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Digital storytelling to put compassion back at the heart of social care

Dr Rosie Stenhouse and digital storyteller Rob 2

An innovative new digital resource that puts compassion right at the heart of social care will today (Wednesday, May 29th) be sent to the Nursing Directors of NHS Boards across the United Kingdom.

Entitled “Dangling Conversations”, the resource is a unique collection of reflective digital stories created to help people working in care re-engage with the personal experiences of their patients.

Recent reports – such as the Francis Report into the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust – have identified that there is a lack of compassion in the care and treatment of older people within the NHS.

The digital stories offer a practical solution to help address this.

Researchers at the University of Abertay Dundee and specialists from the award-winning Patient Voices Programme created the stories in a Reflective Digital Storytelling workshop with seven patients in the early stages of dementia, and one paid carer.

Each story is unique and is of personal importance to the individual telling it.

There was no obligation for the narrators to talk about their illness, but knowing that the story is told by someone with dementia, shapes how the listener hears and interprets it.

Each story is a blend of their past and present lives, and is accompanied by photographs and a series of reflective questions.

Together, these encourage the listener to think about the person telling the story, and about how they could use the insight the story has given them into the patient’s life, to provide the patient with better care.

Taken as a package, the stories equip the listener with what is known as “aesthetic knowledge” – an understanding of the human experience that is integral to the capacity of nurses to care for their patients.

It is hoped, by drawing the attention of NHS staff to the free availability of this resource, that it will lead to more compassionate care being delivered by both current and future healthcare providers and practitioners.

Dr Rosie Stenhouse, who was part of the team that developed the resource, explains why this is so important:

“In this post-Francis era – where the spotlight is going to be increasingly on nurse education, nursing practice, and how we are going to ensure that compassion is right at the heart of our care system – we need to take positive action to make sure that the type of poor-practice that occurred at Mid-Staffordshire Hospital, and elsewhere, never happens again.

“Policy changes can take months, if not years, but the digital stories in this collection are freely available online right now, so anyone working in a care setting, anywhere in the world, can access them.

“They can be used as a group teaching tool within hospitals, or can be listened to at home, and are as relevant to students as they are to those already working in care.

“We know from research that digital storytelling has a real impact on people’s emotions and helps with the development of empathy, so digital media has opened up a whole new range of teaching and learning opportunities for us.

“Previously, we relied on inviting patients into the classroom to talk about their experiences of healthcare and their health issues, but there have always been a number of ethical concerns about asking somebody with dementia to do this.

“So instead, we’ve relied on videos and other recorded material, where carers, and sometimes people with dementia, have talked about their illness-related experiences in response to interviewers’ questions.

“But with the digital stories there were no interviewers asking questions – each story was chosen and developed by the person narrating it, and each one is personal to the storyteller, so this is very different from what we’ve been able to do before.

“The digital stories aren’t designed to replace current teaching, but they do add a new dimension to it. They don’t all have to be listened to at once – they can be used over a range of different teaching sessions – and, because there are seven of them, it really helps get across the diversity of experiences that dementia brings.

“Because they are the stories of real people – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives – who have lives, histories, interests, jobs, and families, they really tap into people’s emotions, and it’s this personal connection that really draws people into the stories when we play them.”

Pip Hardy from the Patient Voices Programme said:

“Patient Voices was initially set up to give a voice to people who are not heard, and to help them tell their stories in such a way that the clinicians, managers and decision-makers listening to them become aware of the effects that the actions and decisions they take have on their patients.

“The use of stories as an educational resource is based on the acknowledgment that behavioural and systemic change often stems from a felt understanding of the implications of decisions, rather than from a purely abstract or theoretical one.

“Stories can be used to communicate visions and needs in a powerful way, as they offer a compelling and practical means of exploring issues and experiences from different perspectives, while promoting reflection and stimulating dialogue and debate.

“Robert Francis QC recently wrote in his report on the Mid Staffs scandal that “It is the individual experiences that lie behind statistics and benchmarks and action plans that really matter”, and it is these “individual experiences” that the Patient Voices digital stories get across.

“In the past year alone, we’ve had over 750,000 hits on our website, with a significant number of stories being downloaded for use in education and quality improvement programmes, and we hope that this number will continue to rise, as healthcare workers and management take action in the wake of the Francis report.”

The resource can be accessed on the homepage of the Abertay University website.


For media enquiries please contact Kirsty Cameron T: 01382 308935 M: 07922041198 E: k.cameron@abertay.ac.uk

Notes to Editors:

  • In addition to the NHS Nursing Directors, information about Dangling Conversations will be sent to research institutions, health ministers, local authorities and health care charities across the UK.
  • The digital stories were created by the staff and service users of the Dundee Alzheimer’s Scotland Resource Centre during a four-day Patient Voices workshop facilitated by The Patient Voices Programme and researchers at the University of Abertay Dundee.
  • The Patient Voices Programme was founded by social entrepreneurs Pip Hardy and Tony Sumner in 2003, and aims to facilitate the telling and the hearing of some of the unwritten and unspoken stories of ordinary people so that those who devise and implement strategy in health and social care, as well as the professionals and clinicians directly involved in care, may carry out their duties in a more informed and compassionate manner.

The Patient Voices digital storytelling methodology is recognised by the National Audit Office (NAO), and others, as providing an excellent way to gather qualitative data about what really matters to patients, carers and service users.

The work Patient Voices has done on stories and storytelling in healthcare is a key element in a new initiative concerned with ‘humanising healthcare’ that involves the NAO, the Appointments Commission, the Royal College of Nursing and others.

Dangling Conversations is just one of over 500 stories on the Patient Voices website, that are told by people of different ages, from different cultures, about different experiences and a wide range of conditions.

The Patient Voices Programme won the British Medical Journal Award for Excellence in Healthcare Education in 2010; received a commendation in the 2007 Creating an Interprofessional Workforce (CIPW) Awards, and won the Dartmouth Hitchcock University Clinical Microsystems Conference Award for Minimizing Unnecessary Switching – Patients, Learners, and Professionals – Fewer Handoffs and the People’s Choice (Paul Batalden) Award in 2004.”

  • Aesthetic knowledge was first identified by Carper – an influential nursing education theorist – in 1978 and is now an established academic concept that is increasingly being used in clinical practice and policy-making.

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Forensic scientists recover fingerprints from foods

Onion fingerprint

Forensic scientists at the University of Abertay Dundee have recovered latent fingerprints from foods – publishing the UK’s first academic paper on this subject.

Only two other studies have ever reported successfully recovering fingerprints from foods, but the research for these took place in India and Slovenia using chemical substances that are not routinely used here in Britain.

Foods are notoriously difficult surfaces to recover prints from, so are often overlooked as items of evidence.

However, by modifying an existing technique that was initially designed to recover fingerprints from the sticky side of adhesive tape, the team at Abertay have shown that this need no longer be the case.

The publication of their research – in the forensic science journal “Science & Justice” – means that others will now be able to replicate their results.

Dennis Gentles, a former crime scene examiner and forensic scientist who has worked at Abertay University for the past ten years, explains why this is so significant:

“Although there are proven techniques to recover fingerprints from many different surfaces these days, there are some surfaces that remain elusive, such as feathers, human skin, and animal skin.

“Foods such as fruits and vegetables used to be in that category, because their surfaces vary so much – not just in their colour and texture, but in their porosity as well. These factors made recovering fingerprints problematic because some techniques, for example, work on porous surfaces while others only work on non-porous surfaces.

“Using the right technique is of the utmost importance because if you use the wrong one, it can damage the print and destroy what could have been a vital piece of evidence.

“The fact that we’ve managed to successfully recover prints from such difficult surfaces as foods is another step forward in the fight against crime. It may not seem like much, but a piece of fruit might just be the only surface that has been handled in a crime scene so developing a trusted and tested technique to recover fingerprints from such surfaces is something to be valued by crime scene examiners.”

Because of the differences between the substances available in the UK and those used in the other studies, the team at Abertay began by testing a selection of the techniques currently recommended by the Home Office for recovering fingerprints.

Disappointingly, their results showed that few of these techniques – when applied to foods including apples, tomatoes, onions and potatoes – produced a print of high enough quality for it to be presented as evidence in court.

However, when they modified a substance known as Powder Suspension (PS) – a thick, tar-like substance – they found it produced a clear, high-quality mark on the smooth-surfaced food items such as the onions, apples and tomatoes.

Dennis Gentles continues:

“There are about 15 techniques that are currently recommended by the Home Office for recovering prints – from a variety of surfaces – and research teams are constantly refining them and developing new ones so that the police can get as much evidence of as high a quality as possible to help with an investigation.

“Although Powder Suspension was initially developed to recover prints from the sticky side of adhesive tape, it’s since been found to work on other surfaces, so we wondered whether it would work on foods, as this was something it hadn’t been tested on before.

“The smooth surface of an apple is very different from that of sticky tape though, so such a thick substance wasn’t going to produce the same results on such a different surface. So we tried altering the formulation a bit, making it more dilute than that suggested by the Home Office, and found that it out-performed all the other methods we tested.

“Although there’s still a considerable amount of research to do before we can recommend techniques for all types of foods, we’ve shown for the first time that it really is possible to recover fingerprints from them – something that was previously thought to be unachievable. This means the police will now be able to gather even more evidence to present in court, adding more weight to their investigations.”

The University is currently offering an exciting artist-in-residency opportunity within its forensic science department, as part of the inaugural Print Festival Scotland which will run alongside the renowned Impact 8 International Printmaking Conference in Dundee this September. Further information about the residency and the two events can be found here and here.


Notes to Editors:

  • This study – entitled “A preliminary investigation into the acquisition of fingerprints on foods” – was published in the forensic science journal “Science & Justice”.
  • “Science & Justice” is the peer-reviewed academic journal published by The Forensic Science Society.
  • Three fruits (apple, banana and tomato), three vegetables (onion, potato and pepper) and one egg were tested in this study.
  • Bananas and onions (smooth-surfaced foods) were the most successful surfaces to recover prints from, while potatoes (rough-surfaced) and eggs (porous) were the least.
  • The study involved using “loaded” fingerprints, where print donors were asked to rub their forehead and nose to ensure that a strong latent print would be left on the surface of the foods that were being tested. Future studies will examine whether the same results can be achieved using “unloaded” prints.
  • The authors of the paper are: Sarah Ferguson, Lynsey Nicholson, Kevin Farrugia, David Bremner and Dennis Gentles. The research was based on work carried out by Sarah and Lynsey while they were students at Abertay. Dennis Gentles was the supervisor of both projects, and the paper was published after further work was encouraged by the UK Home Office.

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Forensic fingerprint recovery techniques to be turned into art for Scotland’s inaugural print festival

Fingerprint from fabric - Joanna Fraser

As part of the inaugural Print Festival Scotland, the University of Abertay Dundee and the art collective Yuck ‘n Yum are teaming up to offer an artist-in-residency opportunity within the university’s ground-breaking forensic science department.

Working in collaboration with forensic scientist Dr Kevin Farrugia, the selected artist will get to spend up to four days in Abertay’s forensics labs, exploring the ways print visualisation techniques can be manipulated to recover finger- and shoeprints from crime scenes.

Proposals for the residency are welcomed from artists the world over, and there are no limitations as to what form the proposal should take: artists may already be involved in a print-based discipline, but could, equally, specialise in anything from sound installations to technology-driven art.

At the end of the residency, the artist will have the opportunity to exhibit their finished artwork at the inaugural Print Festival Scotland, which will run alongside the acclaimed Impact 8 International Printmaking Conference in Dundee this autumn.

The selection panel for the residency will consist of Clare Brennan and Dr Kevin Farrugia from Abertay University, Morgan Cahn and Alex Tobin from Yuck ‘n Yum, and the renowned print artist Dr Paul Harrison.

Speaking about what they are looking for and what this artist-in-residency opportunity has to offer those who submit a proposal, Clare Brennan, Curator of Abertay’s Hannah Maclure Centre, said:

“We’re looking for everyone and anyone with an artist’s practice to apply, and we’d like people to think as broadly as they can about this opportunity – they could propose anything from a series of prints or paintings, to something more immersive like a performance or sound installation.

“The artwork created during this residency – whatever it turns out to be – will be displayed and distributed within the context of the inaugural Print Festival Scotland, as well as shared with over 300 delegates who are coming to the Impact 8 conference, so it’ll be a great platform for an artist to showcase the work they do to a wide and varied audience.”

Dr Kevin Farrugia, whose work inspired this residency, explains why he got involved:

“My job involves developing techniques that enable us to visualise the prints people leave behind them, and I just thought there seemed to be a lot of overlap between the festival and the work that I do.

“People leave prints everywhere they go but often don’t realise they do this, because the prints aren’t always visible to the naked eye.

“We mostly use chemicals to enhance the prints, but there are specialised types of lighting and specialised photography we can use as well, so there’ll be a lot for the artist who comes over in June to learn about and experiment with.

“I only really look at the prints from a scientific perspective, so an artist will have a different take on the whole process, and it’ll be interesting to see what they come up with – not just for me, I hope, but for the people who come to Dundee for the Impact conference and for the print festival as well.”

The selected artist will have full use of the DCA (Dundee Contemporary Arts) Print Studio to develop ideas inspired by their time in the lab.

The Print Studio has some of the best printmaking facilities in Scotland, from the traditional printing presses right up to the latest digital and electronic forms.

There is a strong printmaking heritage in Dundee: the publishing company DC Thomson has been printing newspapers and magazines in the city for over 100 years – and it is from the printing industry that the techniques print artists use originate.

Over the centuries, as new inventions and developments were made in the printing industry, artists adopted and experimented with these techniques to make works of art.

Screenprinting, for example – made famous by Andy Warhol’s pop art prints – was initially used for printing cartons and boxes.

Etching – used to decorate guns, armour, cups and plates – was adopted by artists such as Rembrandt, Goya and Castiglione.

Woodblock printing, used by artists such as Edvard Munch, was originally used for printing letters in books and newspapers.

And lithography, which was used by Toulouse-Lautrec for his iconic posters of Parisian life, was also originally used as a method of commercial printing.

Artist and member of the selection panel, Dr Paul Harrison, talks about printmaking in Scotland:

“Scotland has a wonderful tradition in print – as is highlighted in the early development of the network of public print workshops, for example – and Dundee has benefited from it’s outstanding public print facility at the DCA which attracts artists from across the country.

“Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design is internationally recognised in the art world, with printmaking being an integral facet of it’s continued success. Current research in print practices is at the leading edge, building upon Dundee’s history and tradition whilst pushing the boundaries of innovation and new technologies – synthesising the historical with the contemporary.

“The hosting of the Impact 8 International Printmaking Conference in Dundee is recognition of the work that is taking place here, and this residency has a great deal, both culturally and professionally, to offer any interested artists.”

Morgan Cahn, from Yuck ‘n Yum, added:

“The Impact 8 conference coming to Dundee is a huge coup for the city, and is a testament to the quality of research and work being developed here.

“The theme of this year’s Impact conference is exploration, which fits really well with this residency– the artist is an explorer within these new forensic science techniques.

“The festival’s themes of exploration and interdisciplinary collaboration fit well with Dundee’s moniker as the ‘City of Discovery’. They highlight the city’s rich history of advancement in both printmaking, and science.

“We’re really excited to be able to offer this residency when so much creativity and innovation is happening in Dundee – I can’t wait to see what people will come up with.”

Submissions for this residency are now open. The deadline for submissions to reach the selection panel is April 19, 2013. The residency itself will take place the week beginning June 17.

Full guidelines and submission details are available here.


Notes to Editors:

  • The Hannah Maclure Centre is Abertay University’s exhibition space and art gallery. It works with contemporary and interdisciplinary cultural producers and artists from around the world, supports teaching activity, and develops opportunities with staff and students.
  • Yuck ‘n Yum has been sponsored by the Hannah Maclure Centre for the past few years and is making waves in the arts world. The black and white zine Yuck ‘n Yum produce comes out every quarter, and is distributed across the UK as well as, more recently, in Europe. They have a huge network of artists who have contributed work to the zine and participated in their many public art projects.
  • The IMPACT 8 International Printmaking Conference is an international forum for print artists and artisans, academics and educators, theorists and critics, curators and collectors, and suppliers of printmaking materials and presses.
  • Now in its 14th year, it is being organised in Dundee by Dr Paul Harrison and Professor Elaine Shemilt from the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. The conference is held every two years. In 2011 it took place in Melbourne, Australia, and in 2015 it is expected to be held in China.
  • The theme of this years conference is ‘Borders and Crossings: the artist as explorer’ and is intended to celebrate the practice, concept and application of print and printmaking in its widest possible constituency.
  • It is a celebration of the cross-disciplinary nature of print and fits well with Abertay’s own interdisciplinary approach: the Hannah Maclure Centre is part of Abertay’s Institute of Arts, Media and Computer Games, and the Division of Environment and Forensic Sciences where Dr Farrugia works is part of the School of Contemporary Sciences.
  • The inaugural Print Festival Scotland will take place alongside Impact 8, which runs from August 28 – September 1.
  • Events connected with the print festival will be taking place across Scotland. In Dundee, all the major arts organisations are taking part including Dundee University, The McManus, the V&A @ Dundee, and the DCA.

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Mystery First World War nurse’s suitcase discovered at Abertay University

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Nursing staff at the University of Abertay Dundee are appealing for more information about the owner of a mystery suitcase.

It was discovered at the back of a cupboard in the University’s Psychology department, and is filled with nursing memorabilia from the First World War.

Slightly battered after so many years, it appears to have once belonged to a nurse from Paisley called Margaret Maule who looked after badly wounded German soldiers at the Dartford War Hospital in Kent.

She also cared for wounded British soldiers at the Shakespeare Hospital in Glasgow, and later did her training to qualify as a Queen’s Nurse in Greenock.

However, why the suitcase has turned up at Abertay, nobody knows.

Robin Ion, Head of Abertay’s Nursing and Counselling Division, was intrigued by the discovery and is keen to hear from anyone who can shed more light on who Nurse Maule was:

“The contents of this suitcase are absolutely fascinating, but we know very little about the person who owned it. There’s no record of her ever having been to Abertay, so how it came to be in our possession is a complete mystery.

“All we know about her is what we’ve been able to piece together from the things we found in her suitcase. It contains documents dating back to 1914, including her diary and an article she wrote for a newspaper called The People’s Journal.

“There’s also an autograph book filled with detailed sketches drawn for her by her patients by way of thanks for the care she gave them, and a number of faded photographs of her and her fellow nurses dressed in their pristine white uniforms.”

From her diary it is clear that Nurse Maule initially had misgivings about having to care for German prisoners of war. However, she was able to overcome these feelings and provide a very high level of care for her patients, something Robin Ion feels made her an exemplary nurse:

“When she graduated as a nurse at the age of 30 in 1917, after three years of training in Glasgow, she became part of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) and signed up instantly to be sent overseas.

“From the documents in the suitcase, we know that her brother had been killed in action, and that she was desperate to do her bit for the war effort. So it came as a shock when she learnt she was to be sent to Dartford to care for prisoners of war.

“However, the fact that she managed to carry out her duties in spite of her misgivings, and that she did so in such a way that her patients went to the trouble of crafting gifts for her to show their appreciation, indicates that she was one of the best.

“Nursing has always been about showing compassion – without prejudice – and Nurse Maule showed an enormous depth of feeling to her patients under very difficult circumstances.

“If anyone knew Nurse Maule, or has any information about where the suitcase might have come from, I’d be very keen to hear from them – she’s a fantastic example of what nursing is all about and it would be wonderful if any of her relations alive today could tell us more about her.”

If anyone has any information they would like to share with Abertay about Nurse Maule, please send an email to communications@abertay.ac.uk


Notes to Editor:

1. Abertay University has been teaching nursing since the mid 1970s and is set to create a centre of excellence in mental health nursing over the coming years.

2. Very little is known about nursing during the First World War, and there are few published sources of information. However, it is an active area of research, and two books dedicated to the subject have recently been published:

  • “Containing Trauma: Nursing Work in the First World War” by Christine Hallett (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2009)
  • “Its A Long Way to Tipperary: British and Irish Nurses in the Great War” by Yvonne McEwen (Dunfermline, Cualann Press, 2006)

There is also an invaluable website dedicated to sharing information about British military nursing from 1880 onwards, run by Sue Light: www.scarletfinders.co.uk

The little that is known about nursing during that period has been put together from gathering information about the lives of individual nurses, so Nurse Maule’s suitcase and its contents are an important historical record.

3. The following information is known about the history of military nursing:

  • Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service (QAIMNS) was formed in 1902, replacing the Army Nursing Service (ANS) which was formed in the 1850s as a result of the Crimean War where there were a large number of casualties who needed expert care.
  • The ANS was originally made up of only six nurses, but by 1898 there were 72.
  • However, during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) it was difficult to train and maintain a large military nursing service, so a major reorganisation and expansion of military nursing took place, and the QAIMNS was established.
  • According to scarletfinders.co.uk, “members of the QAIMNS were all over the age of 25 (or just possibly widowed), educated, of impeccable social standing, and had completed a three year course of nurse training in a hospital approved by the War Office.”
  • Nursing, therefore, was still a relatively new profession, and the QAIMNS was the first “official” nursing service in the UK.
  • Although the recognised training for civilian nurses at this time was also three years training in a hospital with a recognised training school, there was no actual register for civilian nurses, so a lot of women practiced as ‘nurses’ in the community without actually having official training. In addition, one of the most prestigious schools, The London Hospital, only had a two year training course.
  • However, all of these issues were resolved when nurses got their own professional register in December 1919, largely thanks to the exemplary work of the QAIMNS during the Great War. All nurses (military and civilian) from that point onwards had to have the full three years training and enter their names onto the register.

4. It is possible to search for information about trained nurses on The National Archives website – where official documents are stored – using the series code WO399. Enter the nurse’s surname into the “Word or phrase” box, then enter “WO399” into the “Department or Series code” box. Click on “Search”, and any records held will be listed for you.

Nurse Maule’s record contains 24 pages and, together with the information in the suitcase, tells us the following about her:

  • She was born in Paisley and lived at 5 McKerrell Street, went to the East Public School in Paisley and trained as a nurse at Merryflatts Hospital – now the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow – from 1914 to 1917.
  • She then became a member of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service and was sent to care for seriously injured prisoners of war at the Dartford War Hospital in Kent. She began her duties there as a Staff Nurse on September 25, 1917.
  • When the war ended she resigned from her post in Dartford and went to work in a hospital in Glasgow known as the Shakespeare Hospital. This was once the Shakespeare Street School in Maryhill, which was turned into a hospital during the First World War when more beds were needed to treat wounded service personnel. She began working there on August 1, 1919.

5. The autograph book found inside Nurse Maule’s suitcase was signed by German prisoners of war. According to the Imperial War Museum, they hold a considerable number of similar autograph books within their collection, but those containing entries made by German POWs are quite unusual. However, they are not looking to acquire any further samples.

6. As well as the autograph book, diary and newspaper article, the suitcase contains a signed photograph of Queen Mary – who came to visit the Dartford War Hospital – Nurse Maule’s qualification certificates, letters, and one of the gifts the prisoners of war made for her, that she mentions in the newspaper article.

7. After the war, Nurse Maule went on to train as a Queen’s Nurse at the Greenock District Nursing Association from 18th November 1919 to 17th May 1920.

8. She retired in 1969. A letter of appreciation for her service from the Ministry of Defence was sent to her at her home at number 46 Dunchurch Road, Oldhall, Paisley.

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Shoeprints recovered from crime scene clothing in forensic science first

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A set of revolutionary new techniques that make it possible to recover invisible prints left on fabric by the sole of a person’s shoe, have been developed by scientists at the University of Abertay Dundee.

Last year, researchers at the University made the headlines when they recovered latent (or invisible) fingerprints from fabrics.

The recovery of latent footwear marks, however, had been something of a pipedream – until now.

By adapting and modifying existing print visualisation techniques, Dr Kevin Farrugia has developed the world’s first detailed images of latent footwear marks left on fabrics.

The information these provide will enable police to identify perpetrators of serious crimes in cases where, for example, no fingerprints or DNA can be recovered from the scene.

Dr Farrugia explains:

“Footwear marks can be made in many contaminants, for instance blood, mud, urine and dust. They can be left on all sorts of different fabrics, like cotton or denim, as well as on patterned and dark material, which makes them more difficult to see.

“They might be left on the body of a murder victim if the perpetrator kicked or stamped on them during an attack, or they might be made by traces of blood that the perpetrator picked up on their shoes and left on the carpet, or other types of flooring, before leaving the victim’s house.

“When someone steps in wet blood though, the first few prints they leave will be a wet smudge, so no fine detail from the footwear sole can be recovered.

“However, as the marks fade and becomes less visible, the pattern on the sole of the shoe, by contrast, becomes much clearer and better defined. And it’s these prints – the ones that we can’t actually see – that are the most useful at a crime scene, especially when it isn’t possible to recover other types of evidence such as fingerprints and DNA, because they can tell you things like what size, and even what brand, of shoe the perpetrator was wearing when they committed the crime.

“More importantly, because everyone walks differently, the sole of their shoes will have acquired what we call random and individual characteristics that are specific to that shoe and person, which means, when the police have got a suspect, they can get their shoes, and if the shoes match, it can lead to a conviction.”

Over the years, previous attempts to recover footwear marks from fabrics had generally obliterated, rather enhanced, the image, because the right mix of the right types of chemicals had never been formulated.

No one thought it would ever be possible to recover shoeprints from fabrics, and it was not an active area of research until funding from the Home Office, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the University of Strathclyde became available.

Dr Farrugia’s new techniques bring the print to the fore without damaging it, and produce a clear and highly detailed image, for the very first time.

They work on fresh prints, as well as older ones, and could potentially be used to help solve cold cases as well as new and current ones.

Dr Farrugia’s research was carried out at the University of Strathclyde, under the supervision of Professor Niamh Nic Daéid, where he was awarded his PhD.

Since joining Abertay, Dr Farrugia has written a set of guidelines that explain which technique should be used for which contaminant, on which type of material.

These have been published as a series of papers in the mainstream forensic science journal Forensic Science International and the UK Forensic Science Society’s journal Science and Justice.


Notes to Editors:

This summer, Dr Farrugia was invited by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to speak about the techniques he has developed at a special impression pattern evidence symposium in Florida. At this symposium experts from all over the world met and discussed the latest research in the recovery and enhancement of impression evidence.

He also recently spoke at The International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts (IABPA) conference at the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh, which was organised by The Scottish Police Services Authority (SPSA) Forensic Services division.

His research was funded by the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology (formerly the Home Office Scientific Development Branch), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the University of Strathclyde.

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Child abuse victims ‘at risk’ following changes to official guidance, says Abertay expert

In a new article published in the Scots Law Times, researchers at the University of Abertay Dundee point out that aspects of the newly published guidance on how best to interview victims of child abuse will make it harder for one of society’s most vulnerable groups to get justice.

Lead author of the paper Dr David La Rooy – an expert in child forensic interviewing – says that vital components of the internationally recognised best-practice protocol in how to conduct child interviews are not included in the most recent Scottish Government (2011) guidelines.

This, he asserts, is putting children at serious risk of having their evidence contested and their credibility questioned, which can lead to them missing out on getting justice.

The previous (2003) guidelines made very clear that any interview involving children must follow a clear structure, as shown by scientific research.

For example, the ‘ground rules’ should be laid out at the beginning of the interview to explain to the child that they can correct the interviewer if they do not understand something, that it is OK for them to say that they do not know the answer to a question if they really do not know, and that they should not guess.

The ‘ground rules’ should be followed by a ‘practice interview’.

In the new guidelines, however, both the use of the ‘ground rules’ and the emphasis on the importance of using a structured approach are called into question – something which is of grave concern to Dr La Rooy.

He says:

“There is an international consensus, based on over 20 years of scientific research, that interviewing victims of child abuse using a structured approach is the best way to find out what, if anything, happened.

“This research supports the use of the NICHD (National Institutes for Child Health and Human Development) Protocol, which has been tested in many studies, is used throughout the world, and is referred to throughout the scientific literature.

“It is well documented that the NICHD Protocol increases the use of ‘open-ended prompts’ from the interviewer, and that these kinds of questions enable the child to access what we call their ‘free-recall memory’ – which is where the most accurate information about events that really happened to them comes from.

“Using open-ended prompts also reduces the number of misleading or suggestive questions that are asked, which makes the evidence much more robust when it is presented in court. So it is important to use a scientifically tested procedure such as the NICHD Protocol.

“To emphasise the importance of using this structured approach to interviewing, the previous 2003 guidelines included an example protocol of how the interview should be conducted.

“However, this Protocol has been removed from the latest guidelines which is a retreat from best-practice: despite being hailed internationally as the ‘gold standard’ approach to interviewing children, experts who drafted the new Scottish Government guidelines do not recommend the evidence based approach.

“The names of the authors of these new guidelines were not provided, they remain anonymous and, from a scientific perspective, that is unusual. Furthermore, the fact that alterations have been made to the guidelines based on questionable evidence is extremely worrying – if people are not trained to interview children properly, the interviews, if used as evidence in court, will be ‘pulled apart’ and the child’s case could suffer. This means that victims of child abuse will be potentially denied justice.”

In the new paper, published in the latest edition of the Scots Law Times, Dr La Rooy raises these concerns and reports the findings of two new preliminary studies he has conducted that show why these changes are so detrimental for children in Scotland.

The first of these analyses the quality of investigative interviews that were conducted in Scotland between 2003 and 2011 – the period during which the previous 2003 guidelines were used to train police, social workers and others who need to interview children.

Dr La Rooy found that, even with the more stringent guidelines in place, very few of the interviews examined, which were referred to him by lawyers seeking expert evaluations, were of high enough quality to avoid legal challenge.

This was because the correct procedures had not been followed and, had the interviewers not previously received the training that advocated using the structured approach, or seen the example of the protocol that they should follow (which was included in the 2003 guidelines they were trained from), it is likely that the quality of the interviews would have been even poorer.

For example, even with training based on these guidelines, only a fifth of interviewers let the child know that they were allowed to answer with “I don’t know” (an important ground rule), 36 per cent of questions were option-posing or questions that required a yes or no answer, and 17 per cent of questions were suggestive.

Had the previous guidelines not emphasised the importance of laying out the ‘ground rules’ at the beginning of the interview and the importance of using a structured approach to ensure open-ended prompts were used, rather than suggestive questions, these figures would have been much higher.

These findings are consistent with numerous other studies conducted both in the UK and worldwide, which show that, despite initial training, interviewers find it hard to comply with professional recommendations if they do not receive ongoing support and feedback – and when they are not trained using scientifically tested procedures.

The second study looked at whether the quality of interviewing improved if interviewers were able to use the sample protocol provided in the Appendix of the 2003 guidelines.

The preliminary research conducted here in Scotland shows that there was a marked difference in the types of questions asked when they were able to do this: the number of open-ended prompts they provided rose to 29 per cent, which is in line with international best practice, and the number of suggestive questions dropped to a mere two per cent.

Dr La Rooy explains:

“The quality of child interviews can make or break a case, so it is of the utmost importance that police and social workers are trained to the highest possible standard and that an evidence based approach is used.

“The research that I’ve presented in this paper shows what a positive difference using a structured interview approach can make: the use of open-ended prompts increased significantly and the number of suggestive questions asked, were reduced to just two per cent.

“So the decision to remove such important aspects of the 2003 guidelines is not supported by recent developments in the scientific field.

“If we want justice for our children, it is imperative that this decision is rethought so that police, social workers and anyone else who may be called upon to conduct an investigative interview with a child is able to do so in the most effective, and most supportive, way possible, and that scientifically validated procedures are followed .

The paper concludes by recommending that the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Protocol, is used in Scotland, as it is elsewhere in the world, for joint investigative interviewer training.

It also recommends that those who receive training continue to be evaluated and supported to ensure they are able to obtain the most reliable and robust evidence that will stand up in court and ensure victims of abuse get justice.


Notes to Editors:

Dr La Rooy’s study is published in the current edition of the Scots Law Times and is entitled “Joint Investigative Interviews with Children in Scotland”.

The new guidelines entitled “Guidance on Joint Investigative Interviewing of Child Witnesses in Scotland” were published in December 2011. The author/s of these guidelines is/are unknown. Dr La Rooy has asked for their names to be disclosed.

They replace the previous guidance that was issued in 2003 entitled “Guidance on Interviewing Child Witnesses and Victims in Scotland”.

The NICHD Protocol is used in parts of the USA, Canada and Israel, is taught or built into formal guidelines in Sweden, Norway, England, Wales and Finland, and is currently being implemented in Korea, Japan and Portugal. It has been scientifically proven to be the best way to get the most reliable and accurate information from children, and contains the example protocol referred to in this press release which lays out the structure the interview should take in a step-by-step guide.

Key aspects of a structured interview:

1. The ground rules should be laid out at the beginning of the interview. This is because they make clear to the child that:

a) it is important to tell the truth

b) they can ask the interviewer to explain something at any point if they do not understand

c) they should not feel pressured to answer questions if they do not know the answers; it is ok for them to say “I don’t know”

2. A practice interview should then take place. This gives the child the chance to:

a) practise remembering specific events

b) focus on actual details rather than gist

c) practise replying to ‘open-ended prompts’

d) maintain and build rapport with the interviewer

e) experience success providing information

f) feel in control and that they should be doing most of the talking.

The practice interview is also important practice for the interviewers, because it allows them to:

a) motivate the child to provide full descriptions and disclose what really happened

b) practise using ‘open-ended prompts’ which reduce the use of suggestive or misleading questions that enable the defence to pull the evidence apart in court

c) better understand the cognitive abilities and communicative style of the child they are talking to.

Training also includes making sure that children are given open-ended prompts rather than an option, or questions that require a yes or no answer. This is because options or yes/no questions focus the child’s attention on details that he or she has not previously mentioned. This means the child will start to use his/her recognition memory, rather than his/her free-recall memory which is where information about actual events that took place comes from.

The use of ‘suggestive questions’ is discouraged because these kinds of questions are stated in a way that strongly communicates to the child what kind of response he/she is expected to give. Or they assume details that have not already been provided by the child.

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Get fit post-Olympics in just 60 seconds, say researchers at the University of Abertay Dundee

A new paper published this month by researchers at the University of Abertay Dundee suggests that anyone inspired to get fit by the Olympics and Paralympics can do so in just 60 seconds.

Using a sequence of six-second sprints, one of the shortest sprint durations ever used in high-intensity training (HIT), researchers found that fitness levels of participants in the study increased by more than 10 per cent after only two weeks.

HIT involves short bursts of intense exercise and achieves similar results to long-distance endurance training. However, it is much less time consuming and comes with a lower risk of injury, making it ideal for elite athletes like Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis, who strive to remain injury free.

For this study, researchers tested the effectiveness of extremely short high-intensity sprints on “sub-elite” triathletes rather than professional sports people, but say they could just as easily have recruited people who play rugby or football on a regular basis instead, and that they would have seen the same improvements in fitness.

At the beginning of the study, all participants were asked to complete a self-paced 10km cycled time trial as quickly as they could. They were then divided into two groups: the first was to undergo three sessions of HIT a week, for two-weeks, while the second acted as a control group.

For the HIT group, each of the six sessions consisted of cycling all out for six-seconds, resting for one minute, and then repeating the sprint a total of ten times.   This amounted to just 60 seconds of exercise per session, with three sessions being completed each week.

At the end of the fortnight, subjects from both groups were again asked to complete the time trial, and all those who had done the HIT programme finished 10 per cent faster than they had the time before.

Lead author of the study, Dr John Babraj from Abertay University’s School of Social and Health Sciences, says that one of the reasons for the dramatic improvement in fitness levels in such a short space of time was down to the effects the six-second sprints have on the body’s ability to use a substance called lactate. He explains:

“During the Olympics you’ll probably have heard some of the athletes in post race interviews talking about the lactic acid that’s built up in their legs, which they say causes them pain and slows them down. Lots of people in sport talk about lactic acid affecting them in this way, but what they’re actually referring to is a substance called lactate which appears in the bloodstream during exercise.

“However, far from causing pain, lactate is actually a useful fuel that the body makes during exercise to enable it to perform at a higher level for longer.

“At the end of a race, the blood is often saturated with lactate because the body can’t use it up quickly enough, but it is just a coincidence that this occurs at the same time as an athlete starts to seize up and slow down.

“In this study, we looked at the time it took for lactate to build up in the blood and found that it occurred more slowly after doing 60 seconds of short sprints.

“This suggests that the short sprints make it possible for the body to use the lactate more efficiently, and means that people who do this kind of HIT will be able to perform better in their chosen sport.

“But the results of this study aren’t just relevant for people already taking part in sport. Anyone who’s been inspired by the Olympics to get fit and be more active, but perhaps thinks it’ll involve spending hours in the gym pounding the treadmill, could do 60 seconds of exercise three times a week and be much fitter and healthier in only a fortnight.”


Notes to Editor:

The study, entitled “Extremely short duration high-intensity training substantially improves endurance performance in triathletes” is published in the October edition of “Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism”.

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