Drug traces on banknotes: Scotland

Categories: Forensic Casework experiences

During my time in England I had the pleasure of being involved with many cases involving drug traces on banknotes.  For those of you in countries with plastic money (such as NZ or Australia), those who live in countries with paper money have the joy of carrying around with them banknotes of which practically all will bear minute traces of cocaine.  At the last look, 70% had traces of MDMA (Ecstasy), 5% had traces of diamorphine (heroin) and 5% had traces of THC (found in cannabis).  Banknotes are seized in a variety of cases including criminal cases, Customs & Excise and under the Proceeds of Crime Act.  Some nice people at the lab will analysis a selection of banknotes (in a non-destructive manner – not that that matters if the Defendant is found guilty because they won’t be seeing their cash again).  Sometimes, those nice people at the lab will travel to court to give evidence about what they found.  Sometimes, someone like me might go along as well to add comment for the Defence.

Anyway, this story is another about court attendance, this time where I was involved as a Defence expert for a case in Scotland.  I only went because my boss was on holiday somewhere exotic (again) and he couldn’t make it, so I had to go.  After getting stuck on the M1 on the way to Luton airport (pouring rain, stationary traffic for an hour) I missed my flight to Aberdeen.  Had to get on the next flight, which was to Edinburgh.  Happily, the barrister was in Edinburgh so he picked me up at the airport and we drove to Aberdeen.  I have no idea how long it took except it seemed a loooong time in a car with someone I had never met before.  In fact, I had never even spoken to him before.  This is the sort of thing that your mother warns you not to do.

I spent five days in Scotland.  It snowed and there was no heating  in the hotel.  I had no thermals with me.  There was porridge for breakfast though, which was good (no other meals necessary for the rest of the day).  The Crown’s scientists came and went.  I stayed (just in case I was needed, but I wasn’t).  The Crown wanted to show the tape of the Police interview but no-one knew how to work the video player.  Rather than allow us to try to work it out for ourselves, court was adjourned for half a DAY so that a technician could drive from Aberdeen to “fix” it (only a Certified Technician was allowed to touch it – against Health & Safety rules otherwise).  Technician arrives, presses a switch, VCR starts to work, we all get back to the trial wondering why a) Health & Safety rules had got so mad, and b) why the Technician couldn’t have told us over the phone which button to press.

There were many other things about that case that were bizarre (the defendant was found guilty; defendant went to prison; case was appealed; defendant was released).  Another bizarre incident involved a mobile phone (no, not one that had been swabbed for the presence of drug traces).  A mobile phone rang (very quietly, I might add).  The Judge stopped the proceedings and demanded that the offender place at least a pound, but preferably a banknote of some denomination, into the charity jar he kept on the Bench.  I leaned over to the solicitor and commented that this was indeed a strange occurrence.  He leaned back and said “Well, it’s just as well we’re not in the court room next door – the judge in there puts people in the cells for an hour if a phone goes off in his court, even if you’re a QC.”  I believe him.

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Forensic Scientist