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UK in danger of lagging behind in forensic arms race according to Queen’s academic

10.05.2007
Vital tools to assist the war against counter-terrorism and serious and organised crime need funding according to a leading Queen’s University Belfast academic.

Dr Wolfram Meier-Augenstein, Senior Lecturer in Stable Isotope Forensics at Queen’s, has stated that better forensic intelligence concerning terrorists and terrorist suspects could be delivered to frontline security agencies if urgent funding would be made available in order to help academics develop and validate the emerging technique of Stable Isotopic Fingerprinting.

Dr Meier-Augenstein is urging all stake-holders in national security, public safety and serious and organised crime to invest in isotope fingerprinting, also dubbed ‘Chemical DNA’ (as opposed to Biological DNA), stating that it should be utilised as a major weapon in the counter terrorism war. According to Dr Meier-Augenstein, we are lagging far behind the United States in the allocation of funding for the area of Stable Isotope Forensics to help deliver the technique to frontline security and law enforcement agencies in the United Kingdom.

“The US Department of Homeland Security have dedicated significant funding to Isotope Forensic Attribution. Similarly, the FBI’s Counterterrorism & Forensic Science Research Unit has set up a dedicated Stable Isotope Forensics laboratory to conduct research on applications of stable isotopes to support the FBI’s case working lab. Counter terrorism intelligence in the US is reaping the benefits of such an investment and we are appealing for urgent funding to carry out the research necessary to develop and validate this technique for the benefit of national security and public safety.”

Explaining the importance of the technique in today’s war on terror, Dr Meier-Augenstein said: “A terrorist suspect may state they have spent the last six months in the UK with no travel or stay abroad. While the police may know or suspect this to be untrue, it can be hard to prove due to the easy availability of false passports and people smuggling routes bypassing point-of-entry security checks. Isotope fingerprinting will quite easily disprove or confirm such a statement thus giving security agencies justifiable cause to detain them further.”

The same technique can also aid in the identification of mutilated or deteriorated bodies after mass disasters such as the 2004 Tsunami, assist in identifying areas worthy of further search when looking for human remains and also help crack down on organised crime by identifying transit hubs and routes for people and drug trafficking across Europe.

Using Stable Isotopic Fingerprinting, Dr Meier-Augenstein was instrumental in helping the Garda build their case in the recent infamous Scissor Sisters case in the Republic of Ireland. Speaking about the breakthrough provided by the technique, the senior lecturer said: “Although the torso and limbs were recovered in the Scissor Sisters case, the head was missing from the lower neck up and never recovered. Using stable isotope signatures we were able to identify the Horn of Africa as the most likely place of birth of the victim and we could also state when and where he was likely to have entered Ireland prior to his death. This gave the Garda sufficient grounds to pursue a particular avenue of enquiry when their case had stalled enabling them to confirm the victim’s identity by DNA cross-matching, which in turn lead them to the perpetrators.”

At least nine police forces throughout the UK have used isotope techniques in well known investigations such as Adam: Torso in the Thames or the Seaham Beach Case in Durham. Stable Isotopic Profiling of explosives has already been carried out in the ‘Shoe Bomber’ case involving British citizen Richard Reid and his convicted accomplice Sajid Badat.

Lisa Mitchell | alfa
Further information:
http://www.qub.ac.uk
http://space.qub.ac.uk:8077/EERC/meir-augenstein/default.aspx

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