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Breakthrough technology uncovers fingerprints on ATM bills and receipts

New technology developed by academics at the University of Leicester could help in the fight against theft and fraud -- by identifying fingerprints on old receipts and ATM bills previously hidden from view.

The technology, which has been developed by Dr John Bond OBE from the University of Leicester's Department of Chemistry, uses a specially tailored UV light source to visualise fingerprints not possible to see otherwise on 'thermal paper' -- that is, the paper used for shop receipts and for bank statements from ATMs.

Historically, the process of visualising fingerprints on thermal paper has been problematic, as the solvent used in the chemical treatment can colour the dye and turn the whole paper black, rendering thermal paper a 'problem surface' to recover fingerprints from.

A couple of years ago, Dr Bond reported a method of fingerprint recovery from thermal paper by applying heat to the paper. This has been developed into commercial equipment, manufactured in the UK and sold worldwide as the Hot Print System (HPS). However, the HPS manufacturer recently reported that the properties of thermal paper seemed to vary between countries, particularly in the US and China, which led Dr Bond to invent this latest crime-fighting technique.

The new technology developed by Dr Bond counters these issues, making it possible to identify fingerprints on all forms of thermal paper efficiently.

Dr Bond said: "This new technology offers a new way of easily looking for fingerprints on an increasing source of paperwork that criminals are likely to handle when committing a variety of offences.

"When I started researching fingerprint recovery from thermal paper, I didn't realise that not all thermal papers are the same. In this latest development the light source provides non-invasive and speculative examination of thermal paper and can be carried out very quickly with the minimum of training to locate fingerprints. The HPS can then be used to develop the fingerprint to enable capture as a digital image and if development with the HPS is faint, the light source can be used to illuminate faint prints to enhance digital capture. This latest technology therefore complements my other work in this area and the HPS.

"Techniques like this are preferred by the police as they offer quick and easy examination of forensic items for fingerprints. Like all this work, the bottom line is helping the police to lock up the bad guys."

The device was recently presented at the Forensics Europe Expo, an adjunct to the Counter Terrorism Expo, which took place 29 -- 30 April, Olympia, London.

Dr Bond also presented at the Expo on a second device, used for storing a used firearm shell in a sterile container that ensures minimal contact with the outer surface of the casing, which is where extraneous DNA or fingerprints would be picked up under normal circumstances.

Dr Bond explained: "Current recovery and storage methods invariably mean there is frictional contact with the packaging that can smudge or remove any material present which, as we know, is only in small amounts to start with so anything that better preserves this evidence is to be welcomed.

"This invention is a natural extension to look at all aspects of evidence recovery, storage and processing rather than just focussing on evidence processing. Having done the job for 20 years, you get an appreciation for the whole process and where the weaknesses are; this is often not appreciated by researchers who just focus on the processing part."

The technology could lead to better retention of DNA and fingerprint material from crime scenes involving the discharge of a firearm.

Dr Julie Pratt from the University's Enterprise and Business Development Office said: "We are excited about these two new inventions as they further expand our portfolio of technologies that provide solutions for unmet needs in the forensics market. We are seeking commercial partners to take them forward; particularly companies that can manufacture and distribute these two products. These may be companies already established in the forensics market or companies looking for products with which to enter this market."

Financial support for the Expo stand was provided by Dr Bond, Dr Lisa Smith from the University of Leicester's Department of Criminology, the department itself, the MSc Forensic Science and Criminal Justice course and the INTREPID Forensics programme.

The stand also featured research by members of the Criminology department and the INTREPID Forensics doctoral training programme, for which the University recently received funding from the European Union.

Dr Bond and Dr Smith also promoted the various courses offered throughout the University at the event, including the MSc Forensic Science and Criminal Justice distance learning course and the suite of Criminology undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

Dr Lisa Smith said: "The Expo was a great opportunity to network with forensic science organisations from around Europe, and strengthen existing links as well as explore new partnerships for future research projects.

"It was very beneficial to have the University represented at such a large industry event, and to demonstrate to colleagues from across Europe some of the great research and teaching that is carried out at the University of Leicester in the areas of forensics, criminology, terrorism, security, and policing."

The Forensics Europe Expo showcases forensic science research, teaching, and practice with attendees and exhibitors from across Europe.

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