The forensic photographer,
who heads the ‘trail-blazing’ Scientific Support Department of the
Derbyshire Constabulary, is one of three senior non-service appointees whose
exceptional skills are appreciated by the Chief Constable and his team.
Consulted by Police Forces world-wide, Roger Summers has many other skills.
Talking to John Chillingworth he revealed just how much, in criminal
investigation, the police service value scientific support. The task of
Scientific Support is to help prove every case beyond reasonable doubt.
As TV’s Detective Inspector Morse raises an eyebrow, steps over yet another
body and retires to the pub, shadowy figures appear, cameras, powder and
gadgetry in hand to provide confirmation of his brilliant deductions.
The ‘real-life’ story, in which forensic photography and associated
disciplines ‘star’, is very different. Writ large, every day of the year,
are the meticulously detailed findings of the support staff serving the
Police, at County level, throughout the country. First in the field
Derbyshire’s SSD has acquired an outstanding reputation for its
Scientific Support covers many more skills than forensic photography. It
operates alongside forensic science, fingerprint detection, the chemical
development laboratory, the TV unit and technical support. It may not be
surprising, then, to find Roger Summers has seventy staff.
A former President of the BIPP, he is one of the country’s leading
practitioners whose skills are practised for the Police Service. Being a
world renowned expert on forensic odontology, (the study and comparison of
teeth patterns) he is called upon for assistance by other police forces in
the UK, as well as in the US, Canada, France and Germany.
To demonstrate the value placed upon scientific support, along with the
Directors of Administration and Finance at Constabulary Headquarters, Roger
Summers’ post is equivalent to that of Detective Chief Superintendent.
Training to a high standard
Photography is an important element in the intensive training courses
for Scientific Support staff, run by the Police National Training Centre for
Scientific Support, Durham.
A student arriving there for training will have met City and Guilds
educational requirements, or hold a BIPP professional qualification. He or
she will also have demonstrated particularly stable personalities, having
been aptitude tested, a routine that includes a specially formulated
In their time on the course, students must further prove they have the
application and proficiency for the scientific support role. The training
covers a much broader canvas than forensic photography, it includes
photography for training aids, portraiture, scene of crime and criminal
damage. In addition, forensic science, fingerprint detection, study in the
chemical development laboratory, technical support and the TV unit all
contribute to future support staff skills.
It being a comprehensive training for a demanding and responsible post,
ancillary requirements embrace the correct and successful presentation of
evidence in Court; a skill that tests the stability and level-headedness of
When the training course is successfully completed the parent Police Force
has the assurance that the trainees can competently handle a wide range of
photographic and scientific support tasks. Using their newly honed
techniques, they will be ready to provide evidence extracted from glass,
paint, blood, footprints and instruments.
Forensic photography - the silent witness
The Law of Disclosure means that the scientific support photographs,
slides and negatives, the silent witnesses, have to be meticulously handled,
stored and filed. They could, of course, be called upon at any time in a
Court of Law.
Employing advances in photographic technology far removed from image
manipulation and computerised enhancement, the forensic photographer will be
found producing images that a ‘villain’ would have great difficulty in
For example, fingerprint evidence is routine today, but it dates from beyond
the dawn of photography. The unique nature of fingerprints was first
established as early as 1684. Until Fox-Talbot and his contemporaries came
on the scene, the forerunners of today’s police service had no way of
utilising their uniqueness. Nevertheless, for more than 100 years,
photography of fingerprints has been an aid to the successful prosecution of
suspects. The recent introduction of DNA testing, also used by forensic
scientists, has a similar role to play in establishing the truth.
Older theories, like the 19th century idea that Jack the Ripper might be
identified by photographing the last image registered on the cornea of the
victim’s eyes, proved to be less successful in its time.
Nevertheless, despite a ‘bad press’, the British are still a nation of
inventors, so the SSD spends time evaluating new ideas and prototype
equipment. Some would work well in a ‘James Bond’ movie. Others may find
their way into police service after a long proving period. However, the SSD
always has to remember the heavy hand of the Courts, ready to challenge
anything that could falsify an image.
The painstaking detail
Nowadays, after a reported crime, the scientific support team start
their work. Picking their way through the scene searching for evidence, one
of the team may be found carefully unwrapping a thin sheet of silver-faced
material. Attaching it by an electrical lead to an anonymous looking
machine, the sheet is laid on what appears to be a perfectly clean carpet,
he stands back.
At the touch of a button, up to 15,000 volts pass through the sheet. On
lifting it, the silver sheet is processed by the machine and a ‘wonder of
science’ reveals the perfect impression of a footprint.
In the field and in the laboratory, photographic and lighting techniques
contribute to the provision of forensic evidence. Robot cameras are used to
examine unsafe structures; a disused mine shaft, for example.
Thermal imaging of the kind used by the Fire Service may be brought into
play. On the Major Crime Vehicles, operated by Scientific Support
Departments, another superb high powered light source would be used by a
graduate chemist with a photographic training, to illuminate otherwise
The Quasar, a laser light source, using an infinite variety of filters can
illuminate the smallest detail of fluorescing evidence, enabling a
photographic record to be made.
Infra-red, too, has an important part to play in examination of charred
remains and ultra-violet illumination detects fluorescent dye on clothing
and other surfaces. When searching for disturbed ground undetectable to the
human eye, the area screams out for investigation when photographed with
false-colour infra-red film.
When a spent bullet and a suspect firearm are found, ballistic comparisons
may be needed. Specialist treatment is called for and the the Scientific
Support staff can call on the expertise of the national Forensic Science
Service. Equipped to make the tests and photographic comparisons, they
produce graphic evidence for the courts.
So, what unfolds in Roger Summers’ word picture of the application of
photography in policing, is technical diversity and dedicated
The challenge for the future
For Roger Summers and his contemporaries, with a major slice of their
constabulary’s budget to administer, the responsibility net is widely
spread. Apart from the contribution photography makes to preparation of
forensic evidence, scientific support has involvement with video cameras
used in unmarked police cars.
Covert surveillance, using both video and still cameras are further skills
the head of Scientific Support finds time to encourage.
Also within his remit are the technically excellent automatic speed cameras,
designed to trap the undisciplined motorist. Their performance is impressive
- the evidence irrefutable; so much so that convictions have even been made
where a number plate was damaged. By enlarging the image, the supplier of
the vehicle was identified and the owner traced.
If you are thinking of moving into the forensic field, start now! You have a
long way to go.
Roger Summers, typical of colleagues attached to other constabularies,
started as a trainee photographer in Mid-Anglia in 1966. He went on to
Scotland Yard to complete his formal training then, because the chief
constable, Sir Walter Stansfield, had established a prototype Scientific
Support Department in Derbyshire, he joined as a founder member in 1972.
Since then, of course, the police service has seen major developments in
forensic detection. “It’s a demanding life,”, Roger Summers says, “but for
anyone with an interest in scientific photography, there’s much professional
satisfaction in helping prove a case beyond reasonable doubt”