Police welcome finger printing advances

They are the unique markings which have for years helped police single out offenders from thousands of suspects - but now fingerprints are set to reveal a whole lot more about all of us.

They are the unique markings which have for years helped police single out offenders from thousands of suspects - but now fingerprints are set to reveal a whole lot more about all of us.

Researchers at the UEA are at the forefront of a project which could yield a harvest of clues to help officers investigating crimes. Information ranging from the sex of a suspect to their eating habits and personal hygiene can be revealed using the new forensic technique.

And Norfolk police have welcomed the research describing it as an “exciting” development. Alex Gilbert, head of crime command and forensic investigation, said it could help solve cases and reduce crime.

The science involves analysing tiny traces of sweat and grease that a fingerprint leaves on a surface. It is hoped these clues will help piece together stronger profiles of offenders.

The technology could also have further reaching applications as the technique can establish what somebody has eaten, what deodorant they are wearing and any substances they have consumed.

Professor David Russell, who led the research project at the UEA, said: “If you've had a curry you can feel it coming out of the pores for hours afterwards - this works on the same principle.

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“Young men sweat more than older men, and more than women, so you can determine age to a degree. This will enable the police to narrow their lists of suspects. They would be able to say, 'This is a young male who's a smoker and uses cannabis'

Mr Gilbert said: “Norfolk constabulary enjoys a well established and dynamic partnership with the UEA including a programme of twelve month placements of MSc students within the force's forensic investigation department, crime scene investigation input to UEA courses and the provision of operational advice during research and development activity.

“We are keen to continue working with the UEA and other partner agencies to develop exciting new techniques that can be effectively deployed to detect and reduce crime and this particular development could have a key role to play, particularly in the investigation of more serious offences.”

It is hoped the project, which has been run in conjunction with King's College, London, and is funded by the Home Office, will have also uses in other walks of life.

For example it could be used to detect drivers who are high on drugs; allow GPs to wave goodbye to needles and specimen jars by diagnosing disease through a fingerprint test; and provide insurance companies or potential employers with a simple test to see if somebody smokes.

Mr Russell said: “Now we have cracked the technique we can do it for virtually anything that can be found in sweat. We have already managed it with cocaine and caffeine.

“We are aiming to produce a solution that can detect a range of substances and produce a different colour for each, so it will be possible to look at a fingerprint and get a lifestyle profile from it.

“In the case of smoking if may be possible to find out if somebody is lying about whether they have a healthy lifestyle and have ticked the box saying they're a non-smoker when in fact they smoke.”