Lessons of 9/11 help in delicate task of identifying blast victims

Sophie Goodchild reports on a complex and sensitive forensic investigation
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The Independent Online

But for other families the agonising wait drags on and the long mourning process cannot begin, because incomplete remains may be all that is left of their loved ones.

Efforts to identify victims have been hampered by the advanced decomposition of some bodies and by the fact that the blasts took place in confined spaces which madeinjuries more extensive.

The harrowing task of identifying all the victims of the bombings is expected to take weeks. Inquests have already been opened at coroner's courts across the capital, including those at Westminster and St Pancras, into the deaths of the 41 identified so far.

This paper has learnt that Scotland Yard is drafting in a leading forensic expert who was instrumental in identifying victims of mass killings in Kosovo after the 1999 Nato bombing campaign.

Dr Louise Scheuer, a forensic anthropologist who already has experience working with the Metropolitan police's anti-terrorist team, will be on standby to help with the process of establishing the identities of the dead.

Forensic anthropology involves the analysis of human remains which is critical to the successful outcome of the investigation. However, the process is expected to be complicated because of the fragmentation of the bodies.

In an interview with this paper, Dr Scheuer, from the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London, said that remains from all four blast sites were being examined separately.

Dr Scheuer, who was expected to meet the bomb investigation team yesterday, said: "You have to be really sure, otherwise the emotional consequences [for the families] are terrible. In theory two people could have the same tattoo."

Every body part recovered by the forensic teams working on the investigation is given an individual serial number. In reassembling the bodies investigators can work out the exact direction of the blast and the location of the bombers, whose remains are also being identified. Israeli experts involved in analysing suicide bomb attacks have demonstrated that bombers experience a distinct pattern of trauma on their bodies.

The fact the No 30 bus and the Tube trains were crowded with commuters means that some people were buffeted from the effects of the blast. But the force of the explosion would have passed through the bodies of those closest to the bombers like gunshot, causing massive external and internal injuries.

The highly detailed body recovery operation is based on lessons learnt from 9/11 and other disasters, including Lockerbie and the King's Cross fire. Forensic teams identifying victims from the World Trade Center attacks found tissue from different victims had merged, leading to inaccurate identifications.

All remains from the 7 July atrocities are being taken to a mortuary at the Honourable Artillery Company in the City set up specially to cope with the mass fatalities.

Pathologists are studying remains of clothing from victims, personal documents such as credit cards and driving licences, and distinctive body marks such as scars or tattoos. More sophisticated techniques include matching teeth to dental records, facial recognition and DNA testing, results of which can now be turned round in 24 hours. But experts say that even DNA testing cannot be relied upon absolutely.

Dr Tal Simmons, a forensic anthropologist from the University of Central Lancashire who has worked in Bosnia and on air crash sites, said: "The issue is getting data from siblings and not going to hairbrushes and toothbrushes which are often shared."

As with 9/11, relatives of victims are being given the option of holding a funeral with the body incomplete or of being informed each time more remains are recovered.

Full inquests for the bomb victims are not expected to be heard until next year at the earliest and may never take place. A crown court trial where the jury hears detailed evidence about a crime involving fatalities takes precedence over a coroner's court.

Dr Andrew Reid, HM coroner for Inner North London, said the priority was to return remains to the victims' relatives as soon as possible and to tailor recovery so that those of different religions and cultures were treated with equal respect and sensitivity.

Victims whose names have been released:

Philip Beer, 22, a hairdresser from Borehamwood, Hertfordshire; Ciaran Cassidy, 22, a shop worker from Finsbury Park, London; Richard James Ellery, 21, from Ipswich, worked at a Jessops photographic store; Anthony Fatayi-Williams, 25, engineering executive from Hendon; David Foulkes, 22, media sales trainee from Oldham; Jamie Gordon, 30, financial worker from Enfield; Giles Hart, 55, BT engineer from Hornchurch, Essex; Marie Joanne Hartley, 34, in London on a course, from Oswaldtwistle, Lancs; Miriam Hyman, 32, a picture researcher, East Finchley, north London; Shahara Islam, 20, bank cashier, Plaistow, east London; Adrian Johnson, 37, manager at Burberry from Sutton in Ashfield; Susan Levy, 53, secretary from the village of Newgate Street, near Cuffley, Hertfordshire; James Stuart Mayes, 28, analyst at the Healthcare Commission from Islington, north London; Behnaz Mozakka, 47, biomedical officer at Great Ormond Street from Finchley, north London; Jennifer Nicholson, 24, from Reading, worked in advertising sales; Mihaela Otto, known as Michelle, 41, dental technician, from Mill Hill East, east London; Shyanuja Parathasangary, 30, Royal Mail employee, from Kensal Rise, north London; Anat Rosenberg, 39, charity worker, from Marylebone, London; Philip Russell, 28, financial worker, Kennington, south London; Monika Suchocka, 25, trainee accountant and Polish national living in Holloway, north London; William Wise, 54. no details released; Gladys Wundowa, 50, cleaner, from Romford, Essex. Lee Baisden, 34, London Fire Brigade accountant from Romford; Michael Stanley Brewster, 52, senior project manager with Nottinghamshire's environmental services from Swanwich; Jonathan Downey, 34, systems development officer with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea; Arthur Edlin Frederick, 60, of Seven Sisters, north London; Ganze Gunoral, 24, Turkish national living in the Barnet area; Neetu Jain, 37, computer analyst from Hendon, north London; Michael Minh Matsushita, 37, tour guide from Islington, north London; Colin Morley, 52,of Finchley, north London; Anne Muffat, no details released; Laura Webb, 29, personal assistant from Islington, north London