A pioneering police force is laser scanning crime scenes to build a hyper-realistic virtual world they can continue to investigate long after the real location has been cleaned.
West Midlands Police use cameras that take millions of measurements of a room, accurate to within two millimetres.
A computer then builds a 3D image from the readings and images taken from multiple locations. Sky News was given rare access to the ‘digital forensics’ research team based at Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG).
Professor Mark Williams, who leads the team, says it allows police to examine a scene in detail, while witness statements can also be checked against the visual evidence.
“If a witness claimed they saw a crime we can demonstrate that their view would have been obstructed be a car,” he explained.
“In a very dynamic environment in a public place where cars could be parked, we can capture the scene on the day and go back and visit it again as if it was on the day the crime took place.”
WMG, based at the University of Warwick, is also using high resolution CT scanners, similar to the body scanners used in hospitals but far more powerful.
With a resolution of a millionth of a millimetre, the scans are able to match tissue damage to an individual weapon.
The technology played a crucial part in convicting Lorenzo Simon last year for the murder of his friend Michael Spalding.
Police found Mr Spalding’s body in a suitcase dumped in a canal.
But they became suspicious about the remains of a fire in a barrel in Simon’s back garden.
CT scans showed that what appeared to be a lump of charcoal was in fact part of a bone.
They used a 3D printer to create a precise replica of the bone from the scans, revealing in fine detail the fractures caused by the heat of the fire.
Tellingly, detectives were able to precisely match up a bone fragment from the suitcase to the bone they had printed out, linking the body to Simon’s property.
Detective Inspector Warren Hines leads one of West Midlands Police’s homicide investigation teams and says the technology is a major development.
“The last leap forward like this in investigations of serious crimes, certainly of murder, was analysing DNA,” he said.
“It is as significant a step as that.
“If we can solve one crime that would have gone unsolved, if we can prevent one person being charged who shouldn’t have been, and if we can get one body back sooner to relatives then that’s my job done.”
(c) Sky News 2016: 3D crime scene replica tool ‘as significant as DNA’