Skip to navigation Skip to content

Hutton soil forensic evidence helps police secure murder conviction

Spade analysed by Hutton scientists (c) James Hutton Institute
“In addition to being a key resource for food security and human sustainability, soils contain many physical, chemical and biological characteristics which can potentially be of great use to the investigative and reconstructive processes

Soil isn’t just dirt: it’s the ideal trace material, as it sticks when wet and can be highly distinctive. That’s what Professor Lorna Dawson, Head of Soil Forensic Science at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen, said after providing evidence in court in the case built by Wiltshire Police against Christopher Halliwell in a long-running investigation into the abduction and murders of Rebecca Godden in 2002 and Sian O’Callaghan in 2011.

Samples of soil recovered from a roll of tape and a spade found in Halliwell’s garden shed proved decisive in securing the conviction, as Professor Dawson and her team were able to link them to locations connected with the murders. The soil had unusual characteristics and findings showed there was a ‘negligible’ chance of finding such a degree of comparability elsewhere.

Professor Dawson said: “In addition to being a key resource for food security and human sustainability, soils contain many physical, chemical and biological characteristics, along with trace material, such as diatoms, pollen grains, plant debris and physical particulates, which can potentially be of great use to the investigative and reconstructive processes.

“This information can assist the intelligence stage of an investigation, such as the search of a missing person, and provide trace evidence which could be subsequently presented in court.”

Professor Dawson also took part in the investigation of the World’s End murders, providing evidence which helped secure a conviction for notorious criminal Angus Sinclair, and was instrumental in building an overwhelming case against Alexander Pacteau for the murder of Irish student Karen Buckley, among many other cases.

“Geological, chemical and biological characteristics can provide vital clues about where and how crimes been committed or where and how death might have occurred, helping to contribute to the investigative jigsaw of crime investigation,” Professor Dawson concluded.

More information from: 

Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).

Share our content

Share this

Printed from /news/hutton-soil-forensic-evidence-helps-police-secure-murder-conviction on 06/12/19 09:12:32 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.