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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

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All in a day's work for CSI Cumbria

From murders and suicides to road, plane and train crashes, Ian McCrone has seen it all.

Ian McCrone photo
Crime scene investigator Ian McCrone

As a crime scene investigator with Cumbria Constabulary he is often first on the scene, working alongside detectives in the hunt for forensic evidence.

Cordoning off an area and donning his white suit, overshoes, mask and gloves are all part of a day’s work for Ian, but he insists it isn’t as glamorous as the hit American TV show. “I wish we had the same weather as CSI Miami – it would be nice,” he says.

Every contact a criminal has with a window frame, a door or a car leaves a trace – fibres, finger and footprints are everywhere. Pieces of paper, discarded cigarette ends and carrier bags could all hold the key to solving a crime.

It’s Ian’s job to gather evidence that will hopefully lead to the arrest and conviction of a criminal.

He has been working as a crime scenes investigator for 15 years and remembers one of his first cases when a military jet crashed in Shap in 1999, killing two RAF pilots.

There are five CSIs in Carlisle, five in west Cumbria and five in the south of the county.

He said: “It’s a really interesting job but it’s not exactly like it is on TV. We don’t get our results back from the lab instantly!”

The force’s scientific support unit takes about 100,000 crime scene photographs and 4,000 fingerprint exhibits each year.

Ian’s day usually begins at 8am when he logs on to the police computer system. He checks the logs that have come in overnight and prioritises them.

He said: “It can be anything from houses, sheds and cars that have been broken into to the more serious crimes like murders. Any crime is traumatic to the people affected.”

CSIs use a fine brush and a tiny amount of flaked aluminum powder to get fingerprints from objects like glass and windows. They also use a wide sticky tape to collect fibres from surfaces and clothing.

Ian said: “The fibres can contain human and pet hairs which we then stick on to acetate and get scanned into a computer.”

Items that can be recovered from a crime scene

Ian said: “The forensic store is locked at all times so nothing can be tampered with. There is a very clear audit trail so the evidence is safe and documented every step of the way.”

The CSI garage at Durranhill in Carlisle, is packed with post mortem kits, boxes, police tape, drying cabinets, gloves, masks, suits, overshoes, evidence bags and lighting rigs.

CSIs have to be particularly careful not to contaminate a scene when they’re gathering evidence.

Ian said: “Our DNA is on the database so we can be eliminated from the investigation. We try hard not leave our own DNA at the scene of a crime. “For instance we can’t rip the sticky tape using our teeth and mouths as we are then transferring our own DNA on to it.”

Ian likes the variety of his job.

He said: “You could be down at the lakeside in Ullswater or you could be at the scene of an armed robbery in Carlisle.

“We report back to the Senior Investigating Officer. We try to give them as much information as we can. It’s not a job to be rushed and attention to detail is key. We don’t want to miss anything as that could be the key to solving the crime.”

Jobs as crime scene investigators are few and far between. “They don’t come along very often but it’s a brilliant job to get into,” said Ian.

But his job can also be distressing especially when he is called to the scene of a dead body.

“You get used to it and there is a good support network and counselling if we need it.”

The smells associated with a crime scene can be bad especially if a body has been undiscovered for days.

Ian said: “I’ve never been sick at a crime scene but sometimes the smell can be pretty horrific. I generally put a bit of olbas oil inside my mask and that helps to disguise it.”

Changes in technology have also helped Ian’s job. He said: “There have been massive changes in technology since I started. We used to have to get a 10p sized sample of blood to be able to test it – now all we need is a pin head sized piece.

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