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Freshwater diatom transfer to clothing: Spatial and temporal influences on trace evidence in forensic reconstructions

Scott, KR; Morgan, RM; Cameron, NG; Jones, VJ; (2019) Freshwater diatom transfer to clothing: Spatial and temporal influences on trace evidence in forensic reconstructions. Science and Justice , 59 (3) pp. 292-305. 10.1016/j.scijus.2018.11.004. Green open access

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Abstract

The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences Environmental indicators are increasingly sought and analysed in a range of forensic reconstructions. Although the majority of casework and research studies are concerned with the criminal investigation of terrestrial habitats (soils, sediments, plants etc.), freshwater environments are also frequently encountered as crime scenes. As such, microalgae, particularly diatoms, may provide useful circumstantial trace evidence following their transfer to a victim or perpetrator. Diatom analysis is a relatively underused technique in forensic ecology, although an increased empirical research focus is beginning to recognise the evidential value of a transferred assemblage. This study aimed to examine three of the spatial and temporal variables known to influence the extent of an initial transfer of trace particulates, within the context of freshwater diatoms to clothing. A series of experiments were designed to consider the impact of recipient surface characteristics (clothing type), source environment conditions (seasonality), and morphological (type of diatom) variability, on the total number (no. per cm2) and species richness (total no. sp.) of an evidential diatom sample recovered from clothing. Nine commonly used clothing materials were immersed in a freshwater river at three times of year – the early and late spring and in the winter. Diatoms were recovered using a H2O2 extraction technique and examined microscopically. The results demonstrated that diatom transfer to clothing varies significantly, with a greater abundance and a higher species richness transferred to coarse woven surfaces including acrylic, linen, and viscose. Significantly fewer diatoms were transferred to clothing in the winter, in line with seasonal fluctuations in the source environment diatom community. Furthermore, variation in the relative abundance of particular diatom species was identified between clothing types, provisionally suggesting that morphological characteristics may also support or limit the transfer of material. These findings highlight that, although clothing may offer a valuable repository of freshwater diatom trace evidence, the interpretation of evidential material should be approached within an exclusionary framework. Thus, empirical data has been generated to develop evidence bases within forensic ecology, demonstrating some of the spatial and temporal factors which may contribute to or limit the transfer of evidence.

Type: Article
Title: Freshwater diatom transfer to clothing: Spatial and temporal influences on trace evidence in forensic reconstructions
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1016/j.scijus.2018.11.004
Publisher version: http://doi.org/10.1016/j.scijus.2018.11.004
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: trace evidence, diatom analysis, freshwater crime scenes, transfer, clothing, forensic ecology
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science > Dept of Security and Crime Science
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Geography
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10068153
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