Officers identifying victims of Asian tsunami switch to bomb casualties

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The Independent Online

The police team identifying victims of the Asian tsunami has switched to the victims of the London bombings. The first victim was named yesterday and officers indicated many more are expected to be formally identified within days.

The long delay in identifying victims has been due to the terrible effects of the bombs and the strict rules on identification.

Four forensic mortuaries and a family centre have been erected at the Honourable Artillery Company in the City of London. The site, under huge white tents covering some 45,000sq ft, is the focus of the meticulous process of identifying the victims.

A second investigation centre has been set up at the police college in Hendon, north London, in the offices where the officers had been working on British tsunami victims.

At the mortuary in City Road, any personal items will be retrieved from the dead. X-rays are also taken of the bodies, and they are examined by a pathologist, and an orthodontist to identify dental work. Significant marks and scars are recorded and fingerprints and DNA samples taken.

The dental charts of suspected victims are compared to the teeth of the deceased, this is the quickest method of identification.

Fingerprinting is another quick way of identifying a corpse. Police visit the suspected victim's home and take fingerprints from hard surfaces such as keyboards or glasses. Two experts are used to confirm a fingerprint match to ensure no mistakes are made. DNA can be used - samples are taken from hair recovered from the suspected victim's brushes and combs, or material from toothbrushes - but these take longer to process.

After all the information is gathered, it is presented to the Identification Commission, chaired by Paul Knapman, the Westminster coroner, who is in charge of the identification process, aided by a pathologist, an orthodontist, and a senior police officer.

The commission deals with four categories. The first is people believed to be missing, which include cases where an identification such as a driving licence has been found on the body. The second category is victims found to have distinctive clothing or features, such as a tattoo.

The next category involves cases where there is sufficient evidence to identify the person. This can be done with one "primary" clue, such as fingerprints, dental records, DNA, or a unique identity feature, say, a pacemaker with a serial number of it.

If none of the primary features is available then the coroner can accept a number of "secondary" features. These include marks and scars, blood group, jewellery, X-ray, and deformity. A visual identification by someone who knows the victim is not considered sufficiently reliable.

The final stage is for the identification to be confirmed and an inquest to be opened. The coroner is expected to adjourn inquests after they have opened to allow the victim's body to be released to the family for the funeral.