‘There is no perfect crime’: inside the real French CSI | World news

Imagine a criminal offense scene. The physique of a person in a purple sweatshirt and denims lies lifeless on the front room flooring of an condominium, a revolver close to his proper hand. There is a blood stain on the blue patterned rug and a bullet gap in the ceiling. On a low desk sit an nearly empty bottle of whisky and two glasses. The tv is off.

If this have been an episode of the French TV crime drama Engrenages (Spiral) which ran for eight seasons, or the newer Netflix hit Lupin, the thriller would have been solved and the killer caught earlier than the display screen credit rolled.

“In the TV collection it’s at all times the similar cops who get to the scene, choose up the clues, and cease the prison inside 45 minutes. Real life isn’t like that,” says Erwan, a police professional.

“In actuality, it’s the work of many individuals and even then the police can seek for weeks, months, even years and typically we don’t discover the solutions or catch the wrongdoer.”


Earlier than I can expound my theories about what has occurred on this mock crime scene, Erwan says: “You’ll be able to’t come strolling into right here with any preconceptions or certainties.” He is proper. The place is a massacre. In the subsequent room, we discover a lady mendacity lifeless on a mattress and one other corpse.

My sneaky shot of the imaginary crime scene

My sneaky shot of the imaginary crime scene. {Photograph}: Kim Wilsher

Erwan is displaying me round the headquarters of the newly fashioned French Service Nationwide de Police Scientifique (SNPS) headquarters at Écully, simply exterior Lyon.

The police in France have had a tough time of late as a result of accusations of violence, prompting debates in parliament and feedback from President Emmanuel Macron.

In January, the authorities merged two beforehand separate forensics entities into one. On this utilitarian advanced, 1,200 forensics brokers are deploying groundbreaking science and know-how to maintain one step forward of the criminals. Nevertheless, the day-to-day work right here is the grim and relentless repertoire of inhumanity: murders, rapes, assaults, robberies.

About 500 items of proof arrive right here daily in sealed brown Kraft paper baggage – not the plastic ziplocks of the TV collection through which DNA would rot – however that is as low tech because it will get. Unpacked, registered and barcoded, the proof travels just a few yards down a hall to the laboratories. Virginie Dhaze, the SNPS spokesperson, describes the SNPS as the police service’s “toolbox”.

In the present day, scientists are utilizing a brand new approach known as SpermTracker to establish and take away genetic materials from sperm stains on a jacket; in one other laboratory banks of machines are turning out advanced graphs of genetic markers from DNA samples.

“We don’t do the complete genome sequence however a most of 23 matches. No scientist will let you know it’s 100% correct, but it surely’s nearly as good as, and if it’s not, we run the pattern once more,” says Catherine Privat, a organic technician. “The one problem is with similar twins whose DNA is precisely the similar, however in that case we resort to fingerprints.”

Fingerprint identification

Fingerprint identification. The nationwide database holds fingerprint information of 6.9 million individuals. {Photograph}: SNPS

She provides: “We at the moment course of 20,000 people a month. The advances in DNA have been wonderful. I smoke, and earlier than we wouldn’t have been capable of get sufficient DNA from one among my cigarette butts even when I’d chewed throughout it, however now we will get an excellent pattern.”

French civil liberties rules require strict oversight of the DNA database by an impartial authority, the Fee Nationale Informatique & Libertés (CNIL), the public freedom watchdog. CNIL representatives often go to the SNPS at Lyon to request that genetic information are deleted, for instance when a suspect has been cleared or dies and their profile is erased from the database.

The strict guidelines on utilizing DNA to profile dwelling individuals – versus figuring out the lifeless – require the approval of an investigating decide or Justice of the Peace. Solely with this authorized go-ahead can DNA be used to offer particulars of a suspect’s hair, eyes and pores and skin color – even right down to whether or not they have freckles – to a really excessive diploma of accuracy.


“It was that witnesses give a [photofit] portrait, however that depends upon the reminiscence and reliability of the witness. Beneath stress they may give deceptive info and it’s subjective: somebody could also be tall to at least one individual and to not the subsequent,” Dhaze says.

“In the present day we’re growing what is known as ‘predictive genetics’. It’s comparatively latest and it needs to be authorised and just for sure crimes or the identification of a physique.”

Insp Gen Éric Angelino, the SNPS director, is assured that inside a decade DNA will yield extra info, together with an individual’s bodily construct and even an correct image of their face.

Éric Angelino

Éric Angelino: ‘DNA has removed from given up its final secret.’ {Photograph}: SNPS

“We’re travelling in the path of genetic photofit and in just a few years we can reconstruct the face of a suspect from their DNA in addition to their measurement and the top and different figuring out elements,” Angelino says. “DNA has removed from given up its final secret.”

In one other lab, a wide range of medication in plastic pockets awaits evaluation.

“We may give the profile of a drug, so we’re capable of say the place it got here from and if it is the similar as others on the road. Worldwide cooperation on this is additionally essential. Now we have to know if a brand new psychotropic substance arrives on the promote it is obtainable in different nations,” Privat says.

Erwan, the police professional who confirmed me the coaching crime scene, doesn’t need his surname used due to the sensitivity of a few of his investigations. In 2015 he was on vacation in Paris when he was known as in to assist establish the 130 victims of the wave of terrorist shootings and bombings in Paris, together with at the Bataclan.

“The Bataclan was horrible. There was numerous lifeless to establish and a few have been very badly wounded,” he says. “We have been working in 12-hour shifts.

“I didn’t know the names of these I used to be figuring out. I didn’t wish to. It could have been like carrying the weight of all these deaths on my shoulders. I did the work scientifically, giving every of them the respect and dignity they deserved, however I didn’t wish to know who they have been.”

Aside from having the ability to shortly inform households, the identification work additionally helped observe down others in the terrorist commando group.

Erwan additionally labored on the Good terrorist assaults – the first in 2016, when a lorry ploughed into Bastille Day crowds on the Promenade des Anglais killing 86, the second when a person stabbed three individuals in a church final October. The police scientifique has additionally been known as in to establish victims of the 2004 tsunami in Thailand and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Final yr, it labored on the large explosion in Beirut and the killings of French NGO employees in Niger.

SNPS investigators work in shut cooperation with the Worldwide Court docket of Justice on terrorism, genocide and crimes towards humanity circumstances, in addition to with neighbouring police forces, together with the UK’s. Angelino doesn’t count on Brexit to vary a lot in the speedy future.

“Brexit hasn’t modified the means we work collectively. And by way of safety, it’s in no one’s curiosity for cooperation to halt. The unhealthy guys don’t cease at the Channel,” he says.

A DNA sequencing facility.

A DNA sequencing facility. {Photograph}: SNPS

The 5 scientific labs right here dealt with 350,000 circumstances final yr with a price range of €16.5m, and recognized 50,000 people. The nationwide DNA database, containing info on 4.8 million people, and fingerprint database with 6.9m particular person information helped establish greater than 50,500 suspects.

Angelino says one among the goals of the new forensic service is to “democratise” the work to higher serve the public. This implies focusing not simply on the greatest circumstances and high-profile crimes, but additionally the on a regular basis crimes that poison individuals’s lives.

“Our foremost job is to serve the investigators, the police and magistrates conducting inquiries, by bringing them conclusive proof. Afterwards, the intention is to evolve in France. There’s a sense that we shouldn’t be reserved for distinctive circumstances however extra banal affairs. Being there for the inhabitants at giant even when it’s a case of a minor infringement so that they really feel that their circumstances are being taken into consideration.”

Angelino says holding forward of the criminals is a relentless problem even when science makes it increasingly tough for them to evade detection.

“In the present day, they will’t depart a fingerprint, DNA, odor, digital hint or be caught on a digital camera. They need to be invisible. However as police we’ve to be humble and never imagine we’re cleverer than the criminals. Now we have to study all the time to maintain one step forward.”

He provides: “However what surprises me on this job is the inventiveness of man to hurt his fellow man.”

Dhaze laughs after I ask if there is such a factor as a perfect crime. Her look suggests I’ve been watching too many police TV collection. “If there is a perfect crime, we don’t find out about it,” she says.

Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button