The art of gathering evidence

13th February 2009 at 00:00
Footprints, fingerprints and blood splatter... just another day's work experience for pupils with Grampian Police. Jean McLeish follows the clues

A corpse, a revolver and an empty bottle of wine - there's been a murder - and the pupils of Oldmachar Academy, along with Grampian Police, are on the case.

During a week's work experience with the police, teenagers got an insight into the job of forensic scientists at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. In state-of-the-art new crime-scene rooms, the aftermath of murders and violent break-ins have been recreated - bedrooms and living rooms are in disarray with upturned furniture, dead bodies and, in some cases, murder weapons.

The fourth-year pupils are suited up like extras on Silent Witness and are finding and recording evidence, under the supervision of senior scene of crime officer Gus Hamilton, from the Scottish Police Services Authority.

"We've got some bloodied footprints and we've got a dead body with lots of blood on it. We've collected a wine bottle, which could have been used in the attack, in case there's any fingerprints on it. And there's marks on the wall as well," says Miles Murawiecki.

He seems to have got the hang of this quickly: "When you first come in, you have to photograph everything so you get a general picture. You focus on things like blood spots, and you start at one end of the room, writing down what is found and who finds it."

Gus Hamilton is from the Scenes Examination Branch of the Scottish Police Services Authority, which provides a forensic service to Grampian Police. He is a former police officer who has been doing this job for almost 20 years. "We do see a lot of gruesome sights but you are concentrating on the evidence you can gather, rather than what the scene is like," he says.

He's been showing pupils what's required: "What you are trying to find is anything at all which would lead you to the suspects and anything to tell you the course of events which happened.

"The first thing at any crime scene is life preservation. You have to make sure the person is deceased - it would be a bit embarrassing if he or she wasn't," he says. "And you must not disturb anything."

Miles peers out from under the hood of his white suit: "It's interesting and you're helping the public, keeping the community safe and catching criminals that do bad stuff."

Richard Duthie has been impressed with his work experience: "We had to rate our top three and I put police as number one. We've seen the dog-handlers, road safety and emergency call centre as well. Maybe I will go through the cadets with the police. I'm very interested."

Lisa Martin has been learning how to collect fingerprints: "It's been good and I am definitely interested in the police - the things you can do - it's all different," she says.

This is the first week in the job for 22-year-old Caroline Stewart, who graduated with honours in forensic science from Robert Gordon University last year. She's landed a job with the Scottish Police Services Authority and is at her old university today, helping out with the pupils. "My initial interest started with programmes like Taggart and Silent Witness," says the former Perth High pupil. "I am a fingerprint development officer, and I am going to be working on my own in a lab. Items of evidence which get submitted, I will chemically treat for fingerprints."

Andrew Morrison, head of forensic science at Robert Gordon University, says it's a very popular course. "Unfortunately, there aren't a large number of jobs in forensic science and, because of the interest, the jobs are highly sought after.

"So what we have to do, as an educational establishment, is to ensure our forensic science course is not only fit for students to become forensic scientists, but also to make it a very general science course as well, so all the range of scientific jobs are open to them.

Many of the techniques forensic scientists use, particularly in the laboratory, are equally applicable in the chemical industry, biotechnology, of course, through the DNA, and general analytical jobs.

"Most graduates at RGU Aberdeen get employment in the oil industry, because many of the techniques one might use for drug analysis might equally well be applicable in oil analysis. Techniques are the same; the samples are different."

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