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Soil forensics

Photograph of soil forensic samples being collected (courtesy Lorna Dawson)
Soil has been used in several high profile cases in the past in the UK, both for intelligence for search and as evidence in court.

Soil is a complex and heterogeneous material involving customary contact with persons, vehicles and objects. However, that complexity can make it a useful form of contact trace evidence in crime investigation. Soil is unlikely to be the only form of evidence used, but it can be very powerful when brought together with other pieces of information in the investigative jigsaw. Soil has been used in several high profile cases in the past in the UK, both for intelligence for search and as evidence in court. Recent cases include the Soham murders, the Milly Dowler murder, and the Peter Tobin Murders. In addition, soil has also been used to investigate environmental crime. 

In a large scale murder hunt led by Northern Constabulary (2009), soil information was used in the search phase of the investigation, to help eliminate areas of land using Geographical Information Systems and soils data held on the James Hutton Institute soils database, which helped also with the construction of probable pattern of vehicle movements. It was also used as evidence, through a two way association; sand from the deposition site was found on the spade, and flakes of metal from the spade were found at the deposition site, making a strong contact trace association. Two men were found guilty of murder and culpable homicide through use of this information, along with several other threads of evidence.

Contact: Lorna Dawson

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