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Innovative fingerprint analysis is trialled by West Yorkshire Police

West Yorkshire Police have been trialing pioneering technology on fingermarks left at crime scenes in order to extract more details about potential suspects.

The new technology, developed by researchers from our Biomedical Research Centre (BMRC), uses Ionisation Mass Spectrometry Imaging (MALDI-MSI) to produce multiple images of fingermarks. MALDI-MSI is normally used to map different molecules within tissue sections. This is the first time the technology has been used to analyse and produce images of fingermarks.

The technology detects any substances a suspect might have touched, providing crucial additional details about them such their medications, diet and the time at which they accidentally left the fingermark. These extra details can offer important background information in a criminal investigation, especially if the suspect's fingerprint is not on the police database.

In laboratory settings, it has also been proven that the technology may be used to determine the sex of the criminal, and has been shown to be compatible with current procedures undertaken by crime investigators across the country.

How we worked together

The pioneering technology is now being tried and tested at crime scenes by West Yorkshire Police. The BMRC team, led by Dr Simona Francese, has been lifting marks from crimes and taking them back to the our laboratories to test for traces of drugs, hair and cleaning products and condom lubricants as well as other substances of forensic interest that will provide crime investigators with crucial background information about a criminal's activities prior to committing a crime.

Further access has now been granted to crime scenes to allow the team to develop the technology so it is more forensically viable. It is hoped that it will soon be adopted into standard forensic investigation policies.

Dr Francese said, 'Our collaboration with West Yorkshire Police takes us one step closer to our aim of getting MALDI-MSI integrated into standard forensic procedures at scenes of crime up and down the country. It is a valuable opportunity to be able to gather authentic evidence that demonstrates the efficiency of MALDI-MSI to be used in order to provide additional intelligence to the investigators in real casework.'

Neil Denison, West Yorkshire Police’s regional head of identification services said

This research presents an exciting opportunity to enhance fingerprint capability beyond just identification. We may soon be able to accurately age fingermarks and by analysing the constituent parts of the finger impression, profile the habits of the offender.

The technology has also featured in several media outlets – including Crimewatch Roadshow Live, BBC Click, BBC Radio 4's Today programme, BBC Radio 5 Live and The Times.

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