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Footprints hold key to catching criminals says Senior Lecturer at Huddersfield University

Dr Sarah Reel introduces method for catching criminals by shoe mark they leave at scene

A foot print in the snow ... could lead to a conviction

Footprints left at a crime scene can be crucial in gaining a conviction.

But catching criminals this way has previously been difficult because of different techniques used by different forensic scientists.

Now a former NHS podiatrist and University of Huddersfield lecturer, Sarah Reel, has devised the best way of tracking crooks by their footwear.

Dr Reel reviewed various methods, identified the best elements and developed ways of using modern technology to identify a suspect.

Forensic podiatrist Dr Sarah Reel, of University of Huddersfield

The ‘Reel method’ is now used by forensic podiatrists.

In 1986, Dr Reel was asked to helped to identify a body found in a canal which had an medical appliance attached to its foot.

Shortly after that Dr Reel was burgled.

She said: “The perpetrator left a very clear shoe print on the back door where they had gained entry.

“Not only could you make out the size and make of the trainer that had made the mark on the door, but I could also see that there was a distinct area of wear on the outsole print, which would have coincided with a particular joint of the foot.

“This made me wonder if my burglar had a certain pathology or problem of the foot that could relate to the shoe print.”

She studied for a PhD in forensic science which was supervised by Prof Wesley Vernon, also from the University of Huddersfield.

Professor Wesley Vernon who is leading a forensic podiatry post-graduate course at the University of Huddersfield.

Dr Reel shadowed Prof Vernon on many high-profile cases including a triple murder in Australia.

Identifying a criminal from a shoe print isn’t easy as, unlike fingerprints, there are not unique.

Dr Reel said: “Footprints are measured for all sorts of purposes, such as orthopaedic.

“But in forensic science it is even more important that you get the measurements right and that everybody is measuring footprints to the same standard.

“The main thing that people don’t appreciate is that your footprint can vary depending on what you’re doing.

“For a male footprint, there is an average of 18mm difference between their standing footprint and their walking footprint.”

University of Huddersfield is the only UK university to offer a master’s degree in forensic podiatry.

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