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Episode 1: Under the microscope

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The much anticipated second series of Robbie Coltrane’s Critical Evidence Sundays 10pm, has returned to Crime and Investigation, with critical evidence, once again, proving its vital role in UK murder cases.

Now that the first episode has aired, it’s time to delve a little deeper into “Little Miss Nobody”. A case, which from the outset, seemingly unsolvable, had it not been for the fragments of evidence that would eventually lead to the identification and conviction of a young girls murderer.

With only a pile of bones, crudely wrapped in an offcut of carpet, detectives had to utilise the individual skill of multiple forensic experts, to find the killer of a 15 year old girl. Using nothing but the skull of the victim, Richard Neave’s facial reconstruction proved pivotal, as it allowed investigators to come up with the name of the victim. The technique of facial reconstruction had not been used in a criminal investigation before and was deemed by scientific professionals as a process of guess work, with no real proven merit. But it was this case that disproved this skepticism, as after only 5 days of work, Richard had made a full reconstructed head of a young female, of which he had built up from only using her remaining skull. Implementing his own revolutionary technique of using wooden pegs to plot the different thicknesses of a face, this allowed for the contours to be more accurate, which in his own words was a “mixture of scientific knowledge and guess work”.

By chance the Daily Mail had also become interested in Richard’s work, prior to the case coming to his studio. So when he received a call from the Police asking if he could assist in the process of identifying a murder victim, Richard phoned up the paper. He said that he would be working on a new skull and the Daily Mail said they would send a photographer up to take shots of the reconstructed head. The shot of which was circulated nationwide, which after only a week, resulted in two positive ID’s from two separate sources, confirming to police that their victim was 15 year old Karen Price.

Richard Neave’s so called ‘archaic’ practice had proven its worth and more importantly it’s scientific merit, as a legitimate method of rebuilding a visual identity to a murder victim. Today it’s common practice, the only difference being that computers have become the sculptors hands.

The second piece of key critical evidence, that was ascertained, again by untested means, was Karen’s DNA. DNA testing had only been around for 4 years prior to Karen’s case, and it had never been used to test DNA from bones, which in this instance, was all that remained. That and testing bone relied upon it being done soon after the death of the subject, Karen had been buried for 5 years!

Though using a pocket of DNA from her femur scientists were able to test Karens DNA, which landed a positive result, one which the police were able to use in court to prosecute Alan Charlton, the brutish murderer of the young and vulnerable Karen Price. He may well have thought that after 5 years his aggressive act of murder would pass without any consequence, as how could anything be left to incriminate him after all that time had passed. But fortunately for police the smallest threads of evidence, paired with the pioneering work and techniques of forensic experts, proved Charlton’s guilt was without doubt and he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Karen Price.

The question is, are techniques that are untried and often untested in a real world situation still useful methods of deciphering critical evidence?