Novel technique to lift fingerprints years after erasure

June 4th, 2008 - 3:10 pm ICT by IANS  

London, June 4 (IANS) A promising new technique developed by researchers will help ‘lift’ fingerprints even after all traces have been erased from the suspected surface. Consequently, decades-old cases could be reopened because the underlying print never disappears.

The technique also works in cases where prints may be left on other metals, the scientists said.

The breakthrough, announced by forensic scientists of Leicester University, can lead to hundreds of cold cases being reopened.

Researchers conducted a study into the way fingerprints corrode metal surfaces. The technique can enhance a fingerprint deposited on a small calibre metal cartridge case before it is fired.

John Bond, of Leicester University, informed “for the first time we can get prints from people who handled a cartridge before it was fired.”

“Wiping it down, washing it in hot soapy water makes no difference — and the heat of the shot helps the process we use.

“The procedure works by applying an electric charge to a metal — say a gun or bullet — which has been coated in a fine conducting powder, similar to that used in photocopiers.

“Even if the fingerprint has been washed off, it leaves a slight corrosion on the metal and this attracts the powder when the charge is applied, so showing up a residual fingerprint.

“The technique works on everything from bullet casings to machine guns. Even if heat vapourises normal clues, police will be able to prove who handled a particular gun.”

Rob Hillman, Bond’s associate, added: “It is very satisfying to see excellent fundamental science being applied to a practical problem.”

Bond’s initial findings, which prompted the joint study, have been published in a paper in the American Journal of Forensic Science.

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