CSI: New York

Forensic fact or fiction?

The forensics in Silent Witness, Bones and CSI raise expectations and are a double-edged sword. Read the article and watch our two exclusive videos about real-life, cutting-edge forensic techniques.

A glut of popular forensic-based television shows are currently flooding the schedules, such as Silent Witness, Bones or the various incarnations of CSI, and this modern taste for forensic investigation is changing the way that the real-life authorities are presenting evidence in genuine cases.

A forensics lab in Scotland has taken to recreating crime scenes in 3D for police and juries.

'We can show complex evidence and information, which in the past would have been fairly difficult to convey to the jury,' explains Andy Mason, forensic multimedia technician for the Scottish Police Services Authority.

The computer-generated reconstructions create a 3D picture based on the forensic evidence collected by investigators after a crime is committed. 'We can take our sources from anything, such as ballistics evidence, telephone evidence, DNA, biology and CCTV.'

While the technology has been used in some cases - such as the murder of businesswoman Moira Jones in Glasgow in May 2008 and during the trials of serial killer Peter Tobin, who murdered Angelika Kluk, 23, and 15-year old Vicky Hamilton - a new unit has recently been set up to develop the technology further.

The Scottish Police Services Authority's (SPSA) forensic multimedia unit will revolutionise how evidence is presented in criminal trials at court. 'All we are really doing is presenting the same evidence that has been presented in the past, but just in a different format,' explains Mason. 'It's in a more visual medium because we believe that the public are more used to seeing this sort of forensic evidence because of programmes such as CSI.'

Although the shows have undoubtedly raised the profile of forensics and made recruitment easier, they have also increased the expectation of just what can be achieved with forensics. Characters in the shows seem to have unlimited resources at their disposal and unlimited budgets to spend on everything from DNA sampling to crime reconstructions.

However, the reality is very different, with resources having to be limited according to the severity of the case and the likelihood of achieving prosecution.

The success of the unit may go some way to wringing results from existing resources, 'and the feedback we have had has been nothing but positive in that it saves both time and money for the justice system,' explains Mason.

Moreover, it is still early days: 'As technology progresses we will see more things that we can utilise to present other forms of evidence, or perhaps we might come up with ideas to present the evidence even better than we are at the moment. It is definitely in its infancy and it is only going to go forward as the technology progresses,' says Mason.

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