DNA evidence has transformed the fight against crime. Now, a University of Huddersfield professor and his team have begun research which aims to ensure for the first time that evidence from firearms and ammunition achieves the similar degree of scientific accuracy. They will do this using new developments in metrology - the science of measurement.
It is a popular myth, says Professor Liam Blunt, that ballistics evidence is of the same accuracy level as DNA. In fact, they lag a long way behind. In court cases, for example, evidence from bullets and cartridges, matching them to specific weapons, is far from conclusive and depends greatly on the opinion of firearms experts rather than hard data.
The goal of the new research project, named LOQUITUR, is to develop software that can enable the accurate measurement of minute surface details on ammunition and weapons in order to furnish matches that - like DNA from a crime scene - have an exceptionally high probability level, raising ballistics forensics to a true analytical science.
"We will be trying to put quantitative metrics on the presentation of ballistic evidence," said Professor Blunt, who is Director of the University's Centre for Precision Technologies.
LOQUITUR - a Latin word for speech that is long-established in legal parlance - is a three-year project being carried out in close collaboration with Forensic Pathways, a UK-based company that is a global leader in the development of innovative technology for criminal investigation including ballistics identification. Forensic Pathways will write the software using patented technology for wavelet analysis developed by the CPT. It will enable the accurate measurement of microscale defects in cartridge cases recovered at a crime scene, so that it can be compared at the same microscale to a cartridge case fired from a suspect weapon.
After a competitive process, the Government agency Innovate UK has provided backing of £200,000 to the CPT for the LOQUITUR project, and various factors have lent added urgency to the project. These include the increased use of firearms in criminal and terrorist acts and therefore the need for the development of ballistics analysis technology that will enable efficient and successful investigations and prosecutions.
There are also procedural problems, such as the fact that lack of compatibility between the different systems that currently dominate the market can make it difficult to share ballistics evidence across national boundaries.
A further aim of LOQUITUR, said Professor Blunt, is to develop an open-source technology that can be used in conjunction with a wide range of electronic microscopes. It will therefore become much more practical and cost-effective for law enforcement agencies to share ballistics evidence.