Interview with Forensic Expert & Consultant Gareth Bryon

GB

What is your current job role and what does this typically involve?

Since 2011 when I left policing I have been busy building a new consultancy career across a range of business enterprises, and in working with a number of professional associations. So I guess you might call me an entrepreneur…someone who sees opportunities to utilise a broad range of skills in guiding and developing new start ups and growing businesses. This work has seen me involved as an executive coach and leadership mentor to leaders in secondary education at home in Wales. My role is to develop teachers’ leadership skills as they move into new managerial posts. I have started a small training company with 2 other directors developing new training in the private investigations sector aimed at developing a CPD training market for investigators working in this industry.  I have been instrumental in starting a new training academy for the Association of British Investigators that is the conduit for this work. I am a volunteer with the Prince’s Trust in Wales teaching young people business start up skills and giving pro bono coaching support to the executive team. Last but not least I am a founding Director at the Forensic and Policing Services Association which we launched at the Forensics Europe Expo in London in 2013.

Could you tell us a little more about the work of the Forensic and Policing Services Association (FAPSA)?

FAPSA was set up to promote the interests of sole traders and SME’s working in the forensic science market. It is a not for profit member services association that works to foster collaboration in forensic science and the forensic market between small businesses, academia, and the police. Our membership has grown considerably in the past two years and we have member companies from around the UK and Europe, as well as police forces, involved in the association. Our main drivers are two-fold. The first is to encourage success through collaboration by providing members with opportunities to work together and develop new products and services that the market and the justice system will benefit from. The second is to engage in building a development pathway for small businesses to achieve appropriate compliance in ISO standards 17020 or 17025. In 2014 the Home Office forensic science regulator asked FAPSA to set up a standards working group to look at this and I was appointed to Chair it. In the past year we have brought the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences into our working group and together with their expertise and ours we are moving forward with this work. FAPSA influence is growing. We have set up a Fingermarks Visualisation Collaborative Exercise Group (FVCEG) at the request of Police Scotland and other police forces to assist in administering competency testing and peer review for fingermark development laboratories and we are collaborating on new work with the European Division of the International Association of Identification (IAI).

You have quite an interesting and varied professional background. How did you particularly come to be involved in forensic science?

Back in 1997 my boss at South Wales Police asked me as a newly appointed senior detective to review the workings and the service provided to criminal investigation by the Scientific Support Department. As a consequence I became the force scientific support manager. I was lucky to be involved at a time when forensic science to policing was beginning to take on great significance as crime rates were growing and investment in services like DNA Expansion were being driven by central government. I was able to secure investment to build a state of the art scientific services building at force HQ, and had great fun in working with HMIC on the “Under the Microscope” inspection that would change the emphasis and focus by police forces in supporting forensic services. It was a great time which I was able to repeat on transferring to British Transport Police, and this led to my being appointed to the Forensic Science Service as their Major Crime and Critical Incidents consultant and then to moving to Thames Valley as their Director of Regional Forensic Services for TVP, Hampshire, Sussex and Surrey police forces.

In your opinion, what have been the biggest changes in forensic science in the UK in recent years?

Without doubt for me it is the collapse of the UK Forensic Science Service. The knock-on effect and ramifications of this are still being felt and will continue for some years to come. The other big forensic science providers in the private sector that pledged to plug the gap have struggled as police forces have seized the initiative and set up their own in-house laboratories and significantly cut their costs. This has shrunk the external market to the extent that there is a real danger that independent providers will pull out and leave the justice system in a right old mess.

What do you think the future holds for forensic science in the UK?

I think the future is in our hands but needs strong pro active intervention. The UK Government needs to think again about leaving everything entirely to market forces. A level of government subsidy to encourage market stimulation and growth could be part of the answer as well as strong legislated regulation to absolutely require and ensure that small businesses and police forces gain ISO standards accreditation and maintain them. I have witnessed first-hand from research in the USA about the growth of junk science and miscarriages of justice experienced as a consequence of policing and forensic science being too closely aligned. We do not want this here in the UK and there is, in my view, a real danger of this unless we ensure the maintenance of independent forensic science to the highest quality standards.

Do you have any advice for those aspiring to work within the forensic science sector?

My advice is to think very carefully and balance the traditional route into forensic science through working with an established forensic provider, with the opportunities provided by working in the police service. We all know that recruitment remains slow so if you want to get into it forensic science I would suggest you work to achieve the best qualifications you can and then look at the market and develop a niche specialism that will guarantee you work!

If you’re a forensic scientist (academic or industry) or a crime scene investigator and would like to be part of this series of interviews, get in touch by emailing locardslabblog[at]gmail.com.

This is Part 3 of our series of interviews with forensic professionals.

Interview Series Part 1 – Interview with Forensic Identification Scientist Alexandre Beaudoin

Interview Series Part 2 – Interview with Forensic Expert Robert Green OBE

Advertisements

Interview with Forensic Expert Robert Green OBE

BG

What is your current job role and what does this involve?

I’m currently Director of Undergraduate Studies for the forensic science programmes at the University of Kent. The role involves helping to lead the forensic science programs in the School of Physical Sciences. My job is primarily one of teaching and I’m involved in the delivery of modules across all years. Additionally the role involves some administrative responsibilities in order to continue to develop the students’ experience at the University. My ambition is to develop students to the best of their abilities; to share with them the very latest news and events affecting forensic science and, above all to produce good quality graduates with a focus on employability. I hope that some prospective students will consider studying with us in Kent. I make sure that we make the most effective use of social media and have a very active Facebook page which I post to most days. Please try to take a look and perhaps like the page and maybe keep up-to-date with some of the events at home and abroad. The page can be accessed here and I hope you like some of the content.

What has been the highlight of your career to date?

I suppose it was being made an OBE for services to forensic science in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list of 2008. Although the finer detail of honours nominations are not shared with the recipients – I very much suspect it was perhaps for some of the work I lead whilst at the Home Office. This was looking at the so-called cold cases and using the most up-to-date DNA technology to resurrect these cases and bring closure to victims. I think that over 100 or so rapists were convicted by these and other initiatives which gives one a sense of immense satisfaction knowing that justice has been served. At the same time, we were able to develop good practice in this area and share this internationally. Working at the University of Kent provides a fabulous opportunity to share some of the good practices with the forensic scientists of the future. I hope you’ll take a look at our site, accessed here.

Additionally I am very proud of my Fellowship of the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences awarded in 2014. Having moved into academia, I’m particularly pleased we have been able to generate students’ involvement in their professional body and get them engaged from the beginning of their study. For example, at the University of Kent, we’re able to offer free membership of the professional body to all our students from year one all the way through their studies. This helps us to engage with the society and ensure that students are provided the opportunity to attend conferences and develop themselves as their studies progress. I think the block membership idea of engagement has been a highlight of my time on Council for the Chartered Society.

Conversely, what have been some of the biggest challenges?

Looking back – I think this would hark back to my time working operationally as a Crime Scene Manager. The work was incredibly demanding both in terms of its demands on family/social life and of course the very sensitive nature of the work itself. Please spare a thought for those who work operationally both in the laboratory setting and also at the crime scene. Whilst the work may appear glamorous and appealing – nevertheless it is immensely hard work and of course has to be conducted with immense precision and attention to detail if disasters are to be avoided. Thankfully I survived my operational period without any/too much drama but the saying I always recall was “… you’re only as good as your last job”. In these challenging times – particularly let’s not forget the forensic scientists working tirelessly in the laboratory; seldom gaining recognition but nevertheless absolutely vital to the effectiveness of our criminal justice system.

How do you feel the field of forensic science has changed throughout the time you have been involved in it?

This must really be the introduction of automated fingerprint databases and of course the DNA database in 1995. Looking back it’s hard to imagine the 1,000 or so crime scenes I examined personally each year and the seemingly low return on the ‘fingerprint investment’. Truthfully – at the end of each year I could honestly count a handful of good quality fingerprint identifications made under the manual system. The advent of automated fingerprint databases absolutely revolutionised this and of course made both volume crime and major crime examinations much more fruitful in terms of fingerprint identifications. Reflectively though, this significant ramp-up in throughput has not always been matched by the detective’s ability to convert these fingerprint identifications into offences that are detected. The volume of fingerprint identifications produced by fingerprint experts often outstrips the ability to ‘action’ these in real time. In this sense, one advancement has led to another challenge. In order to get a sense of the contribution forensic science brings to criminal justice; let’s just reflect for a moment on the NPIA study in (I think) 2009. This study examined murders in England and Wales between the years 2009 and 2010. The findings of this report suggested that the contribution of forensic science was significantly greater than had previously been reported. For example, DNA being used in more than 95% of murder enquiries; fingerprints used in greater than 72% of murder enquiries; footwear used in greater than 35% of murder enquiries. I really hope that the value of forensic science is not undervalued in our current age of shrinking police budgets and austerity.

The second of course has to be DNA and the significant advances in sensitivity. Sadly, where we once led the world in DNA technology we now, to some extent, lag behind. For example, only recently the UK has changed to the DNA 17 multiplex; just at the time some others are perhaps moving to more discriminating DNA chemistry. I recall how the early DNA test required DNA around the size of a 50p piece and of course many of the examinations we undertook at the time were not successful. Of course this doesn’t mean to say they cannot be revisited and the case reinvestigated. It’s interesting to reflect that the new DNA test requires around 80 cells which is in the order of 500 pg. of starting material. Perhaps just think of what this means for a moment. If we consider that a single sugar crystal is in the order of 1 milligram (mg). Dividing this by 1,000 would give us a microgram (µg), further dividing by 1,000 to give us a nanogram (ng) and further dividing this by 1,000 gives us a picogram (pg); a  far cry from the days of 50p piece. Of course this brings with it other challenges in terms of increased sensitivity and I hope these dramatic improvements will not be marred by poor crime scene practices leading to contaminated results.

Looking to the future one can’t fail to be impressed by the new Rapid Hit DNA technology. This self-contained and rapid DNA processing enables profiles to be turned around in around 90 minutes. This will undoubtedly revolutionise the speed at which DNA profiles can be obtained and perhaps enable samples to be searched within the custody time limits. Of course, this speedier DNA process will require matches to be actioned in real time and hence will bring some challenges for the police service.

Forensic science provisions in the UK have been under much debate since the closure of the FSS. What do you feel is the greatest issue in forensic science in the UK at present?

I’m not entirely sure it’s changed necessarily for the better. Formally I worked at the Forensic Science Service and hence appreciate, with pride, the contribution of all forensic scientists over the years. Accepting the economy of the age and of course without passing any judgement, we might nevertheless want to reflect a moment on this. The Forensic Science Service has been closed and I sense that we will not see the likes of this type of organisation again in the public sector – certainly in my lifetime. What’s done – is done but there is perhaps a concern that the shrinking forensic marketplace may ever increasingly make it less viable for some suppliers of forensic services. Likewise the access and availability to forensic testing from the defence perspective is perhaps a little worrying to say the least. In particular, fibre analysis is often seen as costly/unnecessarily when compared against other forensic science techniques. Nevertheless I can’t help but think we miss two major points here. The first of these is that we should never underestimate the exculpatory value of forensic science from the defence point of view. Depending upon the details of the case – the presence or absence of forensic material may support either the prosecution or defence. One might share some sense of unease that forensic submissions are put together (and of course paid for) primarily by the police service. Without doubt, colleagues in the ‘service’ do an outstanding job – protecting us all and keeping us safe. Nevertheless (as one who has had some responsibility for constructing these cases in the past) I wonder how eager I would have been to have submitted materials to the laboratory which might not be seen to further the prosecution.

Without wishing to be alarmist – the current situation might appear far from ideal. Accepting everything which I’ve said already about the tightness of police budgets – nevertheless my sense is that we may be sleepwalking towards a breakdown in the external market for forensic science provision. I feel that the decade may be marked by some significant miscarriages of justice based perhaps not on what is submitted for forensic testing but what isn’t or what is examined inappropriately. Naturally if the items are screened out (from the prosecutions perspective) then they are not submitted right from the very outset. Perhaps my advice to those regulating forensic science might be to look for what is not submitted as much as determining the quality of what is.

How do you feel about the amount of research being conducted in forensic fields of work?

Previously of course the FSS and others rather took the lead. Whilst there are some rather promising indications that research is continuing I think we have to deal with realities. Forensic providers in the UK may continue to find it difficult to fund research to the level we previously enjoyed. I think it’s unlikely to see them investing to the level previously. There are some green shoots here and there but nothing really which resembles the significant – several million pounds per annum budget we had perhaps become used to. Of course that doesn’t mean to say that research won’t continue both at home and abroad and time will tell I guess.

Finally, do you have any words of wisdom for those pursuing a career in forensic science?

I think two points sum it up. Firstly – be interested and secondly work hard. Try to have your career path mapped out to the best of your ability. I think it’s going to be ever increasingly important for students to have a good idea of what they want to do as early as possible. Not only are universities producing many good graduates each year but also job opportunities may not necessarily appear at once. Try not to be disappointed and pessimistic and keep trying if you want to pursue a career. You may find that you have to take a lesser role in order to get a shoo-in and so perhaps be a little realistic at least in the early days. Having decided what type of career path you are seeking to follow – choose a university course which will help you to get a foot in. For example, those seeking roles in forensic investigation may be drawn more to these types of courses. Those who would seek a more laboratory-based or traditional forensic science role would be best advised to choose a program with a good level of scientific content. Of course, those who seek roles wider afield (for example digital forensics) ought to choose the appropriate course to help them get their foot on the ladder.

Don’t underestimate how much you will have to do put into your study. Furthermore please don’t underestimate how hard you will have to work to pursue your ambition. It is achievable and within your grasp if you’re interested and prepared to put in the legwork and prepare for some frustration as you find your first job. Once in your role – work hard, be fascinated by the topic and all will be good.

Finally – try to engage with your professional body, namely the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences. Students gain massively by membership of their society – enabling them to attend conferences, keep abreast of recent events in the profession and perhaps begin to develop a professional understanding of what is happening both in academia and within the mainstream forensic science delivery. Perhaps you might want to begin by taking a look at the webpages and know that you will get far more out than you put in.

Good luck and best wishes

If you’re a forensic scientist (academic or industry) or a crime scene investigator and would like to be part of this series of interviews, get in touch by emailing locardslabblog[at]gmail.com.

This is Part 2 of our series of interviews with forensic professionals.

Interview Series Part 1 – Interview with Forensic Identification Scientist Alexandre Beaudoin

Scientist Special: William R. Maples

“That’s how I feel about the skeletons in my laboratory. These have tales to tell us, even though they are dead. It is up to me, the forensic anthropologist, to catch their mute cries and whispers, and to interpret them for the living, as long as I am able”. – William R. Maples in Dead Men Do Tell Tales.

William R. Maples (Source: http://anthro.ufl.edu)

William R. Maples (Source: http://anthro.ufl.edu)

As an internationally-renowned forensic anthropologist, William R. Maples travelled the world to offer his expertise to over a thousand cases, fighting to not only identify skeletal remains but also uncover how they died.

Born on 7th August 1937 in Dallas, Texas, Maples developed an early fascination with anthropology and death investigation, allegedly when a deputy sheriff showed him autopsy photos of the infamous duo Bonnie and Clyde. After receiving his Master’s Degree in 1962, he spent a short time working in Kenya studying primates, later being awarded his PhD in anthropology from the University of Texas in 1967. He began his career with a number of teaching positions at Western Michigan University and the University of Florida at Gainesville, later taking on the role of Curator of Physical Anthropology at the Florida State Museum. He was President of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology and a fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

During the 1970’s, Maples began offering his expertise to legal death investigations, aiding in the identification of victims and conclusion of cause of death, working with a number of police departments. This further extended to working alongside the U.S Army’s Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, examining the remains of military personnel.

Throughout his career he applied his expertise and guidance to hundreds of cases, some of which involved particularly high profile investigations. Perhaps his most famous case is that of the investigation of the Romanov family. The Romanovs were members of a Russian royal family with Nicholas II as Tsar. However in 1918 he was forced to give up his throne and he and his family were arrested and brutally executed by the Bolsheviks, a group of Russian communists who would soon become the dominant political power in Russia. In the early 1990s the bodies of the Romanov family were recovered from a mass grave, with William Maples leading a team of forensic experts in the investigation. They ultimately concluded that the remains were in fact those of the members of the Romanov family, with DNA testing confirming this.

In 1991 Maples was also part of the team examining the remains of former President Zachary Taylor, rumoured to have been murdered by arsenic poisoning. A former humanities professor at the University of Florida, Clara Rising, called for further tests to be carried out, convincing Maples to lend a hand and examine the remains. His investigation aimed to put these claims to rest and ultimately concluded that the cause of death had been gastroenteritis.

In 1994, Maples was part of the team that laid to rest a vicious murder case from the 1960s. In 1963, civil rights leader Medgar Evers was assassinated as he returned home one day. When taken to hospital, he was at first refused entry because of his race, and later died, bitterly just hours after President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech in support of civil rights. White supremacist and member of the Ku Klux Klan Byron De La Beckwith was arrested under suspicion of his murder, but managed to escape justice. But 30 years later when the case was re-opened, William Maples helped exhume the remains of Evers for an autopsy, eventually leading to the long overdue conviction of Beckwith.

This scrapes the surface of Maples’ involvement in death investigations, which extends to the examination of the remains of Joseph Merrick (the ‘Elephant Man’), the investigation of the 1996 ValuJet 592 disaster, and the study of the remains of victims of the Gainesville student murders.

In 1995 he was diagnosed with brain cancer and, although continuing to work for two more years despite this, passed away on 27th February 1997 at the age of 59 years.

You can read William Maple’s book, Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist, to gain a further insight into his life and career.

References

Herszenhorn, D. M. 1997. William. R. Maples, 59, Dies; Anthropologist of Big Crimes. [online] Available: http://www.nytimes.com/1997/03/01/us/william-r-maples-59-dies-anthropologist-of-big-crimes.html

Maples Center for Forensic Medicine. W. R. Maples. [online] Available: http://maples-center.ufl.edu/organizations/people/william-r-maples

Maples, W. R. Browning, M. 2010. Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist. California: Doubleday.

Williams, R. C. 2015. The Forensic Historian: Using Science to Reexamine the Past. Abingdon: Routledge.

Killer Cocktails: The Chemistry Behind the Lethal Injection

Killer Cocktails: The Chemistry Behind the Lethal Injection

In many countries worldwide, including the United States, lethal injection is used as a humane method of executing a death row inmate. With the lethal injection, the life of the inmate can theoretically be cleanly and swiftly ended through administering a number of drugs, with no pain and minimal trauma.

The debate over the lethal injection hit the news again last month when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against claims that the use of a drug used in lethal injections (midazolam hydrochloride) violates the Eighth Amendment (relating to prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment). Despite this method of capital punishment largely replacing supposedly less humane forms of death such as the electric chair and hanging, there is still great debate over the ethics of certain drugs used, and whether they actually do provide a swift and pain-free death.

But what drugs are involved in this lethal cocktail, and how do these end life in an apparently ethical manner?

The procedure for lethal injection can vary across different countries and even different states. In the United States, execution by lethal injection is typically achieved through the intravenous use of three drugs in succession, each with a different purpose, though in some instances a single-drug method is used, usually involving a lethal dose of anaesthetic.

Sodium Thiopental (Source: Chemspider)

Sodium Thiopental (Source: Chemspider)

But let’s look at the three-part cocktail. The first drug to be administered is usually a barbiturate to act as an anaesthetic (painkiller), used to ensure the remaining steps in the procedure do not cause any pain. Traditionally sodium thiopental is used, a fast-onset but short-acting barbiturate. Barbiturates are compounds which can ultimately produce anaesthetic effects. They act as agonists of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, which are inhibitory neurotransmitters in the central nervous system. By binding to this receptor, the activity of the central nervous system is depressed, bringing about effects ranging from mild sedation to general anaesthesia. In this instance, a sufficient dosage is administered to render the inmate unconscious, thus ensuring a painless procedure. However some have argued that the fast-acting effects of sodium thiopental can wear off before the execution procedure is complete.

Succinylcholine Chloride (Source: Chemspider)

Succinylcholine Chloride (Source: Chemspider)

Once the inmate is unconscious, a neuromuscular-blocking drug is then administered, generally succinylcholine (also known as suxamethonium chloride) or pancuronium bromide. Compounds such as succinylcholine bind to acetylcholine receptors, blocking the action of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter essential in the proper functioning of skeletal muscle. When succinylcholine binds to this receptor, a cation channel in the receptor opens and depolarisation of the neuromuscular junction occurs. Normally when acetylcholine binds to this receptor, it soon dissociates following depolarisation and the muscle cell will be ready for the next signal. However compounds such as succinylcholine have a significantly longer duration, ultimately resulting in paralysis. In short, administering a drug such as succinylcholine prevents acetylcholine from communicating with the muscles and thus paralyses the inmate’s muscles, including those used to breathe. Other drugs such as pancuronium bromide can also be used, which have a different mechanism of action but ultimately achieve the same final result of muscle paralysis.

Finally the salt potassium chloride is administered. Within the body a variety of salts are vital for brain function, transmission of nerve signals and the beating of the heart, and these salt levels are tightly regulated by the body. In the normal functioning of the body, the majority of potassium is confined to the cells, with very little being present in the bloodstream at any one time. The introduction of a large amount of potassium chloride disrupts this electrochemical balance as the body’s cell are not able to equilibrate, rendering the cells unable to function, leading to cardiac arrest. In simpler terms, the overdose of potassium chloride brings about a condition known as hyperkalemia, in which the potassium concentration in the body is too high, causing the heart to fail. The inmate is officially declared dead when a cardiac monitor indicates the heart has stopped.

Recently, the drug used to initially render the inmate unconscious, sodium thiopental, has been difficult to obtain for a number of reasons, thus some states in the U.S. have used midazolam hydrochloride, a drug which has ultimately caused a great deal of controversy in recent years, such as in the Clayton Lockett case. This benzodiazepine is commonly used as a sedative, but when used during the lethal injection procedure, it is generally combined with an opiate. This is because midazolam itself has no analgesic (painkilling) effect, thus an additional drug is required to achieve this. Despite its recent use, claims have been made that a number of executions using this drug resulted in the prisoners showing signs of consciousness and gasping, suggesting that they were not quite as unconscious as intended. If the inmate is not unconscious when the muscle paralyser and electrolytes are administered, they may experience suffocation due to the muscle paralysing agent and burning caused by the potassium chloride.

So there we have it – some of the primary drugs administered during the lethal injection procedure and how they react within the body to bring about death. For more information on the death penalty (namely in the U.S), visit the Death Penalty Information Center.

References

Johnson, B. A. 2011. Addiction Medicine: Science and Practice Volume 1. New York: Springer.

Kroll, D. 2014. The Drugs Used in Execution by Lethal Injection. [online] Available from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidkroll/2014/05/01/the-pharmacology-and-toxicology-of-execution-by-lethal-injection

Kemsley, J. 2015. Sedative for Lethal Injections Affirmed. [online] Available from: http://cen.acs.org/articles/93/i27/Sedative-Lethal-Injections-Affirmed.html

Cover Image Credit: Thomas Boyd (The Oregonian)