BU Forensics students put skills to the test at Streetwise


Forensics students from Bournemouth University have been putting their skills and knowledge to the test at Bournemouth’s Streetwise facility.

Second year students from the Forensic Investigation and Forensic Science degree courses have been working on simulated crime scenes at the facility, which features a range of realistic settings including a street, house and railway line.

The crime scenes featured three connected scenarios – a bomb-making factory in a barn; a body, fake money and identity cards found in a house linked with a terrorist organization; and a bomb detonator in a park – and a burnt body found on railway lines.

“We give them a very basic briefing and then they have to come back once they have collected evidence,” said Alex Otto, Demonstrator in Forensic Science at BU, who helped set up the simulated crime scenes.

“It’s basically taking two years of what they have learnt in practicals and lectures and pulling it all together to help them develop the skills to actually be able to go out and do it.”

Over 70 forensics students spent a day examining the crime scenes at the Streetwise facility, in Wallisdown, over the course of a week.

They will be assessed on their ability to find, analyse and catalogue the evidence found at the scenes, as well as the supporting documents they submit.

“They have to write a witness statement and they submit their forensic documents,” said Alex.

“It is all about that interaction, putting together two years of learning and testing themselves.

“It is not just about crime scene investigation, but also putting into practice their observational skills, documenting skills and team work.”

She added: “They are working with people from other courses and disciplines, so if they are not quite sure about something, they can put their heads together and try to work it out between them.

“We expect them to make mistakes but they have been absolutely brilliant. They have been using their heads and working together.”

Forensics students have been using the Streetwise facility, which is sponsored by London Victoria, for the past seven years, and the scenarios are changed each year to ensure they remain current and relevant.

Last year’s crime scenes, for example, focused around a bomb plot at the London 2012 Olympics.

Students from the Forensic Computing course in the School of Design, Engineering and Computing also benefit – collecting evidence from computers in the crime scenes and taking it back to the university to analyse.

“It gives them an idea of how it works and what a crime scene is like,” explained Alex.

“We are very lucky as a university to have this facility so close by, alongside our crime house and outside training facility where forensic students train before they come here.”

Second year Forensic Investigation student Julie Dipple was acting as crime scene manager for the scenario based in the park setting.

She said: “It’s great. It’s been brilliant and really helpful, training us and getting us into the mindset that we need to be doing this in real life.”

Alex Curwen-Reed, a second year Forensic Science student who was acting as a general crime scene investigator, agreed.

“I’m really, really enjoying it and it’s been a lot of fun,” she said.

“It’s nice to get to meet new people from different courses and learn from them. Everyone knows something a little bit different.

“But it’s also good to be somewhere different– it is completely fresh and you’ve got to really apply everything we’ve learnt.”

Professor David Osselton on Bloody Tales documentary

Professor David Osselton, Director of the Centre for Forensic Science at BU, featured in a documentary on the National Geographic TV channel exploring the truth behind history’s most famous tyrants.

Professor Osselton, who specialises in toxicology, helped investigate whether the Roman Emperor Nero poisoned his stepbrother as part of the Bloody Tales: Tyrants documentary.

Nero’s stepbrother Britannicus was a rival to the throne, and collapsed and died after drinking with Nero.

Journalist Joe Crowley visited BU’s labs and worked with Professor Osselton to see whether it would have been possible for Nero to poison his stepbrother, or whether his death could have been the result of an epileptic fit, as Nero suggested.

Professor Osselton said: “In the case of Nero, it has been suggested in some of the literature that it might have been cyanide.

“They were quite aware that the kernels of many fruit contain a chemical that will release cyanide into solution.”

He added that, within minutes of drinking the solution, symptoms would resemble an epileptic fit, but that it would cause the lips and tips of the fingers to turn blue.

As there were no reports of this happening to Britannicus, Professor Osselton thought that cyanide should be discounted.

He said that one of the poisons which was very widely used in Greek and Roman times was hemlock – a plant that grows alongside river banks and would produce the symptoms described.

“One thing that hemlock does produce is blodges on the skin,” he told Joe.

“Certainly, the majority of the population are unlikely to know all the signs and symptoms of poisoning.”

Bloody Tales: Tyrants was broadcast on the National Geographic channel at 8pm on Monday 22 April.

Find out more about the Bloody Tales series

Who killed Rudolph the Reindeer?

With just weeks to go before Christmas, tragedy strikes.

Rudolph the Reindeer has been killed – and Santa, Mrs Claus and his fellow reindeer are among the prime suspects.

Our only hope for a happy Christmas? Schoolchildren from across Bournemouth – who visited BU to try and solve the crime on Monday.

The Who Killed Rudolph? was organised by BU and the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) to introduce pupils to forensic science.

Year 9 pupils from The Bourne Academy, Oakmead College of Technology, The Grange School, Carter Community School and St Aldhelm’s Academy first watched a short play, which introduced all the main characters and prime suspects.

The play – acted out by students and Aimhigher ambassadors – showed tensions between Rudolph and characters including Mrs Claus – who was jealous of Santa and Rudolph’s ‘snowmance’ – The Grinch and the Head Elf Toymaker, who had been overlooked for a promotion, with Rudolph getting the job instead.

At the end of the play, Rudolph staggers in and collapses – but nobody knows what has happened to him. Or do they?

“It’s a forensic murder mystery,” said Naomi Capell, Science Outreach Officer, at Aimhigher with BU, who helped organise the event.

“The participating schoolchildren then had to find out how Rudolph died and whether he was killed.

“They took part in five workshops and all of them were aimed at discovering the truth behind those aspects of the investigation.”

The workshops were led by students and took place in BU labs.

They included interrogating the main suspects, fingerprint and hair analysis and learning how to extract DNA using strawberries.

Pupils also analysed Rudolph’s stomach contents to see if he has been poisoned.

Naomi said: “We hope they will see the possibilities of studying science, particularly science at university.

“Forensics is not something that students tend to study at school, so we just wanted to show them more about what science at university is like and what kind of facilities we have.

She added: “The students seemed to enjoy the activities.

“All of the workshops were as practical as possible and we got quite good feedback from the interrogation workshop – they quite loved questioning all of our main characters.”

The Who Killed Rudolph? event was repeated by staff and students at the Royal Veterinary College, in London, for schoolchildren the next day.

Pupils had to write down who they thought killed Rudolph and how, and the answers were revealed in another short play at the end of the event. Pupils who got it right won prizes.

Dawn Griffiths, upper school coordinator at Oakmead College of Technology, had brought her pupils along to the event at BU.

She said: “It has been brilliant. It’s a great insight into studying forensics at university.

“It has stretched the pupils, which has been really good, and they have been fully engaged with it all.

“Speaking to the students throughout the day, a growing number have said that they are now interested in studying forensics.”