Can “contamination” occur in body bags?—The example of background fibres in body bags used in Australia

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Journal Article
Forensic Science International, 2016, 266 pp. 517 - 526
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© 2016 Elsevier Ireland Ltd Impurities that are transferred to a crime scene or a body can have a significant negative impact on the investigation if the existence of the contamination is not known, and the source of the contamination is not identified. Forensic consumables, such as DNA swabs, have been known to have caused contaminations, wrongfully linking crimes throughout Europe. In that context, this study focused on body bags, widely used to transfer a corpse from the crime scene to the morgue. Our preliminary survey showed that several countries and Australian Jurisdictions are conducting the sampling of trace evidence at the morgue after the transportation of the body. Potential impurities present in body bags could thus interfere with pertinent traces. The aim of this work was to qualify and quantify the background contamination of trace evidence in body bags used within Australia. Fifteen body bags from four Australian Jurisdictions or laboratories were searched for micro traces. Impurities such as fibres and unidentified particles were detected in each examined body bag, with an estimated average of 3603 coloured fibres and 1429 unidentified particles. This number of fibres is similar to the amount found on a vinyl cinema seat in other studies. Various other contaminants such as pieces of fabric, hairs, parts of insects or feathers were also observed. It is hypothesised that these impurities are introduced during the manufacturing process. This high number of impurities can lead to incorrect conclusions and misleading investigative leads. This paper presents an overview of the problems these impurities can cause and proposes several strategies to prevent future issues.
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