UCL Centre for the Forensic Sciences



Developing methods to determine the post mortem submersion interval and drift trajectory of human bodies in UK waterways.

Lack of research: Given that water provides a convenient method of criminal disposal as well as a source of suicide and accidental drowning, it is surprising that only one study has examined the morphological changes and subsequent time since death estimations of cadavers recovered from UK water. This is despite the fact that in the last five years, approximately 1,870 deaths have occurred in various UK waterways, which represents one death each day.

Need for more experimental studies: The lack of research in this field is partly as a result of the wide variety of factors which can affect the rate and pattern of decomposition in water, meaning post mortem interval estimations are difficult to establish. Nevertheless, a growing number of researchers are urging for more experimental research to be conducted in this field in a variety of environmental regions in order to improve standards and develop reliable methods for PMSI estimation.

Aims of research: It is the aim of this research to work in collaboration with Sussex Police Specialist Search Unit, to develop region-specific standardised protocols for PMSI estimation which will ensure better accuracy and validity of time since death estimates. In addition, a key focus of this research is the ability to visually assess and define particular stages of decomposition that will enable comparison of the advancement of the process across different conditions. This will be achieved through the use of experimental research conducted in various in-land waterways (using rabbits as human analogues), in addition to utilising data collated from Sussex Police.