How Yorkshire detectives are getting a high-speed forensics boost to help solve crimes

Vital forensic results from the scenes of serious crimes are being made available to Yorkshire detectives in almost ‘real time’ thanks to a groundbreaking pilot.

The Rapid Forensics project, led by the Wakefield-based Regional Scientific Support Services (RSSS), has introduced digital transmission of forensic evidence such as fingerprints and bootprints.

The Rapid Forensics project means detectives get vital evidence from crime scenes in almost real time. Pictures: Scott Merrylees

The Rapid Forensics project means detectives get vital evidence from crime scenes in almost real time. Pictures: Scott Merrylees

It allows forensics experts to send high-quality images directly from the scene to colleagues in the RSSS identification bureau, who are tasked with checking for matches on national databases.

Just last week it helped officers investigating a hit-and-run to identify the suspected driver within a few hours, when previously it might have taken days.

Detective Superintendent Nick Wallen, of West Yorkshire Police’s Protective Services (Crime) Department, said the speed at which results were being returned and the positive outcomes this generated in investigations were key.

He said: “It’s that sense of making a difference that officers will have when they go to a crime scene and they see the impact that crime has on the victim – but within hours they are able to report back to a victim that, as a result of this new process, we’ve got a suspect’s DNA or fingerprints.

A picture is taken of fingerprints found by a forensics investigator at a mock crime scene.

A picture is taken of fingerprints found by a forensics investigator at a mock crime scene.

“It does, of course, depend on the police having a person’s details on a system but, where we do have them, this is such a positive outcome for us.”

The two-year regional project, which is due to end in March, is part of the national Transforming Forensics programme.

It is a collaboration between all four police forces in Yorkshire and the Humber, with the expected £4.1m cost being met through the Police Transformation Fund and the Home Office.

West Yorkshire police and crime commissioner (PCC) Mark Burns-Williamson, the national PCC lead for Transforming Forensics, said: “I fully support this work which has the potential to be a real game-changer for police investigations.

Senior crime scene investigator Ian Prince transfer the picture to his tablet, ready to transmit it digitally from the scene back to the identification bureau.

Senior crime scene investigator Ian Prince transfer the picture to his tablet, ready to transmit it digitally from the scene back to the identification bureau.

“It’s crucial that we never rest on our laurels and continually look to improve and transform our services.”

Neil Denison, the director of scientific support services at RSSS, said the work being done in our region would inform how forensic services were performed nationally.

“This is real science in action, making a real difference to the communities we serve,” he said.

“It is helping to transform the way in which forensic services are delivered and police investigations undertaken.”

The images received by the identification bureau are checked against the database, bringing up a match.

The images received by the identification bureau are checked against the database, bringing up a match.

While the digital evidence transmission has proved a huge success since it began in April, the results of a second strand were less encouraging.

Part of the project funding was used to buy six cutting-edge machines with the potential to rapidly analyse DNA at the RSSS base in Wakefield and five custody suites around the region.

Mr Denison said: “What we discovered is these machines aren’t reliable enough yet. They would only deliver a DNA profile 40 per cent of the time.”