Category Archives: Family Life

A spot kick to savour

18 months ago I was privileged to enjoy an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life… I have not blogged on it until now, as it took place during one of the most challenging periods of my life.

At a time that my wife was waiting for her diagnosis for breast cancer to be confirmed, I won an online competition with Vauxhall to represent my country (Wales) in a penalty kick shoot-out against Scotland at half-time during a football FIFA World Cup Qualifier between the same nations.

The weather was pretty rough before and during the game, but fortunately it was OK at half-time… although the lush grass at the Cardiff City Stadium was rather moist, and we were not allowed to wear boots on the pitch.

Penalty Takers
Penalty Takers

Wales were trailing 1-0 at half-time to a James Morrison strike just before the half hour mark, so the Welsh penalty takers amongst us were aware that it was down to us to lift the spirits of the home supporters by delivering with our spot kicks.  This was not going to be made any easier by the rowdy, enthusiastic,  and slightly inebriated tartan army that always passionately follow their team through thick and thin.

As we geared ourselves towards the big event, our preparations were disrupted by a mischievous Scotland and Stoke City player, Charlie Adam, who was warming up during the half time interval; and decided to prematurely start the proceedings by firing a spot kick in the nets that were purposely setup on the halfway line.

Adam’s antics was (unfortunately) not enough to put off Gordon Sheach, who was first up for the Scottish contingent, and expertly dispatched their first penalty.  His celebration of a simultaneous jump and air punch was enthusiastically welcomed by the Scots in the crowd; and the fact that his kilt decided to safely react to the earth gravitational pull was welcomed by the vast majority of the Cardiff City Stadium.

Wales’ first penalty taker suffered a miss-kick and was easily saved by the guest goalkeeper who was drafted in from the Wales youth setup.  This meant that after the first round Wales were trailing 1-0.

Scotland’s second penalty was confidently put away to make the score 2-0.

Then it was my turn to either bask in glory or crumble in humiliation.  It was my intention, that if I scored my celebration would consist of putting my finger to my lips in the direction of the tartan army to quieten our noisy visitors…. but in a rush of blood, I did this before taking the penalty… which just added further pressure to the spot kick.  I picked the direction to which I was going to place the kick and was grateful that the keeper went the other way.

My Penalty

So I was the first Welshman on the night to score against the Scots to make it 2-1, and I hoped that would spur on the professionals to step up a gear after the break.

The Welsh could only hope that the Scots were unsuccessful with their last attempt to give us the opportunity to draw the competition.

Our hopes were realised as the third Scottish pen was saved.

Then the last spot kick of the competition was scored, despite the keeper getting fingertips to the strike, and it ended 2-2.

My signed Wales Shirt
My signed Wales Shirt

I have to thank Vauxhall for that opportunity.  The prize included watching the team train at The Vale of Glamorgan Hotel and Resort, which acted as the FAW training camp; Vauxhall goodies, tickets to the game, the penalty kick experience; a Wales training top; and a signed Wales shirt (which I have had framed).

What was even better, was 2 goals from the remarkable Gareth Bale in the last 10 minutes to win the game for Wales.  The first being a penalty, and the second a wonder-strike that will be remembered by everyone who had the privilege to see it.

I was able to record the action on my BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, which I have been able to edit and upload to YouTube.  The footage is a little shaky, partly down to nerves and partly down to the sharing of the tablet between us Welsh representatives.

I’ve decided to post this now as my wife’s cancer treatment has now successfully ended and is in remission, and this will allow me to document the events for future posterity.

Fingerprints in the genes?

I have made references in a number of past posts of the fact that I discovered a family connection to Charles Stockley Collins, who was instrumental in ensuring that fingerprint evidence was accepted in British courts.

Although I intend to elaborate on both the discovery and what my research has unearthed in the future, I thought it only right that I post something of this story.

Since the discovery 5 years ago short articles have appeared in a number of publications, such as Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, UNISON’s Police Profile Magazine and Greater Manchester Police’s internal ‘Brief’ publication.

Earlier this year it was featured in ‘Inside Track’, which is an internal publication for the Home Office.  It was to compliment a piece that the magazine was running on how the General Records Office (GRO) helped people in researching their family history.

I have gained permission to reproduce my story here and I have posted a pdf version of it below.  N.B. the file is over 3MB, so may take a little time to open, depending on your connection.

Inside Track 2013 MarApril PDF


Behind the Times… The story behind the New York Times Article

I was approached in early May by @pagankennedy to answer a few questions on fingerprints to assist in an article she was authoring for the New York Times Magazine.

I was pleased to co-operate once I had the permission from my bosses at the National Policing Improvement Agency.

The article was published today (8th June 2012) and can be read at

The article itself is not as critical of fingerprinting as a lot of what makes the press in these DNA idolising times, though I am surprised Detective Tufft believes DNA evidence trumps Fingerprints.

Fingerprints are still recovered at more crime scenes than DNA as it is cheaper to process; it is still the only way to distinguish between identical siblings and is by far more difficult to transfer or contaminate than DNA… so if an offenders DNA was found on a cigarette butt outside a murder scene, but their fingerprints were found in the victims blood on the murder weapon… then as an investigator, I know what evidence I would class as more crucial!

As I fully expected, a lot of what I contributed was edited out (which is certainly no criticism of the journalist), but I am happy to share with you the full text I submitted:

What are the basic steps used today to capture a fingerprint at the crime scene? The first task for a Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) at a scene is to find the fingerprints; and although sometimes they can be visible to the human eye if they are left in substances such as dirt, clay, ink or blood; very often they are invisible as they are deposited as a layer of sweat from the ridges on the hand.

These can be ‘visualized’ by applying specialist powders or chemicals. It is then necessary for the CSI to record the fingerprint impressions that they find. This is commonly done by either photographing the prints in-situ, or using specialist gels and tapes to ‘lift’ the prints and attach them to a plastic sheet.

The CSI is then required to transmit these prints to their Latent Print Unit (Fingerprint Office) for comparison, or a computerized search. This is often facilitated by hand delivery, though more and more agencies are starting to use digital technology to capture and directly transmit crime scene prints, which generates more speedy matches and arrests.

Do forensics analysts still use the old-style language (loops, whorls) to talk about prints? Or has that all been done away with, in the era of computerized scanners? Although computerization has assisted the Latent Print Examiner (Fingerprint Expert) in finding possible matches, most fingerprint systems still rely on a human to make the final decision on whether a match has been found; and there are still many occasions whereby an expert will be required to examine a large number of prints.

On these occasions the expert will often use pattern types (arches, loops and whorls etc.) to include or exclude candidates from a more detailed comparison.

So yes, these terms that have been used in the profession for over 100 years are still used worldwide on a daily basis.

Your ancestor Charles Stockley Collins was the first person to introduce fingerprint evidence in the British court. Could you say a little about that case and/or the technical innovations that allowed him to use this kind of evidence? Fingerprints were used as a secondary means to identify habitual criminals in Great Britain since 1894, but the development of a classification system at the turn of the 20th century by Edward Henry (latterly Sir Edward Henry), with a significant contribution from his Indian assistants Aziz ul Haque and Hem Chandra Bose enabled them to be the most effective and efficient way to identify persons (which is still is) and paved the way to the creation of a Fingerprint Bureau at Scotland Yard.

This Bureau was initially staffed by Henry, Inspector Charles Steadman, Sergeant Charles Stockley Collins and Constable Frederick Hunt.

It wasn’t too long before they started to pay more attention to fingerprints found at crime scenes and there are two cases that are remembered in the history books.

The first ever fingerprint evidence presented in a British court was in 1902 in the case of a burglary of a home in Denmark Hill, London where ivory billiard balls were stolen. Fingerprints were found on a newly painted window sill. These scene prints matched fingerprints in Scotland Yard’s files in the name of Harry Jackson. Mr Jackson was convicted of the offence on the strength of that fingerprint evidence.

The next notable case was that of the first fingerprint evidence in a British murder trial. Two shopkeepers, Mr and Mrs Farrow were brutally killed during a robbery at the shop where they lived and worked. Fingerprints were located on a cashbox from which money had been stolen and were matched to an Alfred Stratton. Alfred was arrested for the murders together with his brother Albert, both of whom were convicted and sentenced to death. The fingerprint evidence in both these cases was presented by Charles Stockley Collins whose confident and expert testimony assured that fingerprints would be accepted as a reliable form of forensic evidence in British courts.

I was astounded to uncover recently that I have a family connection to Stockley Collins, who is my first cousin, four times removed. This had no conscious bearing on my career choice; but it has given me added respect and pride for some of the people who have been able to pioneer and develop the use of fingerprints to aid crime solving.

Please feel free to add your personal comments here and / or on the NY Times website.

One week… still in IAS… but I’m whacked

It has been just over a week since my last blog, and it has been the craziest week of my life….


I have only just moved home.  They say its one of the most stressful things that you ever do… and I tend to agree; but at least now I am starting to see the fruits of my labour… and the labour of all my friends and family who have pitched in.

I now have a room resembling an office that I can now feel comfortable in for working from home.  Working from home, on the occasions that I am home, is a privilege and a great opportunity for “getting things done”; but it helps if you have the right environment to achieve that… and now I’m there.  I just hope that it doesn’t turn out like the scene in Brewsters Millions where at the moment he has everything the way he wanted, it all has to get taken back… so I am going to fight for my job within the NPIA until there is nothing left to fight for (work wise that is).

I’m a Scientist…. but don’t get me out of here yet!

I'm a Scientist logo


The competition has now entered its second week, which means….. EVICTIONS!!
The first took place today, and I am mighty relieved to still be standing… even if it is on a technicality, as Shane has withdrawn. 
Good luck to Shane for the future… and good luck to Craig, Anna and Sue who are all still in the competition with me…. although I hope to stay in as long as I possibly can, as it is a fantastic social experiment, an excellent learning resource for school children…. and incredibly exciting and addictive for the scientists.
The questions are amazing… even if a lot of them are a bit left field.  You can view the static questions here:; but unfortunately you won’t be able to see what is asked in the live chats… unless you accessed the site as they are “live”:
One of the schools that are taking part are from Saltash in Cornwall.  I told one of the students that I was on Google Street View in Saltash when I was holidaying there.  Just to prove it, I am the one in the blue t-shirt in the foreground…
Me in Fore Street, Saltash
Me in Fore Street, Saltash
Another wedding anniversary… and wifey still hasn’t dumped me.. Thats progress…
Well in fact… this is progress….
Take That... Cardiff
Take That... Cardiff
It has become an anniversary tradition that Take That tours near us on the week of our anniversary…. its very kind of them to organise it that way.
On our first anniversary they were performing at The City of Manchester Stadium,and they had only just got back together and were performing their first stadium gigs… so I pulled off the coup of the century and got the Take That boys (well all except for Howard) to sign an anniversary card for my wife, as it was our paper anniversary.  I haven’t yet reached those romantic heights in further years, but to get tickets to the concert is difficult enough… as you can see by the fact that we are sitting on the roof of The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
The concert was fantastically staged as usual… but I don’t think lived up to The Circus Tour… don’t get me wrong, I thought it was excellent to get Robbie back in the band, but I thought the compromise of having him having a set whilst only paying lip service to some of Take Thats back catalogue was a little disappointing.
Myself and wifey were then able to dump kiddies on the in-laws on Saturday night to go out for a meal… if anyone is interested, we ate at  The place is under new management, who are very friendly and eager to please.  The food was of good quality and reasonably priced.
We then tried out one of our local pubs who had an Elvis impersonator on… not quite Take That… very cheesy… but a good night.

I had a very nice fathers day… and considering there will be no further additions to my brood, it was great to see all 5 of them in one day and at one time… the first time that has ever happened.

….And I have been working

I have been incredibly busy with work in the last week, discussing everything fingerprints, but mainly looking into fingerprint issues with the Protection of Freedoms Bill, which is making its way through parliament.

This Bill will have huge implications for fingerprint units in England and Wales, and we are trying to understand what they will be and look at ways to make it easier for forces to implement.

I visitedHarrogate last week and I am currently in a hotel room in Lichfield…

Lichfield Cathedral
Lichfield Cathedral

To make things a little more difficult, I have travelled on public transport so that I have been able to take part in the IAS Live Chats.

Travelling is an interesting and enjoyable part of the job, as I was able to take that lovely picture above… but we are about to trial new ways to conduct online meetings and reduce the need to stay away from home as often.  You have to love reducing bureaucracy!

Well thats all from me for now, but I hope to be telling you soon how well I have done in I’m a Scientist…