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Forensic experts reveal clothing fibres can transfer without physical contact

Forensic scientist Ray Palmer, who gave evidence at serial killer Steve Wright's trial in 2008 Picture: ARCHANT

Forensic scientist Ray Palmer, who gave evidence at serial killer Steve Wright's trial in 2008 Picture: ARCHANT

Forensic experts – including one who gave evidence at the trial of Ipswich serial killer Steve Wright – have revealed that textile fibres can be transferred between two pieces of clothing without contact.

Ray Palmer outside Ipswich Crown Court Picture: ARCHANTRay Palmer outside Ipswich Crown Court Picture: ARCHANT

The breakthrough research at Northumbria University proved that contactless transfer of fibres between garments can be possible through airborne travel in certain circumstances.

The forensic discovery could have a major implication for fibre evidence in certain criminal cases.

In experiments using florescent clothing fibres and UV light, researchers demonstrated fibre transfer between two people without physical contact.

Dr Kelly Sheridan, who led the research, said: “Our experiment was simple but efficient. We used fluorescently tagged fibres to track their airborne transfer between clothing. Everyday tagged clothes – jumpers, long sleeved tops and fleeces - were worn by two people who stood in opposite corners of an elevator.

Steve Wright was found guilty of killing five women in 2008 Picture: SUFFOLK CONSTABULARYSteve Wright was found guilty of killing five women in 2008 Picture: SUFFOLK CONSTABULARY

“The elevator operated as normal and non-participants of the study entered and exited as usual. Following the experiment, the surfaces of the recipient’s clothing were photographed using UV-imagery techniques to determine the number of fibres that were transferred from one person to the other.

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“The results of the study were remarkable. It not only proved that textile fibres can transfer between garments in the absence of contact, but they can do so in relatively high numbers.”

MORE: Judge outlines fibre evidence at Steve Wright trial

The results of the study demonstrate that when strict conditions are met – time, sheddability of garment, proximity and confined space – airborne transfer of fibres can occur in forensic scenarios.

This provides a ‘baseline’ to evaluate the likelihood of an alleged activity being conducive to contactless transfer.

Textile fibres have been pivotal in solving some of the UK’s most notorious crimes – including that of Ipswich murderer Steve Wright, who was found guilty of killing five women between October 29 and December 13, 2006.

Dr Ray Palmer, co-author on the research paper, gave evidence at Wright’s trial in 2008, telling jurors that the discovery of fibres linking Wright to the women “would not occur by chance”.

Dr Palmer said: “This study was designed so that the experimental parameters were as conducive to contactless transfer as possible, while still maintaining a real-life scenario.

“Since there is a paucity of published studies relating to contactless transfer, the results obtained from this study will be useful to forensic practitioners as a ’baseline’, in evaluating how likely it is that a proposed activity or case circumstance has resulted in contactless transfer.”

The paper – ‘A study on contactless airborne transfer of textile fibres between different garments in small compact semi-enclosed spaces’ - was published in Forensic Science International on Friday.


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