Body on the Queen’s estate – actors comment on forensic science

Categories: News, Sciblogs

I have to admit to having been so desperate for something to watch on TV a couple of nights ago that I ended up watching Entertainment Tonight – you know, that American gossip programme about famous people, many of whom I have never heard or seen before (I accept that I am out of touch with American celebrity gossip….).

Anyway, the issue of the body found on the Queen’s Sandringham Estate arose, which in itself seemed strange as this is a real news story being discussed on a gossip programme.  Imagine my surprise when they started to interview the actors from American fictional crime programme NCIS about how the scene will be examined, what samples would be collected and how an identification would be made!  Since when have we come to consider opinions of actors for how a police investigation will progress?????  Needless to say I had to shout at the TV as they were saying things like “well, they’ll take a sample of blood and get a DNA profile and compare it to the DNA database.”  Really?!?!  The deceased was located in a rural location and had been there for some time, including some of the summer time.  The chances of obtaining a full DNA profile from a suitably preserved sample of blood are pretty slim.  Plus comparison with a DNA database is only fruitful if the individual in question is on the database – not the case for the entire population of England (or New Zealand or the USA, come to that).

So imagine the muttering I started when I read that the Police had to identify the deceased using details from her palm and that there had been problems with identification. 

I don’t want to be right about this sort of thing but it’s a matter of reality versus fiction.  It’s hard enough having to deal with an outdoor recovery scene and remains that have been present for some time; having actors comment on how a case ID might unfold is just unhelpful – at best people in the general public end up thinking that identification is quick and easy, which results in unrealistic expectations when a family has to deal with such an event in real life.

If in doubt, ask an expert, not an actor.

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Dr Anna Sandiford

The Forensic Group was established in 2008 by Dr Anna Sandiford, a Senior Forensic Science Consultant with many years’ experience in New Zealand and overseas who started her forensic science career in 1998.