Entertainment would not normally be associated with such a serious subject as forensic science, but that is exactly what the 'full house' at the Community Centre was treated to when Mary Newton, a forensic scientist for over 40 years, gave a fascinating talk about her life and experiences in this field as well as her experiences in a few high profile cases.
Mary, posing questions to the audience as she analysed the meaning of forensic science, also passionately discussed its intricacies and its place in this specialised, ever-changing, and challenging world of science. Perfection in the field of forensic science is of the essence as so many factors contributed to not only the conviction or otherwise of an innocent person but the validity of forensic findings had to stand up in court
Using the overhead projector Mary highlighted what DNA was, how the sources of DNA are found, how samples are taken and the emphasis on the importance of the very power of DNA profiling. Mary did mention that while DNA has become an essential tool in the investigations of crime it has, in some cases, in her opinion found not always to provide the substantive evidence needed and has become a shortcut for some forensic scientists,
Body fluid analysis, of course, was highlighted as playing just as an important part in forensic issues.
After excellent refreshments during the interval, provided by the committee, Mary continued to captivate her audience with her down to earth approach, and with the aid of the overhead projector she shared her experiences and interests regarding the case of the notorious murderer Dennis Nilsen, and the forensics issues in relation to the Stephen Lawrence trial. She expressed very strong views regarding both these cases and with Nilsen, a hint of sympathy perhaps crept in when she referred to a book about him called 'Killing for Company'
Forensic evidence in the Jose Russell case was referred to, as was that of a horrific sexual assault on a young woman in Brixton, who managed to survive the ordeal and is the subject of a book called 'It could happen to anyone'
Mary relayed her feelings and reaction when attending an exhumation, tough and as down to earth as she is she found this experience very challenging. However, her humour crept in, particularly when she explained that a double-decker bus had stopped on the other side of the wall where the exhumation was taking place and people on the top deck were peering down on the scene!
Like everything, forensic science is subjected to budgetary constraints and when one considers the total cost of some criminal cases which we were informed can run into millions of pounds, another factor adding to the pressures, stress and frustrations of this discipline of forensic science.
Although now semi-retired, still a stickler for detail, her questioning the validity of some of the forensic content of certain TV detective programmes has resulted in her being 'recruited' as a consultant for such programmes.
Ironically ending her fascinating talk on a subdued note Mary confessed that she personally strongly feels sure that in spite of modern technology and advancement in the forensic field ' they' did get it wrong, in a well known case where a man was incorrectly convicted and is now serving a long prison sentence.
Elaine gave a vote of thanks for such an informative and interesting talk and confided that she was in the process of booking with Mary to give another talk, hopefully next year.
A really enjoyable evening with the audience showing their appreciation in the usual manner.