Jordan's blazing a trail in fire scene forensics

9 May 2024
Girl on overalls and face mask carrying a tray at blackened fire scene

University of Winchester student is creating interest in the forensics world with her research into retrieving footprints from fire scenes. 

Year 3 Forensic Investigation student Jordan Bushnell has even persuaded Hampshire Fire and Rescue to light a controlled blaze to help with her project. 

On a recent visit to the county’s fire HQ in Eastleigh, Jordan was allowed to place footwear marks in a crime scene mock-up inside a shipping container which was then set alight. 

Atter things had cooled down Jordan examined the fire's effects on the different surfaces where she’d placed the prints – carpet, wood, lino, smooth tile and textured tile. 

In every case, apart from the carpet, Jordan was able to retrieve a print of some sort. 

Jordan’s study into persistence of footwear marks, the subject of her dissertation, is unusual as there is very little published material on footprints recovered from fire scenes. 

“There haven’t really been any studies of recovery of footwear marks from arson scenes.  I think it was assumed that the prints would just be destroyed,” said Jordan. 

Arson has become prevalent in the post -CSI world, as criminals often seek to destroy any DNA evidence by torching the scene of their crime. 

However, the pioneering French forensic scientist Edmond Locard stated that “every contact leaves a trace” so an arsonist may still leave evidence behind, even if they wiped their feet at the door. 

As fires tend to spread upwards and travel across ceilings, floors can survive better than other parts of a burned building, so Jordan believes floors can yield more clues than previously thought. 

Scans of footprints

Jordan’s work is also breaking new ground as she is employing R programming language using R-Studio, to analyse and compare the footwear marks by using a footwear code to transform, explore, plot, and model data for machine learning to make predictions on data.  

Jordan hopes to publish her dissertation and Hampshire Fire and Rescue have already expressed an interest in reading her study. 

Selina Robinson, Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader in Forensic Investigations at the University of Winchester, said: “Jordan's examination of footwear marks at arson scenes not only demonstrates a strong commitment to forensic analysis but also emphasises the important role footwear impressions can play in criminal investigations.  

“Using advanced tools like R-Studio adds sophistication to her analysis, leading to a deeper understanding of the data. This research is vital for improving our ability to link offender/s to crime scenes with greater accuracy and reliability, significantly advancing forensic investigations.  

“Jordan shows dedication to pushing the limits of knowledge in this field, which hopefully will have a positive effect on regulation, accreditation, and analytical methods currently used in criminal investigations as a whole.” 

Older woman and man flanking younger woman holding trophy

Jordan's efforts were rewarded earlier this month when she received the Academic Excellence Award for the Faculty of Law, Crime and Justice at the annual Winton Society Awards at the University of Winchester. She is pictured with the Vice-Chancellor Professor Sarah Greer and Bill Davies, Dean of the faculty of Law, Crime and Justice.

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