Category Archives: TV and Film

A Bastard Invasion


Following on from what must have been a well received edit of the its pilot episode, the execs at FX Networks (link does not work outside the US) have commissioned a 10 episode first season of The Bastard Executioner.

The TV series, from the team that created and produced the Sons of Anarchy (SoA), is set in medieval Wales will be filmed in locations across Wales and specially created sets to bring the action to life.

The lead role appears to have been bestowed on Lee Jones, although despite his Welsh-sounding name hails from Australia.

Other notable cast members are Katey Sagal, Kurt Sutter and Timothy V. Murphy, who all played parts in SoA; and Stephen Moyer (True Blood) and Matthieu Charneau.

In amongst this lot is an abundance of Welsh acting talent, including Matthew Rhys (Brothers and Sisters, The Americans), who like Rhys Ifans, Michael Sheen and Ioan Grufydd, has demonstrated to the US TV and film makers that Wales is can produce international stars.

Its not just the acting that has brought Hollywood to the valleys. On the back of BBC Wales productions such as Doctor Who, Torchwood and Sherlock; a whole new and exciting media industry has grown in South Wales and is breeding make-up artists, special FX specialists, camera crew, and all the other many skill sets it takes to make a TV programme or feature film.

Also the support of the Welsh Government was instrumental in attracting investment such as that made by Pinewood Studios, who have also announced that the re-make of The Crow will be shot in the country.

This investment will surely be repaid once the high definition images of Welsh scenery will adorn cinema and TV screens across the world, and more people will want to visit this magical country.

#TBX, as The Bastard Executioner is referred to on social media, is not the first major oversees production filmed in Wales; but from my memory, this will be the first that will be set in Wales, filmed in Wales, and featuring a cast made of mainly Welsh talent.

The #TBX cast and crew are quite active on Twitter and it was great to see regular updates and photos from the set of the pilot.  There is also quite a large fanbase growing on social media creating quite a lot of buzz.  This has mainly risen from the millions of people who were addicted to SoA, and are looking forward to this new project from its creator Kurt Sutter.  The only frustration, is that the teasers and interviews that have been uploaded to YouTube by FX Networks are not available outside the US and Canada.

Sutter has already vocalised about his love of history and theology, so there is no doubt he will be true to Welsh mythology and folklore, to the point where his fictional storyline will allow. He has adopted the use of traditional medieval character names and has announced that the episode titles will be published in English and Welsh.

I for one am very excited about #TBX and the future of the Welsh media industry, together with a revitalisation of the Welsh Tourist industry.  I just have to hope that one of the UK broadcast companies pick this up and hopefully transmit to a similar schedule as the US.

We have an app for that…. The future of real-time fingerprint identification

It was interesting listening to recent comments by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC), Tom Winsor, saying that the police do not have access to the current state-of-the-art technology to enable them to effectively prevent crime. In the main, I think he is correct; though there are a number of reasons why this is the case.

When it comes to technology it takes a frustratingly long time to test security and compatibility and procure and implement new software and hardware. By the time this process has been completed technology has advanced to a new stage.

The majority of police officers are supplied with ‘old device’ BlackBerrys that allow them to access force emails and local and national police data; but in the vast majority of instances a lot of the phones functionality has been disabled due to security policies. This calls into question that even if officers were supplied with the latest technology, would they be able to use them to their full potential?

Also, from my experiences with talking to different police forces, IT departments have been particularly hit badly due to the current financial climate and would find it difficult to implement new large-scale technology projects.

Where does this leave fingerprint identification?

The identification of individuals electronically by fingerprints has been long regarded as reliable and robust. The use of LiveScan technology at custody suites to offer non-verified (no human verification) results against a full tenprint search has been used by some police forces in England and Wales for over 20 years and has been adopted by every police force since the implementation of the National LiveScan Rollout in 2000/2001. This has been further bolstered by the piloting of lights-out tenprint technology, which would rely wholly on an automated decision as to identity in the majority of cases. This has progressed in recent years to the roll out of MobileID devices, for use by police officers on patrol to query a persons identification by the roadside or in the street; or for use at large scale public gatherings like sporting events or music festivals.

A recent pilot exercise in the West Midlands has recently resulted in positive results Some of the issues that exist in relation of taking controlled fingerprints, especially in a custody environment, relate to quality. There are a number of factors that affect fingerprint quality:

  • The competence of the taker
  • The willingness of the donor
  • Skin condition of the donor
  • Maintenance and cleanliness of the equipment

This is because the nature of taking fingerprints involves the taker controlling the donor’s digits in a ‘rolling’ movement whilst maintaining contact with a fixed platen in order to capture the maximum amount of ridge detail possible.

Hand dryer
Hand dryer

I believe the future of capturing ridge detail, quickly and with the best possible quality is through a contactless, 3D, accurate, laser-scanning facility. I have always pictured this device to look like the hand dryers you would find in a public washroom (pictured).

If you are interested in this technology, there have been a few research documents recently published by the US National Institute of Justice:

What about marks found at scenes of crime?

Police forces have been given the capability to retrieve fingerprints from crime scenes and send them to their local fingerprint bureau, by scanning the evidence either directly at the scene or when the CSI returns to their base using the techniques outlined in the Remote Transmission Project. This method is seen as a little cumbersome, as the technology required would be a computer and scanner, which are not considered the most mobile of equipment.

Also, although it is possible to use all mobile networks and public wifi to transmit data (using sufficient firewalls), a lot of force IT possible restrict the mobile networks and disable the use of wifi on their mobile equipment. These restrictions seriously impact the amount of data that can be sent from scenes.

I have been recently enjoying watching the ‘Castle’ show with my wife via the on-demand service from my television supplier. It is a fictional crime show that I have been able to tolerate, as the mainstream forensic element of the programme is not as far-fetched as many of the CSI based shows (although the pathologist can conjure up some results that even the mighty Quincy would have found astonishing).

That was until I came across the episode ‘Tick, tick, tick’ in series 2. In this episode (and the next instalment ‘Boom’), the Boston Police Force are joined by the FBI to help solve a case of a serial killer. Although there is probably a belief that the likes of the FBI, US Secret Service, Interpol and the National Crime Agency (NCA) have access to amazing technology and resources that can provide results in seconds; this is a huge misconception and from colleagues I know in these organisations they are restricted by the same constraints as everyone else, if not more due to the security conscious nature of their work. About 10 minutes into the episode you will see the FBI agent take a split second to snap a picture, using her smartphone, of a fingerprint that was visible on a highly lacquered bag, and send it for a search. Apart from the highly reflective surface of the bag, not allowing sufficient time for the camera to focus and not providing any mechanism to scale the fingerprint…. the actual theory behind the process is not beyond the realms of current technology.

Some police forces in England and Wales have already started experimenting with smartphones and tablets to capture prints at crime scenes (in addition to recovering them using conventional evidence recovery techniques) and send them electronically to the fingerprint bureau, where they would by manually imported into the national IDENT1 system for an automated search.

The results of which could be manually compared and returned to the CSI or Investigating Officer within an hour. The problems still exist on what technology and data transfer protocols would acceptable to a police force. Modern phones and tablets now have a camera which can take images in excess of 8MP and provide enough clarity to make them suitable for an automated search. There are also tools, such as macro lenses that can be acquired that can improve image quality.

However, they would probably not conform to the internationally recognised standards recognised for the transfer of fingerprint data (NIST); therefore caution must be exercised when acting upon this intelligence; and it will still be likely for the evidence to be captured by conventional lifting and /or using DSLR photography.

What about returning real time unverified scene mark hits?

The ultimate CSI Effect moment is if the CSI or Investigating Officer can receive a fingerprint identification within seconds of sending it without human intervention… but is this possible? Well yes… in theory… I have seen 2 ‘prototypes’ of this kind of technology by the leading biometric technology companies, though they have been demonstrated using very small databases and carefully manufactured examples. The problem with crime scene marks is that they are left unintentionally and in the vast, vast majority of cases, these marks are of much inferior quality than fingerprints taken in a controlled environment at a custody suite or using MobileID.

To reach a high level of confidence as to identity, LiveScan and MobileID requires more than one good quality print from different fingers of the same person to facilitate this. You are very rarely afforded this kind of luxury at a crime scene. When these marks are manually searched by a human, the results are returned as a list of the most likely candidates and require careful comparison by an expert to determine if there is a match. You could potentially improve results by limiting the size of the database to which you are searching. It is generally understood that the majority of acquisitive crimes are committed by a small minority of people, and it is also recognised that the majority of low level habitual criminals will commit crimes within a small radius of where they live / work. If the search can take these 2 things into consideration (this data is available on PNC) then it could markedly improve the chance of a positive hit.

The only problem with this, is that it is susceptible to psychological bias. If a non-verified result is returned of a well know offender from the local area, it may cause the officer to confidently believe that they were involved, even though the print may not be theirs. Police officers for over a century are used to the premise that fingerprint evidence is practically infallible and not only can they arrest on the basis of an identification, but also charge and even secure a conviction, even if fingerprints are the only evidence in the case (R v Castleton). As a result, receiving non-verified hits in this manner would require a change in attitude from investigating officers, so that they only use this information as limited intelligence which could act as a potential early line of enquiry, which must be treated with caution.

The Great Train Robbery Continued

Following the death of Ronnie Biggs and the release of 2 BBC Dramas documenting the events of The Great Train Robbery, I thought I would just publish a short update to my previous blog on this subject.

The first drama, which was broadcast last night, and focused on the robbers angle of the offence provided us with a few clues of the impending role that fingerprints would play in the investigation.  It certainly depicted that the robbers were careful to wear gloves ‘for the majority of their time at Leatherslade Farm’…. but not all the time; and due to them having to vacate their hideout in a hurry, they feared it was only a matter of time before evidence was found.

New Scotland Yard - December 2013
New Scotland Yard – December 2013

Tonight’s episode will focus on the police response and investigation.

The tasters on the programme website hints that fingerprints will play a prominent role, with Tim Pigott-Smith being cast in the role of ‘the finger print man’, DS Maurice Ray of the New Scotland Yard Fingerprint Department (although Mr. Ray is ranked as a Superintendent at this time in the book ‘The Fingerprint story’).

There is a short description of Superintendent Rays court testimony, as reported by The Glasgow Herald, published online.

I’m interested to know who the fingerprint consultant used in the programme was.  Mr Pigott-Smith states he is a retired officer.

If you are unable to watch tonight’s programme then it will be available on BBC IPlayer, as is last nights installment.

I will hopefully get around to reviewing the drama in the near future.

Transforming Forensic Science Fiction into Stakeholder Satisfaction

Last November I won a “competition” with work that enabled me to create a blog and have it published on the intranet site so that I could respond to any comments and questions.

My blog addresses the issues around “the CSI effect” and how it can impact policing, and how it can also provide inspiration to those who seek to improve Forensic processes and technology.

The blog has now been published on the world wide web at

As there is no facility to leave a comment or question on that page, then please feel free to comment here or on the NPIA Official Facebook Page.

Forensics and Social Media

You know, you really don’t need a forensics team to get to the bottom of this. If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook. (The Social Network)

I finally got around to watching the movie “The Social Network” last week, and was very impressed with the film.

It emphasized to me the power of the internet to create connections, to link information and to promote ideas…. but it is also scary…

With Great Power comes Great Responsibility! (Spiderman)

I am aware that by having my own blog and profiles on other social networking sites it provides me with an opportunity to highlight people, places, things, organisations, events that have or are still having influence in my life… but, it also means that I am leaving myself open for others to challenge my views, correct my mistakes and criticise my beliefs.

I am fine with this, as long as it doesn’t have any adverse effects on my family or professional life.

Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner! (Dirty Dancing)

I do believe that it is better to have a presence and a voice, than to hide away and allow the world to pass you by, and for other people to pass judgement on you without a form of redress.

This is why I promoted the use of Social Media to my bosses at Forensics21 in The NPIA.  As The NPIA already have twitter accounts @the_npia and the CEO Nick Gargan tweets as @ngargan_npia, I was already on a winner.

So my boss @joashworth agreed for myself and @j_purser to speak with the organisations Social Media Guru @nickkeane.

Following on from those discussions we have launched our Twitter Profile today:


Forensics within the NPIA also launched a new tool that shows how DNA has contributed to crime detection in force areas of England and Wales, and also gives visitors an indication of how many people from their locality are on the National DNA Database:

So using social media, The NPIA can now promote the great work the organisation carries out… promote the work of Forensics in Police Forces… and deliver a higher level of engagement and transparency.

I have also introduced facebook and twitter accounts for The Fingerprint Society to again spread the word about ITS aims and objectives.

Now with my involvement in I’m a Scientist Get Me Out of Here…it has opened my eyes to a new level of enngagement… a new audience… a fun social networking experience!

What for the future??? Who knows!