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‘A Body in the River’ – PAL Meeting at Woodford


A large audience of members, primarily PALs (Public Affairs Liaisons) heard Professor Carolyn Roberts, an expert in environmental sustainability and water resource management, give an absorbing talk about her forensic work for the police.   Not too gruesome and at times very amusing, her talk covered building models to identify most likely scenarios using scientific methodology to help the police find missing people, solve murders and provide evidence to court.

Her work might be theoretical, involving mathematical calculations of speed of water flow, of distance, of body weight, of associated pollens and insects.  Or she might design experiments using model heads or dummies.  Or most commonly, she will use both methodologies.  Professor Roberts likened her work to solving puzzles, to trying to establish a coherent story that works from bits and pieces of information.

There may be a missing person, in which case she will attempt to identify where they might have entered the water, river or canal, from last sightings, or where the body might be found (grounded) as in the cold case of a child from a UK army base in Germany.  Or a body may have been found, in which case she will try to establish where and how it entered the water, how far it travelled and intrinsic to this, how long a body has been in the water from, for example, the level of decay.

Either way, the end result is to see if a person died by accident, by falling in the water maybe when drunk or was murdered, was, for example, pushed.  Then there are pretty obvious murders, for example the unfortunate individual in the Midlands who was delivered to a canal in pieces in a couple of suitcases.   Once the most likely point of entry of the suitcases had been identified, the perpetrators were seen on CCTV on the canal walking in the dark in one direction with suitcases and in the other direction without.

And there were also lots of laughs, mostly involving the contradictory and incriminating evidence provided by defendants in court accompanied by the caustic and penetrating questioning of barristers.  There were also the unfortunate matelots with their G & T’s who, in a small motor boat, sailed unwittingly into an off-limits part of the river where an experiment was being conducted, and responded to the police who bellowed at them how far have you come, meaning distance, replied in some terror, Stratford-on-Avon.





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