The Great Train Robbery

50 Years ago today, 13th August 1963, a development was made that was going to blow the investigation into The Great Train Robbery wide open.  That was the discovery of the robbers lair, Leatherslade Farm.

Now 5 days after the crime was committed, the farm was deserted… but either due a hasty departure, or a failure on some of the gang to “cleanse the scene” of any clues that might link them, an Aladdins cave of potential forensic evidence was left behind.

Although, the Fingerprint Department from New Scotland Yard were involved in the case from day 1 of the inquiry,  there was very little for them to work with until the farm was found.

In total 9 of the convicted 10 robbers were identified to the farm (or evidence recovered from items found at the farm) by way of their finger and palm prints.

Probably the most infamous piece of evidence was a Monopoly game that bore the prints of Ronnie Biggs and Bruce Reynolds (the leader of the gang).

Strangely enough I have uncovered some coincidences between myself and Mr. Reynolds (who died earlier this year).  He had the middle name Richard (my forename) and we were born on the same date (although I came along quite a few years later).

For more information on the fingerprint aspects of this investigation, I would recommend reading Chapter 17 (The Great Train Robbery) of the book ‘The Fingerprint Story’ by Gerald Lambourne, who was one of the fingerprint experts in the case and later took charge of the New Scotland Yard Fingerprint Bureau.  The book is currently out of print, but can usually be sourced at reasonable prices on Amazon or Ebay.


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.

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.

RIP Gary Speed : Sept 1969 – Nov 2011

Although I have 101 ideas on which to blog but just haven’t had the time to put fingers to keyboard, I feel compelled to pay tribute to and share memories of a man that has made a monumental contribution to not just Welsh football, but British football.

When I heard the news this afternoon whilst driving that football was mourning the passing of Gary Speed, I felt truly numb and physically sick; and when the fans tribute from the Swansea v Aston Villa game was broadcast on the radio I was moved to tears.

I have heard many supporters today say that they are devastated and distraught, and although I have been extremely emotional and dumbfounded by confusion and grief; the extreme emotions should be exclusive to those who knew Gary well, and my heartfelt sympathies go out to his family and friends.

The amount of tributes that I have seen and heard today are testament to a player that has never seemed to have fallen into the trappings of a playboy lifestyle that has often plagued professional footballers, despite his unquestionable talent and good looks.  I also know many stories of a man who was an excellent leader, role model and all-round good guy.  This doesn’t surprise me as he is a fellow Virgo like me.

My first “encounter” with Gary was during my first ever international match, Wales v Iceland on 1st May 1991 at Ninian Park.  He had already helped Leeds win the “old” second division title in the 89/90 season and this was his 5th cap.  To be totally honest, I can remember very little of the game itself except for the Paul Bodin penalty that ended up being  the only goal.

After this experience I became a staunch supporter of the national team at home, and saw Gary on loads of occasions run the midfield, as he was mister dependable.  When other big name players would pull out (or be pulled out) of Welsh internationals, you could always rely on Gary to be on the team sheet.  This is obviously how he became Wales’ most capped outfield player with 85 appearances, and could have easily surpassed “Big Nev” Southall’s 92 cap record if he hadn’t retired from international football earlier than he should have.

Being an Evertonian, one of my greatest moments in football was when they signed Speedo, who himself was a childhood supporter of the Toffees.  The reason why I supported Everton in the first place was that they had a few Wales players in the great squad of the mid 80’s.

As a young man who lived 200 miles away from Liverpool, I never got much opportunity to get to Goodison Park; so I had to wait until 12th April 1997 to see Gary in an Everton shirt whilst playing Tottenham.  I wasn’t disappointed either, as I was there with mates who were Spurs supporters and I correctly predicted that Gary Speed would be the first goalscorer.  It was a trademark Speedo header in the 11th minute, and as it was the only goal it ended up being the winner.  Gary went on to be a great Everton captain, and I was very sad to see him go to Newcastle a year later.

I am privileged to have met him on a couple of occasions whilst I was working behind the scenes at Manchester City on matchdays.  The most memorable was on 18th September 2005 when Bolton were the visitors to Eastlands.  Man City completely dominated the match but were unable to find the net.  Then a handball by Richard Dunne gave Speedo the opportunity to slot home a 93rd minute penalty to win the game.  As I was working in the press room on that particular day, and had post-game responsibilities to guide players and managers to the awaiting press; I had a quick chat with Gary as I tried to persuade him to come out of international retirement and he signed my programme.  This sort of behaviour was against club policy on my behalf, but I couldn’t miss the chance to talk to one of my all-time heroes.

I thought Gary’s appointment as Wales team manager was inspired.  Mark Hughes had already proved that although someone may have little managerial experience; a huge knowledge of the game, a passion for your country and the respect of players and other managers was a great foundation for moulding a successful national team.

I am sure his passion and enthusiasm was infectious and this was evident in how he got very young players to move up an extra level and play the kind of football not seen in the national team for many years.  And even though he got off to a shaky start results wise; everyone could see what he was trying to achieve and his aim of winning the hearts and minds of Welsh football supporters was certainly starting to pay dividends.

Even though Wales now have to face the 2014 World Cup qualifiers without their inspirational manager; we now have to find someone in the same mould, with the same drive and belief; so that the players can make the ultimate tribute by qualifying for a major championship.

I would also like to see the Football Association of Wales organise a memorial game in the Millennium Stadium of a Wales team (made up of past and present players) against a team of other footballers that Gary has played with or managed; the proceeds of which to go to his family and / or any nominated charities that were close to his heart.

The biggest disappointment is the apparent manner of his death.  It goes against everything that I know or have heard of the man; and when I think of the likes of John Hartson’s fight to battle cancer, it just seems like an awful waste of a life.  I hope I and others find the strength to live my life to the fullest and to overcome any difficulties I may face without feeling the need to end it.

Patriotic, passionate and £10 worse off… or am I?

I am currently sitting on a train bound to London from Cardiff in anticipation to deliver a presentation for work tomorrow morning. This is a trip many Welshmen (and women and children) will have made today as we are now only 3 hours away from the kick off in the Wales v England Euro 2012 qualifier, which is being played at Wembley Stadium.

This is a huge game on so many levels, but the main reason is bragging rights… if you’re an Englishman, for the next few days or weeks; but for a Welshman, for years to come.

I have conducted research on my family tree for a few years, and if I go back only a few generations I realise that I have hardly a welsh bone in my body, with only one line of Jones’s to hang my patriotic hat onto… but my blood runs red, literally and metaphorically. I have lived my life accepting the stereotypical jokes, on the chance that on a few occasions I can wallow in pride when Welsh success shows its face. I hope I am able to find a nice bar close to my hotel where I can watch the game tonight.

I believe Wales have a better than fair chance of getting a result, although the draw is probably the best outcome I can expect… but this is not going to dissuade me from having a birthday bet on a welsh win, especially at odds of 21/1.

We have a group of attacking players with the likes of Bale, Ramsey and Ledley, who could potentially open up any side in the world; but I am also wary that we have always been susceptible to soft goals at the back. We cannot afford to be complacent when you have the might of the English midfield and forwards breathing down your necks.

It’s not just the football that the Welsh have to look forward to, but a Rugby World Cup which we are going into with a little bit of confidence. With 2 out of 3 wins in our warm up games (even if the win over England was a tad unconvincing, but none-the-less satisfying), we can go into our opening game against South Africa with some belief that we can win. South Africa, although world class, will know that Wales have got the talented players to punish them, especially if they are playing anything less than their best. The Springboks have only just managed to beat Wales on their last 3 meetings, and this is (in my opinion) a stronger Welsh squad.

So, in honour of my heart-over-head driven confidence, I have decided to add a Wales rugby win to my bet at odds of 5.5/1…. So now my bet double with a £10 stake has potential winnings of £1,145.

As I would be more than happy with £1,000 I have decided that the £145 (in the unlikely event of a double win) will be donated to charity. The charity that I have in mind is the John Hartson Foundation.

Fronted by the former Wales big man himself, this is a charity that devotes itself to raising awareness of testicular cancer, an illness that John himself has battled to rid himself of.  Follow John on Twitter.

It is also the chosen charity for the other big England v Wales soccer match that is taking place this week. It’s the legends game that is being played at Pride Park, Derby on Thursday evening (Live on ITV4).

Past players and celebrities from the 2 countries will be trying their best to out-do their opponents whilst raising money for this worthy cause… and whatever the result I will be making a small donation on the night. The line-ups for both teams are mightily impressive, but as a Welshman who was brought up on 80’s and 90’s soccer it is step-back-in-time to the days of Hughes, Rush and Saunders et al.

It’s taken an hour to compose this blog and register my bet, and now all I can do is look forward to a feast of international sport over the coming days and weeks, and hope for great results for the Welsh.


Fanfare for the Fingerprint!!

During 2010 the NPIA Forensics21 team were gearing up for a project that would enable us to provide a level of forensic education to police employees, external security partners and the public.  The name of this project was called “Citizen Focus” and it would provide a useful tool to support neighbourhood policing.  An associated benefit to this work would be that the public would have a greater appreciation for the forensic work undertaken by the police and would allow us to manage public expectations that had grown due to the “CSI effect”.

Unfortunately, there was a change in the political landscape and other priorities made its way onto the Foresnics21 desk that meant that the Citizen Focus project had to be put to one side.

It was gone, but certainly not forgotten, as I realised that there was still a need to promote and educate people to the forensic expertise that are employed by their local police force and what they do to help in crime detection and reduction.  Through my work with The Fingerprint Society I had a vehicle to achieve this, so I have proposed the holding of an International Fingerprint Week.

The dates for International Fingerprint Week would be April 16th-20th 2012, which is the week immediately after the holding of The Fingerprint Society Annual Conference that is being held in Swanwick, Derbyshire, allowing us to host an official launch.

This proposal has now been accepted at committee level and we are now in the process of finding organisations within the fingerprint profession, the wider Criminal Justice Systems, academia and relevant companies to support  International Fingerprint Week.  As with all of The Fingerprint Society ventures, this will be not-for-profit so rather than seeking funding we are looking for these people to organise events and make resources available to promote the event.

Further details can be found on a page within The Fingerprint Society website, although the hope is that a dedicated website will be created towards the end of 2011.

If you are interested in getting involved in International Fingerprint Week or have any ideas, please contact

The home straight…

A fantastic and worthwhile experience

When the opportunity presented itself to apply for I’m a Scientist Get me Out of Here, I was a bit apprehensive… don’t get me wrong, I saw it as an innovative way to promote Forensics21 and the NPIA as a whole; but I never saw myself as the appropriate candidate…. Luckily for me, my managers did.

The agency continually delivers excellent pieces of work for the police forces of England and Wales, even though its future is now limited, and has always endorsed initiatives that allow us to interact with the public and spread a positive message of crime prevention… so I was pleased to do something that would go some way to achieve this goal.

I did however underestimate what taking part would mean to me personally.  The organisers and moderators have been fantastically helpful, the children have been amazing with their variety of questions… but most of all, the other scientists have been incredible.  You start to get to know scientists from the other zones via Twitter and you develop quite a bond with the scientists within your own zone, especially within the chat environment.  You quickly forget that its a competition and help each other in getting the best answers to the questions that you can.

It then hits you on the second week, when the evictions start, what you have let yourself in for.  We were quite lucky on the Forensic Zone that we didn’t encounter a forced eviction until the Thursday.  This meant we could all take part in all of the scheduled chats.

I have now learned that I am in the final two with Anthropologist Anna.  I feel absolutely honoured to be in this position, as it means that I have fulfilled in my mission to engage with the children, so winning would just be a bonus now.

Good luck to all the remaining scientists for tomorrows finale!!

Also the organisers have started to accept registrations for future events, so I would thoroughly recommend that scientists from any discipline to get involved; learn new things about other subjects and yourself; and make new contacts and friends.  CLICK HERE FOR REGISTRATION DETAILS

They are also looking for new schools to get involved, so if you are a teacher or know of any who would like to take part in the event.. CLICK HERE FOR MORE DETAILS

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…

And they’re off!!

IAS Forensic Zone Logo
IAS Forensic Zone Logo

The first questions were posted to the Scientists taking part in “I’m a Scientist Get Me Out of Here” over the weekend.

Click here to take a look at what has been asked in the Forensic Zone.

The best thing about this competition is that there is no limit to what can be asked:

From the relevant… how can we know for sure that everyone’s fingerprints are unique? asked by spock11

To the thought provoking… What do tigers dream of, when they take a little tiger snooze? asked by predator

Thats what makes this type of event challenging, unpredicatable and exciting!

Tomorrow sees the first of the chat sessions.  The session will involve questions from Year 9 students from Woodkirk High School in Wakefield.

I have been to Wakefield on a number of occasions, as its the home to the Forensic Units of West Yorkshire Police, and I have quite a few friends over there.  West Yorkshire have a fantastic reputation, and the Head of their Fingerprint Bureau does a lot of work nationally and internationally.

Click here to read about West Yorkshire Police Fingerprint Bureau

Like a lot of police forces, they are going through restructuring due to budget constraints, and I hope that it turns out for the best for everyone who is affected.

Maybe some of the pupils involved in tomorrows chat will find themselves in West Yorkshires Police Forensic Labs in years to come as a result of “I’m a Scientist” 🙂

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!