Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Ipswich Murders Trial - Days 14 and 15


The entire morning and much of the afternoon was spent on meticulous discussion of DNA evidence from various unpleasant fluid stains found on Steve Wrights high vis jacket and a couple of pairs of gloves.

Dr. Hau was back in the witness box, while Tim Langdale Q.C tried to challenge aspects of his evidence. The idea was to show that there was evidence of a third party or party’s DNA on the clothing. He was partially successful doing this with some of the very low level DNA which seems unreliable anyway. Then it was back to the prosecution council Peter Wright and yet more excruciating detail about stains and samples and matches and cross matches. Oh and the one in a billion number was mentioned. Again

Things barely improved in the afternoon; from DNA fingerprinting we went to collection and identification of micro-fibres; the tiny threads that comprise… threads actually.

Ray Palmer is the expert witness – a forensic scientist who’s speciality is the study of these fibres especially the teeny weeny kind. From his description, micro fibres are just about visible with the naked eye; presumably they fall into that blurred zone (ho ho) where optics such as magnifying glasses and microscopes really help, but aren’t essential, at least in finding the them. In practice, the scientists seem to have used a kind of sticky tape on the bodies and Wright’s clothes and had a look at everything that was stuck to the tape surface.

It’s astonishing just how painstaking and ‘invisible’ this evidence is; for instance on Anelli Alderton’s body, amongst a group of fibres there was a single fibre (just one!) of pale brown polyester from one of Steve Wright’s jackets. There were also eight blue polyester fibres from Wright’s tracksuit bottoms; the ones he was wearing when arrested.

And on and on it went – fibres found on the bodies and also Steve Wright’s clothes – remnants presumably of the clothes of the victims, none of which have been found. This trial is about as far from Agatha Christie or Raymond Chandler as it’s possible to get; it’s almost entirely an exercise in applied science, and the painstaking detail that scientific enquiry is all about…


Today was fibre day, with the continued minute description of the exacting processes and discoveries of Ray Palmer and his colleagues.

It was basically more of the same, until this afternoon with the astonishing (to me, anyway!) news that fibres were found in Gemma’s hair! That micro-fibres could remain in place after several weeks in running water seems miraculous. Mr. Palmer explained that these were close to Gemma’s scalp wrapped around the hair roots.

Even the technique of finding these fibres seems crazy; first they had to wash Gemma’s hair to wash out soil picked up from the stream bed (how is this done so as not to wash out the tiny little fibres you’re actually looking for?!? It’s so counterintuitive!

Anyway, after all this, they found one red acrylic fibre and 13 blue acrylic fibres still in the hair. The red one matches fibres found on Anneli Alderton and Paula Clennell. They’ve also been found in Wright’s car, and on his soafa. The prosecution is speculating that Wright had some kind of blanket or wrap that he possibly used to cover or even carry the bodies in. It’s never been found.

Tania Nichol spent even more time in the water than Gemma before she was found. Astonishingly (or maybe not, to those in the field) even her hair yielded some micro-fibres. Nine of them match fibres found (not directly from) Wright’s tracksuit bottoms.

And on it goes. Really it’s simultaneously the dullest spectacle in the world, and an astonishing lesson in applied science and the virtual impossibility of not leaving some evidence behind you. I wonder who’s DNA and clothing fibres are my hair, or yours? And every chair you’ve sat in today and sat on months ago probably has a micro-fibre or two or thirty from your clothes. Amazing.

To be fair, Tim Langdale makes some good points for the defence. To begin with, all the victims were active prostitutes and so exposed to a wider range of cars and stranger’s clothing than most of us.

Then he shows how it’s important to consider evidence as a whole, and not partially. It turns out that the 14 significant fibres found in Gemma’s hair are in fact a sub-set of the amazing total of no less than 216! Likewise there were 22 ‘evidence fibres’ found on Tania Nichol; carefully separated from a grand total of 360!

Suddenly this evidence, in least in isolation is a lot less impressive.

None the less, in it’s slow and methodical way, the prosecution is building an impressive case.



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