Forensic Medicine and Science Forum Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons Glasgow, Friday 28th May 2004

The forum marked the culmination of the Forensic Medicine Archives Project and brought together historians, forensic practitioners, criminologists, archivists, librarians, curators, and other interested parties. Participants had the opportunity to listen to an array of expert speakers and to discuss issues relating to the history and development of forensic medicine and science.

Our thanks go to everyone at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons Glasgow who hosted the event and helped make the day such a success. 

Lesley Richmond - Director, Glasgow University Archive Services and Monica Greenan - Archivist, Glasgow University Archive Services provided an introduction to the Forensic Medicine Archives Project and the work that had taken place at Glasgow University Archive Services.

Dr Michael Clark - Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine, London
Lost in Translation? Some Problems in Researching Anglo-Irish Medico-Legal Relations in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

Dr Clark presented a paper outliing some of the issues relating to the study of anglo-irish medico-legal relations. The primary difficulty in this field is the lack of relevant primary sources due to the fire in the Public record office of Northern Ireland in 1922 which destroyed most of the records. Researchers in this field have had to rely on press reports of inquests and other secondary sources. Despite this, interest in the history of health in Ireland has increased in recent years. Dr Clark went on to describe some of the divergences in practice in England and Ireland in this period, highlighting the need for more investigation.

Dr David McLay - Formerly Honorary Clinical Senior Lecturer (Dept of Forensic Medicine, University of Glasgow) and Chief Medical Officer, Strathclyde Police. Currently President, Association of Crematorium Medical Referees
It's Sometimes Best To Be Last

Dr McLay provided an overview of the range of his experiences in Glasgow, both as a student in the University and as Chief Medical Officer of Glasgow Police. As a student in Glasgow, Dr McLay studied under Dr Imrie and also attended lectures by Professor Glaister. Dr McLay took over as Chief Medical Officer in 1969, performing post mortems, carrying out examination of persons and articles relating to a crime, and acting as Medical Superintendent to the Police. The growing specialisation of forensic medicine has resulted in the erosion of the traditional role of Chief Medical Officer. In 2001, Dr McLay retired as Medical Superintendent to the Police and there was no successor.

Dr John Oliver - Head of Section, Department of Forensic Medicine and Science, University of Glasgow
It's in the Blood

Dr Oliver has been a member of the academic staff in the department since 1970, and in 2003 became Head of Section. The department's main research is in alcohol and drugs in the community, including road safety and drug related fatalities. In the 1960s blood testing facilities were limited and skills as a chemist were essential. New technologies in the 1970s meant that testing became more sensitive and could now detect LSD in the blood. 
He reported that from 1995 to 2001 the number of drug related deaths have increased greatly and that toxicology during that period showed that most of these fatalities showed the existence of two drugs in the system. Dr Oliver also presented the range of other methods of sampling used including urine, saliva, hair, and nail analysis, outlining the strengths of each technique.

Dr Adrian Linacre - Senior Lecturer in Forensic Science, Forensic Science Unit, University of Strathclyde
DNA Profiling A History, Current Situation and Future Perspective

Dr Linacre provided an insight into the huge advances in the field of DNA profiling in the last 19 years, stressing that forensic science is a reactionary rather than a revolutionary science. By the mid 1980s work was being done on DNA sequencing, 50 years after the discovery of DNA. The sequence is what makes us all different. The first conviction using DNA evidence was in 1988 for the murder of two girls in Leicestershire. In 1995 the DNA database was founded in the UK based on informatin from persons convicted of crime. Now there are 2.8 million people on the database with about 1000 new samples being added every week. Despite the advances, Dr Linacre highlighted the need for public approval of DNA technology.

Chief Inspector Ian Hogg - Strathclyde Police Forensic Support Department
Crime Scene Photography Past & Present

Chief Inspector Ian Hogg works in the Strathclyde Police Forensic Support Department and has been in the police force for 30 years, working within the area of crime scene photography for 18 years. In the past 100 years little has changed in crime scene photography other than the technology used. The crime scene is to be recorded exactly as the perpetrator left it, within the bounds of changes brought about by the weather, time and the victim's movements. This information is then made available to the Prosecutors in a court of law. Crime scene photographers are now known as scene examiners and take about 100-200 photographs at a scene, compared with only a handful taken in the beginning of crime scene photography. Visual representation of the scene is part of the evidence gathering process for the information of the Enquiry Officer and the Judicial System.
Using traditional methods, the image is taken, the film processed, made in to a hard copy and then put in to a production book . The Procurator Fiscal is given the book which can be used in the courts. 
In terms of the future, digital photography will have a major impact on the accessibility to images. When the digital image is put on to a computer, this will be accessible from any workstation with appropriate use of passwords and security checks. Photographs of fingerprints can now also be enhanced on computer

Donald R. Findlay QC LLB MPhil FRSA 
Findlay QC A Cynic's View of Forensic Medicine

Donald Findlay presented his perspective of forensic science and some of his concerns with the system with which he has been involved in for the last 30 years. The role of the defence in the legal system is as a safeguard for the public interest, to ensure that innocent people are not convicted, and to test the Crown case. The defence must challenge propositions presented and explore other possibilities. It is vital that agencies within the legal system remain independent from one another, particularly the forensic laboratory which should not be linked to the Police force, but remain independent from it so that the science provides information to all parties, rather than supporting a police view.