14th 六月 2011
Masters student Matthew investigates the fireworks-forensics link
Could particles generated during a firework display be similar to those found in gunshot residue? If so, could this possibly contaminate the evidence found at crime scenes and jeopardize the outcome of an investigation?
This forensic feature has been explored by the research of Teesside University Master's student Matthew Grima. Matthew, 25, from Malta, has already achieved a first class BSc (Hons) Applied Science and Forensic Investigation degree at the University, and is following up with a Master of Research in Science. He has co-authored research which has been recently published in the journal Science and Justice, the industry text for the Forensic Science Society.
Matthew has also appeared on the national Maltese television station TVM on the 8pm news bulletin to discuss the research findings. He first started to compare gunshot residue (GSR) with firework particles when researching for an essay at the University two years ago. Matthew said: "This research is particularly significant in Malta as it has one of the highest numbers of firework displays in the world. Although the population is 412,000 there are 90 religious and spiritual feasts between June and September, with most of them holding their annual fireworks display. I've loved fireworks since I was very young, I grew up near one of the biggest display sites in Lija and was used to the constant fireworks on the island, usually every weekend."
In his research, Matthew aimed to compare the characteristics of GSR with firework residue particles. He said: "For a period, GSR was said to be unique. But if the characteristics of firework residue particles are similar then these could be mistakenly identified as GSR. However, these particles are only a small fraction of the larger population, which is clearly firework-derived. However, this can then contaminate GSR found at a crime scene or on a suspect, for example by police officers or ambulance staff who have attended a firework display on the same night. The expert may exclude this evidence since it contains within it firework chemical markers of exclusion".
Matthew was helped to compile evidence for his research by a Maltese firework factory in Qrendi, Our Lady of Lourdes. He gathered particles from firework display sites and examined these with a scanning electron microscope. Matthew said: "There's not much awareness around the possible contamination that can occur from firework particles to scenes of crime. My Master's research is assessing the persistence of firework particles in order to see if they can remain on the individual's person until the next morning.
"It could have implications, for example emergency personnel may need showering facilities if they've attended a firework display and a change of clothes before moving to a potential crime scene. It may also mean not using the same vehicle for suspects if it's been at a firework display site that night. If these procedures are executed, then the evidence can be protected from controllable vulnerability and hence, preserve it to bring the best out of the analysis".
The research of Matthew, M. Butler, R. Hanson and A. Mohameden, Firework displays as sources of particles similar to gunshot residue, Science and Justice (2011),