City’s crime cracking hub

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ALTHOUGH there’s little chance of CSI Wakefield appearing on TV any time soon, nevertheless the city is now the hub for hi-tech crime investigation across the north of England.

The £21 million Sir Alec Jeffreys Building, on Calder Park off junction 39 of the M1, is home to the Regional Forensic and Scientific Support Unit, where around 120 staff use a array of state-of-the-art equipment – and some time-honoured techniques – to crack crime.

Detectives from Sheffield to the Scottish border can call upon the laboratory, where a team of technicians use laser lights, specialist cameras, chemical treatments and image enhancement to tease out vital information which would otherwise be invisible.

They are also able to take minute DNA samples from drops of blood or hairs and immediately check them against a national database.

First conceived as a facility for West Yorkshire Police alone, the scope of the new facility soon expanded, as assistant chief constable Mark Milsom explained.

He said: “Initially we were looking just to rehouse West Yorkshire’s scientific support staff, but given the wider need to make savings, we set up a collaboration with North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and Humberside to work jointly from the new premises.

“Then, when the government closed the national forensic science laboratory at Wetherby, we looked for ways to keep a specialist service in Yorkshire.

“Consequently, we also have a private forensic science company working here alongside us, employing 80 people formerly at Wetherby.”

Every item of evidence recovered from a crime scene – from fingerprints to vehicles – is taken to Calder Park, where teams of investigators use their specialist knowledge and equipment to identify suspects.

Typical of the advanced techniques available at the laboratory are those employed on the age-old technique of fingerprinting.

High-intensity light is directed on to an object, which reveals amazingly detailed marks and textures. These are then photographed and the digital image massively enlarged on a computer screen.

Software matches the print against similar ones held on the database – although the final task of comparing the prints is left to the eye of the technician.

Head of imaging, Peter Burton, said: “What you see on the CSI TV programmes takes things to a ridiculous extreme – but it’s based on the reality of what we can do here.”

The building also houses a huge archive of evidence from some of West Yorkshire’s most notorious crimes going back more than a century.

Photographs of all crimes are held for seven years, though any relating to murders are kept for 100 years.