Published:30 Jun 2016
In 1990 when I started on the academic part of my forensic science career, I could find no suitable textbook covering UK forensic practices and procedures which could support the teaching of my undergraduate and postgraduate students. This all changed after I enlisted several practitioners to provide chapters on their own disciplines for a book that the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) agreed to publish. Hence in 1998 the first edition of Crime Scene to Court – The Essentials of Forensic Science appeared.
Although initially intended for students and the lay-person, it has attracted a much wider readership including, crime scene officers, forensic scientists, police and the legal profession who all use this book for training and reference purposes. Its success was beyond all expectations and in 2004 a second edition was published to cover additional forensic disciplines, and provide an update on changes taking place in the delivery of a forensic science service for the UK. For similar reasons a third edition was published in 2010.
I believe there are several reasons why this book has been and continues to be so successful. Firstly, keeping to the original philosophy of producing a text that provided the essential knowledge, with scientific material being presented in a form that could be understood by a non-scientific reader. Secondly, it covered forensic science procedures and practices being used in all aspects of a criminal investigation i.e., the crime scene, laboratory and court. Additionally and importantly, the authors selected are highly regarded and respected practitioners who have extensive knowledge of and expertise in their own particular discipline. Finally, each edition expanded as more forensic science disciplines were included and chapters were carefully revised and updated.
With the demise of the Forensic Science Service since the last edition, the providers of a forensic science service for the UK have changed again. The police, private companies and academic institutions have taken over this role and this in turn has resulted in changes in some procedures and practices which need to be monitored and controlled to ensure both quality and standards are being maintained. These changes coupled with the introduction of new developments and/or technology has prompted this fourth edition. I am also very pleased that the RSC has agreed to include coloured images in this edition because these certainly enhance their visual quality.
As with previous editions all the chapters have been revised without losing any of the essential information. Of the original seventeen chapters in the third edition, five have been rewritten completely with new authors namely, Mark Butler (The Crime Scene), David Baldwin and Caroline O'Mahoney (Marks and Impressions), Jo Millington (Bloodstain Pattern Analysis), Karl Harrison (Forensic Archaeology) and Ann Priston (The Courts and Expert Evidence). These are all highly respected practitioners with considerable knowledge and experience in their discipline and I would like to thank them for their excellent contributions. I am also very grateful to the other authors for their continued support and revision of their chapters.
This fourth edition also provided an opportunity to restructure some of previous chapters to enable some advances in technology to be included. For example, the previous chapter on Computer Crime was limited solely to computer crime but with advances in technology we all use every day e.g., smart phones, tablets and other electronic devices, it was necessary to widen the scope of the chapter. In this new chapter entitled Digital Crime (Chapter 12), the authors Blaine Price and John Tuer show how this type of crime is investigated.
The other change made was to remove fingerprints from the Marks and Impressions chapter and cover this discipline in a new chapter by Stephen Bleay, David Charlton and Clive Reedman, called Identifying the Individual (Chapter 15). Identification using fingerprints has been used for many years and is an example of a biometric identification. Other biometric identifiers such as face, iris, voice, vein pattern, etc., are used successfully by companies and security organisations and through the re-organisation of chapters, these authors have been able to introduce the topic of biometrics and discuss potential forensic applications.
A forensic scientist is expected to provide an unbiased opinion but since the last edition there has been some considerable concern about bias and the outcome this can have on a case. In fact, at any stage of an investigation, there is the potential for biased decisions or opinions to be made. There is now considerable awareness of this problem and forensic establishments have had to alter practices and procedures to ensure that contextual, cognitive or any other form of bias is eradicated. I am pleased that several authors have shown in their own particular discipline how they manage these bias issues.
With police, private companies and universities now providing a forensic science service it is imperative that they all ensure quality of their services, use standardised procedures and maintain the high degree of professionalism expected throughout any criminal investigation. Concerns over these issues have resulted in the Home Office compiling a report, Strategy for Forensic Science. Unfortunately, this had still not been published by the time that this edition had to go to press and hence it was not possible to include here any comments on its content or any implications it may have on the provision of a forensic science service.
Readers might not be aware that many of the techniques, procedures and protocols described here were developed for and introduced into casework by forensic scientists and crime scene personnel in the UK. Recently the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir Mark Walport, published his annual report entitled Forensic Science and Beyond: Authenticity, Provenance and Assurance. Interestingly, this report identifies the contributions and innovative technological developments in forensic science and considers how these could be adopted and applied more widely by industries to assure us of the authenticity and provenance of the goods we buy, the services we use and the security of the country. Whilst it is encouraging in the forensic profession to see this recognition, many share my concern about how forensic science can continue to deliver innovations that could also benefit the UK economy, as previous research centres have closed and because of the difficulties that have been encountered previously in trying to obtaining funding for forensic science research projects. Perhaps this report may encourage the forensic science providers to undertake research in-house or collaborate with other industries.
All these comments above indicate that there are going to be further changes in continuing to try and provide the UK with a forensic science service so perhaps there may be another edition of this book in the future. However, after editing all four versions it is now time for me to make the most of my retirement. I would therefore like to take this opportunity now to formally thank all the authors who have contributed and provided readers with their benefit of the knowledge and expertise. I am also indebted to the RSC for their initial agreement to publish this book and subsequently for the excellent support I have had from the RSC and their publishing team for each edition.
Finally, in this edition four of the authors were my former students and I am delighted to see what they have achieved in their forensic careers. I hope Crime Scene to Court will continue to help and inspire others wanting to pursue a successful career in forensic science.