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Maltese scientist makes forensic breakthrough

Kevin Farrugia during a “stamping trial” to recover footprints.

Kevin Farrugia during a “stamping trial” to recover footprints.

The fight against crime has taken another step forward thanks to a Maltese forensic scientist in Scotland.

Most scientists did not believe that it was possible to recover marks from fabric

Kevin Farrugia, 29, worked with a team at Strathclyde University on a technique to enhance ‘invisible’ or light shoeprints left on clothing and flooring at crime scenes.

Dr Farrugia, of Mosta, recently made international headlines for his findings.

“Shoeprints can provide useful information because everybody walks differently and, as a result, the shoe sole acquires what we call random and individual characteristics,” he explained.

“Although this is less individual when compared with DNA and fingerprints, it can provide useful intelligence and link suspects to crime scenes or connect multiple crime scenes together.”

Footwear marks can be left on the clothing of murder victims, on the carpet or on other types of flooring at a crime scene.

Dr Farrugia made the breakthrough by tweaking existing forensic techniques and applying them to fabrics as part of his PhD research.

Fabric is considered to be a challenging surface for the recovery of marks because the porosity and surface topography are highly variable.

“Most scientists did not believe that it was possible to recover marks from fabric,” Dr Farrugia said. But his findings have changed perceptions.

The technique works on both fresh and old prints and could be used in cold cases.

Asked whether the technique will be adopted by police forces any time soon, Dr Farrugia said: “The forensic science laboratories know about the techniques but they just need to be convinced that it is possible to recover marks from fabric.

“My scientific publications and my PhD thesis give all the details necessary and also indicate which technique to use on which type or colour of fabric.”

Dr Farrugia has presented his findings at an FBI conference in Florida and published his work in the Forensic Science International and Science & Justice journals.

His PhD research was carried out at the Centre of Forensic Science at Strathclyde University in Glasgow under the supervision of Niamh Nic Daéid.

Dr Farrugia is employed as a full-time lecturer and researcher at the University of Abertay in Dundee.

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