PREVIEW SCIENCE FESTIVAL
unguar— Blood lines
Forensic science is leaving a blood-red trail in this year’s Edinburgh International Science Festrval. Ellie Carr met one man responsible for flinging open the doors of the forensic laboratory to an inquisitive public.
‘It comes through reception in brown paper bags and boxes.‘ says Jim Fraser. He doesn't mean lunch. Still in his thirties. Fraser is head of biology at Lothian and Borders Police Forensic Science Laboratory. The items arriving at his workplace under brown paper wraps have more often than not been removed from the scene of a serious crime.
Think ofJim Taggart saying: ‘Get this lot off to forensics.‘ and you‘ll begin to get the idea. Muddy boots. bits of carpet. kitchen knives and illegal narcotics are dumped here by the police every day. Of those some will undoubtedly graduate to see-through plastic bags marked ‘evidence‘. to be wielded before ajury in a court of law. But ﬁrst there‘s a small matter of science to consider.
Inside the police forensic base. opposite Mortonhall Crematorium. is a
bright white labyrinth ofcorridors leading to laboratories where recovered items are brought to be examined. One room is dedicated to storage ~ brown paper packed items tagged and classified. lined up neatly on shelves and clothing still damp with blood or other ﬂuids. hung up to dry. Another room. fringed with cannabis plants. is the chemistry lab. where the automatic washing powder gets sorted out from the speed. Asa biologist. Fraser is only really interested in blood. semen. fabric and hair. so his lab benches are covered mainly with clothing and footwear recovered during the course of recent investigations. Here. using ﬁbre optic lights and eagle eye vision. Fraser and his colleagues ensure no rip or stain goes unnoticed and weigh up how each got there. Most will be the result of violent or sexual offences. ‘Biology gets the serious crimes because it
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The drama of forensic science; Robert Robertson does his Hamlet routine in Iaggart
involves people.’ explains Freser. ‘Most of the cases we deal with will end up in the High Court.’
For court work. the scientists shed their lab coats. don suit and tie and declare their ﬁndings in the witness box. ‘You can‘t have a crime without scientiﬁc proof.’ says Fraser. He is unable to discuss recent cases that are still subiudiciary. but recalls an incident from the past where the prosecution relied almost entirely on evidence uncovered in the forensic labs. In the Edinburgh Frogston Road murder several years ago. fragments of brown paper found in Birmingham and traces of suede glove found on the victim‘s body ﬁnally resolved the case.
Fraser's main line of expertise lies in blood patterns. He makes his keenest
judgements about unsolved crimes by
analysing the spots. splashes and
. smears left by the bleeding human
form. Offer him a blood-stained T-shirt or show him a ﬁnely-splattered wall and Fraser will tell you whether the victim was punched or kicked. whether they were standing or kneeling. or if they had simply cut themselves while shaving.
Dramatic blood loss does not necessarily mean a violent death at the hands of another. Accidents can happen — Fraser remembers being called to the scene ofa ‘crime' to ﬁnd blood smeared all over the walls of the house. Later. the body of an old tramp was found in the garden. He had been drunk. accidentally cut an artery and bled to death. ‘lmpact patterns. where the blood is splashed. are the most signiﬁcant.‘ explains Fraser. ‘That generally means the person has been hit. Srnearing is more difﬁcult. It can indicate that the body has been dragged. In the case of our tramp. the body had dragged itself.‘
As someone who has to make himself understood in the witness box. Fraser is keen this is one area where the public is not blinded by science. Obviously there are areas. like the rapid. complex development of DNA proﬁling that your everyday person would ﬁnd difﬁculty understanding. but Fraser still insists much forensic science isjust common sense. ‘l’ve had a lot of ribbing for saying this.‘ he says. ‘but it‘s easier than it looks.’
Jim Fraser will discuss his work during Written In Blood public tours oft/1e Lot/nan and Borders Police forensic lal)()/'ulr)r_\', ll Hnwden Hall Road. They are on Wed 5 and Tue I 1 April. 4pm and ms! £2 (£1). Aimed at audiences of I 4 years and over.
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