Tattoo technology could help crack cases

A NEW infra-red camera could help solve crimes by finding people’s hidden tattoos, a British university said.

Forensic scientists and detectives already look at tattoos as a way of identifying suspects or finding leads in investigations, but criminals can easily have them changed or updated.

Today scientists at the University of Derby said using an infra-red digital camera could help determine if a tattoo was an original, or if it was a second tattoo covering the old one.

A traditional colour camera only picks up what is on the surface of the skin. But using a digital camera sensitive to infra-red, researchers can see if there are hidden layers or changes to the original tattoo deeper in the skin.

In a recent experiment, the technique found that on a student’s back, a butterfly image had covered up an image of an imp in the original tattoo.

David Bryson, senior lecturer in applied photography and forensic science at the university, also specialises in the area of forensic imaging.

He has been working on the project with a number of students studying forensic science at degree level.

He said: “Identifying individuals using tattoos has been an established part of forensic science practice for some time, but there can be cover-ups of tattoos with lasers, more tattoos or surgery.

“It is now possible to take a control photograph and a separate photograph with an infra-red filter to take images of the tattoo, and determine if it is indeed the original or is a cover-up, or altered tattoo on the surface.

“Digital photography means that moments after the images have been taken, they can be viewed on a laptop or computer screen – making this interesting approach now more feasible for use in everyday forensic work, compared to more traditional processes.”

Once the research has gone further, Bryson will look at trialling digital infra-red photography in police forces as an everyday tool to look at tattoos on suspects.

The university has already trialled other forensic work using photography techniques, including analysing lipstick left on coffee cups and ear prints found on glass.


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