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UCL Centre for Forensic Science scoops Bronze Lion at Cannes

7 August 2017

UCL CFS Cannes Image We cannot say. This man is innocent.

 The UCL Centre for the Forensic Sciences (UCL CFS) has scooped a Bronze Lion in the Design and Typography category at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity. Their winning campaign, made in collaboration with Ogilvy & Mather London, aims to crowdfund £1m for a world-class forensic evidence research laboratory and expose the surprisingly common yet critical problem of the misinterpretation of forensic science evidence.

The creative work draws parallels with grammatical structures, and how tiny omissions can result in dramatic shifts of meaning. In the context of the courtroom, similar misinterpretations of evidence can, for instance, result in an innocent person spending their life behind bars. The proposed lab’s primary aim will be to remove these ambiguities, through cutting edge research and to challenge how forensic evidence is interpreted. This trend of Disruptive Thinking is one of four key priorities of the UCL It’s All Academic philanthropic fundraising campaign. The Campaign, launched in September 2016, is a major global fundraising effort to enable UCL to realise some of its biggest ambitions and is committed to raising £600 million.

Dr Ruth Morgan, Director of UCL CFS said “It's fantastic that the work created for this project highlighting the vital need for Forensic Science research has gained visibility and won this prestigious award. I'm delighted that taking an unconventional approach by working with Ogilvy has enabled us to reveal this up to now unseen issue to a much wider audience than ever before, and to have it recognised at Cannes is a huge honour.”

“Despite what we see in shows like ‘CSI’ and ‘Silent Witness’, evidence is not enough. I have seen first-hand that misinterpreted forensic evidence can lead to miscarriages of justice. We may find gunshot residue on your hands, but what does that mean?” asks Dr Morgan. “Did you fire a gun recently or has it got there from shaking someone's hand or perhaps holding the handrail on the train?”

Dr Georgina Meakin, a specialist in forensic DNA analysis and Dr Morgan’s colleague at the UCL CFS, frequently encounters this problem in her area of research. “I find the public perception of DNA quite shocking, because people obviously do think, ‘Oh, DNA match – must be guilty’. That’s really not the case at all. Your DNA can end up on an item that you've never touched, or in a room where you’ve never been.”

Despite the real-world implications of forensic progress, the discipline is significantly underfunded. The UCL CFS was established in 2010 – the same year that the coalition government announced the closure of the Forensic Science Service, an invaluable national resource for forensic research and development. Currently there is a severe lack of robust empirical evidence-bases to underpin the effective interpretation of forensic science evidence. Critically, the UCL forensic science research laboratory will be able to do the research that is needed to create these evidence bases that can enable robust interpretations of what forensic evidence means in a specific crime context and provide a transparent and accurate forensic reconstruction. This will be a transformation in how forensic science evidence is used and is critically one that will reduce the chance of forensic evidence being misinterpreted in court.

In the light of a lack of traditional funding opportunities, the UCL CFS has partnered with Crowd.Science, a crowdfunding platform for scientific research to take the first steps towards achieving their £1m target.

UCL CFS Cannes Image Billboard

The multi-channel campaign, which included short films shown in cinemas across the UK, billboards around London and coverage in the national media, was created by global PR agency, Ogilvy & Mather London, who donated their work pro bono to support the crowd funding project. The agency’s Chief Creative Officer, Mick Mahoney, explained that the project became “a labour of love” after he discovered the extent of public misconceptions.

“Forensic science is seen as an advanced and well-funded sector thanks to its glamorization by TV and film. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. The ability to collect the evidence is there but it has outstripped the ability to interpret that evidence, which means forensic evidence used in criminal cases is very rarely robust despite everyone’s best efforts. Hopefully, this campaign will help to change that.”

In May 2017, the fundraising campaign gained the support of The Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust, who have pledged to match-fund all financial and in-kind donations up to the value of £500,000. Dr Ruth Morgan said “It has been really encouraging to have this match funding pledge from the Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust. We are working hard to find partners who can help us leverage that funding and help us create this facility that will change how forensic evidence is interpreted and transform the way forensic science evidence is used in the justice system all over the world.”

UCL is seeking additional partners to help us achieve this ambitious vision to create a dedicated facility that will ensure forensic science has the necessary empirical underpinnings to identify and explain uncertainty, and to enable juries to come to decisions based on a clear representation and understanding of the forensic science evidence. If you would like to find out more or make your own donation, please visit ucl.crowd.science. or get in touch with Dr Ruth Morgan (ruth.morgan@ucl.ac.uk) to discuss how you can contribute.