Kenya shopping mall attack: UK forensic teams lend expertise to search through Westgate rubble

Kenyan Red Cross warns the death toll of 67 still does not match its list of 71 missing people
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Britain, the US and Israel are among the five nations sending their own forensic experts to help search the rubble of the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi to find and identify the bodies of those killed.

The terrorist attack in Kenya left at least 67 people dead, including five British nationals, and it is feared that there are more bodies – described by Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku as an “insignificant” number – still to be found.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack which began last Saturday, Prime Minister David Cameron phoned the Kenyan authorities to offer any assistance that Britain could provide.

That offer was accepted, according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with a team of forensic experts arriving in Nairobi on 23 September.

The key focus of their role is to work with the British High Commissioner and ascertain the full extent of the UK casualties in the attack. The number of British people reported to have been killed has already been revised a number of times, between a low of three and a high of six, and could yet rise again.

The experts will also help with the work coroners in the UK need to do in carrying out necessary inquests, but their role is not exclusively in a British capacity.

Involvement in response to a number of recent disasters across the world means that the UK has some of the most experienced investigative teams for dealing with this kind of incident.

Karen Squibb-Williams, director of communication and in-house counsel for the Forensic Science Society, told the BBC: “The experts who have been sent to Kenya will most probably be crime scene managers who are used to attending scenes of major homicides on a regular basis.

“In the wake of the experience of 9/11, and to some extent as a result of the 7/7 bombing in London, the UK has developed considerable skills in assisting with violent incidents.

“In particular we played an enormous part in helping with the aftermath of identification challenges after the tsunami.”

She said the UK police and forensic scientists working in tandem now have a “very strong capability” in what is known as disaster victim identification.

“This could include setting up temporary mortuaries and, if necessary accessing dental records as well as, where appropriate, having effective processes to access information efficiently,” she added.

“DNA analysis is also, of course, a forensic field in which the UK has a particularly strong reputation for capability and innovation.”

Part of the Westgate mall collapsed towards the end of the four-day siege following last Saturday's attack, burying bodies and slowing investigations, although experts have started work even while the army continues to comb the building for further explosives.

Officials say the death toll of 61 civilians, six members of the security forces and five militants is unlikely to rise much further, although some of the attackers’ bodies may still be buried.

However, the Red Cross has said there were still 71 people listed as missing.