Paddington rail disaster: Fingerprints, teeth and bones the only way to identify some victims

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The Independent Online

USING DNA and fingerprint-matching techniques, forensic experts will spend the next few weeks trying to put names to the remaining victims.

USING DNA and fingerprint-matching techniques, forensic experts will spend the next few weeks trying to put names to the remaining victims.

The forensic team is being led by Dr Ian Hill and Dr Iain West, both experienced and highly respected Home Office pathologists. They will be working from platforms resting on metal bars inserted inside carriage H, to ensure that vital evidence is not disturbed. With the help of police, they will sift through the ash for jewellery, clothing and personal documents that could help to identify victims.

The investigation team will also be faced with removing bodily remains such as teeth and bones from the scene. Fragile or powdered bones can be set in resin to preserve their shape so they can be moved. Each body part will be numbered, photographed and videoed.

All the evidence will be carefully put into plastic bags and taken away for examination. Fingerprints will be taken for comparison from items such as telephone handsets and hairbrushes in victims' homes.

The pathologists will also examine teeth, which are more resistant to high temperatures than bone is. The team will look at the number of teeth missing from jawbones, jaw abnormalities and what materials have been used in fillings. And if necessary, electron microscopy can be used to match marks on a tooth with work done by a particular dentist's drill. But matching with dental records has a low success rate, because people often visit more than one dentist.

The team of pathologists will also be looking for marks on bones, such as healed fractures; replacement joints; and serial numbers on replacement joints. Standard DNA tests are extremely accurate but can be used only on body tissue. Dr Hill and Dr West will have to use mitochondrial DNA profiling on material salvaged from bone or teeth, which is less accurate and can test only the maternal line.

In extreme cases, when the skull is preserved but no other identification has been made, a three-dimensional visual image of facial features will be created on a computer, or a model made of the head. Such a model could trigger the memory of someone who knew the dead person.

But it does not always help. Police have already admitted they may never identify some of those who died in the rail disaster. One victim from the King's Cross fire of 1988 is still unidentified, despite extensive efforts by forensic experts.

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