Brick 'fingerprint' builds crime case: Steve Boggan on an academic breakthrough that helped to cement the conviction of the killer and kidnapper Michael Sams

IN 1892, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - in referring to Sherlock Holmes - may have unwittingly written Detective Sergeant Tim Grogan's epitaph: 'It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.'

DS Grogan's role in the conviction of Michael Sams for the murder of Julie Dart and the kidnap of Stephanie Slater is being celebrated this week by academics at Leicester University whose invention - brick fingerprinting - played a major part.

They were called in to help DS Grogan in the summer of 1991 after Sams used two white-painted bricks as markers along a trail leading to an abortive ransom drop for Julie Dart on the M1 near Barnsley in South Yorkshire.

At the suggestion of Andy Biggs, a brick technologist at the Steetley Brick company in Stoke-on-Trent, now owned by Redland Bricks, he called in Professor Ansel Dunham, the head of Leicester's geology department, who had helped develop a database on the composition of bricks.

'My gaffer wasn't too happy about me breaking up one of the bricks for the Leicester research because it was evidence, but I slipped a bit away while he wasn't looking,' DS Grogan said. 'I was convinced these guys could help, and they did.'

Professor Dunham was able to narrow down the clay used to make the bricks to just one quarry, Bradwell Wood at Newcastle-under- Lyme, Staffordshire.

Armed with details of the brick fingerprint, DS Grogan then had the bricks dated at about 20 years old by Doreen Stoneham, an archaeologist at Oxford University. The bricks were Staffordshire Blue engineering bricks known for low water absorption and strength.

He finally hit the mark when Mr Biggs traced pressing marks on the side of the remaining brick to Metallic Tileries, a brick manufacturer in Newcastle-under-Lyme, which ceased trading in 1977. John Rowley, who had owned the company, remembered making the batch for Wettern Brothers in Kent, which later sold out to Ready Mixed Concrete. Wettern's records finally showed that a batch had been sold to Blighton and Clarkson, a firm of builders in Newark, Nottinghamshire. Jamie Clarkson, the former owner of the firm, also remembered the batch.

In January 1992, Stephanie Slater, an estate agent, was kidnapped. A tape of the kidnapper's voice on the BBC's Crimewatch was recognised by Sams' wife, who turned him in.

A short time later DS Grogan received a call from DS Mick Shilleto, a close colleague who had been searching Sams' workshop in Newark and another he used to occupy in Peterborough. 'Mick said he had found three of the batch we had identified. One had been broken into two halves and was supporting a bookshelf in the Newark workshop, and two more were found in Peterborough.'

More tests showed the bricks were all from the same batch, showing that Sams was responsible for Julie Dart's kidnapping and murder and for Stephanie Slater's kidnapping. 'Sams probably stole the bricks from Mr Clarkson's yard in Newark, which was very close to his workshop,' DS Grogan said. 'We had actually got to within yards of him with nothing more than two bricks.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn