Academy launched to help track UK’s criminals

The official opening of the Forensic Science Laboratory in Chorley in 1971
The official opening of the Forensic Science Laboratory in Chorley in 1971

Nailing serial killers like Harold Shipman and Rose West used to be all in a day’s work for forensic scientists in Lancashire.

The crime-busting laboratory in Euxton near Chorley had a reputation as one of the finest in the land before the Government-owned service was closed down and privatised five years ago.

Deputy Chief Constable Andy Rhodes

Deputy Chief Constable Andy Rhodes

Now the county is aiming to be back at the forefront of forensics nationally with an exciting new academy, set up jointly by Lancashire Constabulary and the University of Central Lancashire in Preston.

The pioneering project is meant to aid both police and students through collaboration, helping the county to once more take a lead role in the scientific investigation of crime.

Deputy Chief Constable Andy Rhodes explained: “The Forensic Academy Strategic Alliance is a step towards an exciting future for forensic and crime scene investigation within Lancashire.

“Building upon our current successful relationship with UCLan, we have the opportunity to really focus upon a key area of our business with them. We look forward to enhancing our own capabilities, skills and resources alongside assisting students with their research.

A step towards an exciting future for forensic and crime scene investigation

“The work is one of the first of its kind in the UK and promises to deliver true innovation and potential growth through collaboration. It will ultimately help us to be at the cutting edge of forensic science and enable us to better protect the people of Lancashire.”

The county’s Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw has given his backing to the partnership, which will build on the close ties the force already has with the university through degree courses on criminology, policing and forensic science.

A joint statement announcing the alliance said the aim was to provide opportunities in forensic-related studies to research projects, develop techniques in forensic and criminal investigations and improve employability prospects for students within Lancashire.

“The agreement will give practical experience, skills and professional accreditation to those wishing to pursue a career in policing and the field of forensic science,” it said.

Dr Harold Shipman

Dr Harold Shipman

“As part of the alliance, Lancashire Police is looking at improving its own capabilities, skills and resources to help students with their studies.”

The reputation of Lancashire as a major centre for forensic investigation goes back 45 years to the opening of the regional laboratory in Chorley in 1971.

In its heyday the lab supplied specialist forensic services to police forces across the country. And it played a key role in solving numerous high-profile crimes like those committed by Hyde GP Dr Shipman, dubbed the “Angel of Death,” who was the most prolific serial killer in history with an estimate 200-plus victims.

Scientists in Euxton also helped with the successful conviction of Rose West, wife of notorious murderer Fred West from Gloucester.

They played a part in nailing Ipswich prostitute killer Stephen Wright and worked on cases like the abduction of schoolgirl Shannon Matthews, the murders of Gary Newlove and Sophie Lancaster and the 7/7 bombings in London.

They also identified Robert Morley as the killer of nine-year-old Imraan Vohra who was found dead in Avenham Park, Preston, in 1985.

But since the Government closed down the national Forensic Science Service because it was said to be losing £2m a month, much of the scientific work is carried out by private laboratories.

A start date for the new forensic academy programmes has yet to be announced. But under the agreement, officers and students are expected to share facilities at both Lancashire Constabulary headquarters in Hutton and the UCLan campus in Preston.

Professor Mike Thomas, vice-chancellor at UCLan, said: “The university has enjoyed a long and productive educational partnership with Lancashire Constabulary, enabling our students to obtain the practical experience, skills and professional accreditation they need to have successful lives and careers in forensic science and policing.

“The proposed Forensic Academy Strategic Alliance will help our partnership to grow even stronger, particularly in the area of joint, real-world research programmes that not only bring about positive social impact within our communities but which also help to inform the future of our teaching curriculum in the areas of forensic science and policing.”

Angela Harrison, director at the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “We already work closely with UCLan and the proposed forensic academy will build on the good work already being done jointly.

“As well as meaning students have the necessary experience and are ready for work when they graduate, this will help us to improve the performance of Lancashire Police through high quality research and embracing the latest technology.”