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Futuristic 3D scanning tech helped convict brutal killer of Michael Spalding

Futuristic 3D scanning technology helped secure the conviction of a man who cut up his housemate's body, before dumping it in a Midland canal.


Last month, Smethwick man Lorenzo Simon was sentenced to life in prison for the barbaric murder of a housemate whose body he chopped up and stuffed inside suitcases.

Crucially detectives recovered part of the victim's humerus from an oil drum in the couple's garden ? used as a furnace to destroy evidence ? which experts proved was a seamless fit with a limb found in the case.

And the same 3D scanning technique ? which provides image resolution 43,000 times more detailed that a hospital CT scan ? also proved laceration links between a saw recovered from the canal-bed and marks found on other bones.

3D images of bones being viewed through specially-designed glasses

Such 'micro-CT imaging' has been used for some time in high-tech industries like aerospace and automotive ? where atomic material failures can have catastrophic consequences ? but West Midlands Police is the first UK force to embrace the science to support investigations.

Detectives have teamed up with University of Warwick's cutting-edge research centre on four cases to date, including three murder trials, the most recent being the brutal killing of Michael Spalding at the Smethwick house he shared with Simon and Bird.

Nine pieces of bone were repeatedly x-rayed at a range of angles with the many thousands of images collated using specialist software to produce the 3D ultra-scans. They were then displayed on a virtual reality 3D video wall, allowing detectives, police forensic experts and crown prosecutors to examine the digital images in remarkable depth.

University of Warwick Professor Mark Williams said: "A black lump resembling a large piece of coal was found in the oil drum and our scans revealed it contained the top part of the victim's humerus fused inside a mass of molten debris.

"The bone had been sawn and snapped. After scanning body parts in the cases we found it was a perfect jigsaw fit to another piece of bone and could show in minute detail ? down to 17,000th of a millimetre or half a hair's breadth ? the cuts on the bones.

3D images of bones

"That helped officers match the serrated edge of the saw to many of the indents and showed they'd been inflicted with a blade width of 1.4mm. And we made exact 3D print replicas of the bone to demonstrate the evidence to the jury.

"This combination of micro computerised tomography scanning, 3D printing and 3D virtual reality truly makes the process a UK first."

3D scanning evidence was also influential in convicting a Birmingham man who murdered his estranged wife last year at their family home in Pype Hayes.

Andrew Leigh claimed he found former partner Luan Leigh collapsed on the floor and that his ham-fisted attempts at CPR were responsible for bruising found around her throat.

However, scans revealed damage to the woman's larynx ? in detail beyond the capabilities of medical CT scans ? that proved beyond doubt the victim had been forcibly strangled. He was subsequently jailed for a minimum of 25 years.

West Midlands Police Detective Superintendent Mark Payne is leading the Warwick collaboration. He said: "It's a fantastic development in the field of forensics and, as we've proved in the few cases to date, can be crucial in helping us uncover the truth behind some of our most serious crimes."

The 10-strong team of experts at Warwick, whose backgrounds are in industry and research, are now building on their current capabilities by running trials with West Midlands Police into the 3D modelling of entire crime scenes.

Detectives believe the high-resolution computer graphics could assist their investigations and make it much easier to present evidence to a jury, eliminating any confusion over witness testimonies.

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