacts, ages and can be scarred. They can spot a scar and other smaller details that IDENT1 can't.

Fingerprints taken at the scene of the crime without a suspect in custody will be studied by the examiner, scanned and then run through IDENT1 to see if a match comes up. The match will be run for those first in the county of Hampshire and then widened to the outlying counties and if the officers at the crime scene have reason to believe the crime could have been committed by someone from outside the immediate area, and/or if the crime is a major one then the search will broaden to national. The image on the computer will be compared to that taken at the scene and the trained fingerprint examiners will be able to confirm if they have a match.

Fingerprints, palm prints and toe prints don't lie. They are unique and even identical twins will have different fingerprints.

Fingerprints on objects can survive for a very long time and can be lifted from paint, oil grease and from those left in blood.

I thought with all the villains watching CSI and police drama programmes on television they'd all be wearing gloves and know exactly how to avoid leaving fingerprints but not so it seems, thankfully. Many crimes are committed in haste, those that are opportunistic, those by drug addicts desperate to get money for their next fix who never think rationally or intelligently, and never stop to wear gloves. And even in the serious and organised crimes I'm informed that villains will often remove their gloves or a glove for one reason or another (sometimes to go to the toilet). It is very difficult to keep gloves on all the time, they will leave a tell-tale mark somewhere and the role of the scene of crime officers is to find that. The role of the fingerprint examiners are to identify it and if it can't be identified because the criminal is not on the database then it is held until one day that person commits another offence and it is matched.

It's a fascinating topic and I enjoyed my visit tremendously. My thanks to Jane Ashton and her team at Hampshire Police Fingerprint Bureau, keep up the good work!



Read more about the Inspector Andy Horton crime novels

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POSTED BY: PAULINE ROWSON
FEBRUARY 6TH, 2021 @ 7:15:41 UTC
 
 


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