Crime authors get to research all sorts of interesting things and last Saturday I spent a fascinating morning at the Fingerprint Bureau at Hampshire Police Support Headquarters at Netley, UK, learning how the fingerprints taken at the scene of crime and of people in police custody are identified. Although I'd researched this before and have had lots of advice from the Fingerprint Team I went there specifically to ask questions that relate to the DI Andy Horton crime novelI'm currently writing, number twelve in the series. And I'm obviously pleased that not only were my questions answered but the information I gained threw up some further interesting plot lines, which of course I'm not going to spoil by mentioning here.
The team from Hampshire Police Fingerprint Bureau have always been extremely helpful, turning up as they do for CSI Portsmouth every year in November (a one day event where crime fiction meets crime fact) and also for CSI Basingstoke, which I helped to organise in July 2013, and they'll also be at CSI Winchester, which I'm also involved with, on 8 March 2014. So I have lots of reasons to be grateful to them.
On Saturday, 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. He was the grandson of astronomer William Herschel, and the son of John Herschel, also an astronomer but his father asked him to choose another career, luckily for us, and he joined the East India Company.
Following the Indian Mutiny of 1858 he joined the Indian Civil Service and it was here, while drawing up a contract with a local man, that he made him use a hand print in order to prevent him from denying the contract later.
Throughout his life Herschel experimented with fingerprints using them to prevent forgery and as an administrative tool. But it was Francis Galton and Edward Henry, building on the foundations that Herschel had laid, that turned fingerprinting into a tool for fighting crime. And I saw it in action.
Here are some facts from my visit, you can read the full article on my official website blog.
1.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.
2.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.
3.Fingerprints, palm prints and toe prints don't lie. They are unique and even identical twins will have different fingerprints.
4.Fingerprints on objects can survive for a very long time and can be lifted from paint, oil, grease and from those left in blood.
5.Contrary to belief most villains don't wear gloves and even when they do they usually take them off for some purpose and then touch something.
6.The role of the scene of crime officers is to find that mark. The role of the fingerprint examiners are to identify it.
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!