- Ear prints can be used like fingerprints
to convict criminals
- Police are compiling what is believed
to be the world's largest computer database of ear prints to be used in
the same way as fingerprint evidence in linking suspects to crimes.
- The database is the brainchild of the
same organisation that last month successfully brought the first prosecution
of a criminal on the basis of an ear print.
- Mark Dallagher was convicted of murdering
an elderly woman in Huddersfield after the prosecution showed that ear
prints on a newly washed window could only have been left by him as he
listened for signs of movement inside the house.
- And another case, expected to come to
court early in the New Year, could add further weight to the forensic uses
of the technique.
- The National Training Centre for Scientific
Support to Crime Investigation has so far collected more than 1,200 ear
images in its database at Harpeley Hall, County Durham, and researchers
hope to take that figure up to 2,000.
- The aim is to build a comprehensive research
tool to back up evidence that no two ears are exactly the same. The database
has been built up using volunteers from among trainees at the centre and
includes samples from identical twins which are still different enough
to be identifiable.
- Since research started more than two
years ago, police have detected about 100 ear prints at crime scenes.
- These cases have been passed on to John
Kennerley, Chief Fingerprint Officer with Lancashire police and the detective
pioneering the new technique.
- Vital breakthrough
- He believes police only detect ear prints
in a fraction of cases where they are left, mainly because officers scouring
the scene of a crime, unaware of their value, are simply not searching
- Mr Kennerley estimates there could be
several hundred cases each year where detection of prints could prove to
be a vital breakthrough - although this would not be enough to make it
worthwhile compiling a national database of offenders' ears.
- The project has had input from the acknowledged
world expert on ear prints, Cornelis Van Der Lugt of the Netherlands, who
has been studying the subject for 12 years.
- Alongside the work in the Netherlands,
the UK scheme is leading the world in developing the technique which is
winning support elsewhere in Europe and America.
- Forensic toolbox
- Mr Kennerley said: "It's never going
to be like fingerprints or DNA, but it's another tool in the forensic toolbox.
- "No two things in nature are alike,
but we need the investigative skills to analyse the data.
- "Essentially they're like fingerprints.
Although they don't have the ridges, the cartilage and contours of every
ear give it a unique shape."
- Mr Kennerley admitted suspects were sometimes
surprised when asked to provide an ear print - taken by the suspect leaning
against a window or door to replicate the sample taken from the crime scene.
- But if the search for ear prints becomes
as routine as Mr Kennerley would like, it could mean that burglars who
already don gloves before ransacking someone else's property will be adding
ear muffs to their list of essential kit.