Police have secured the conviction of a drug dealer after identifying him and linking him to his crime using a partial photograph of his hand.
The South Wales Police force in the UK was investigating a group of drug dealers in Bridgend, South Wales. After observing several drugs being dropped off at a house of one of the suspects, police made several arrests for supplying cannabis.
During the subsequent investigation, they found WhatsApp messages sent from a connected cannabis dealer in the Midlands.
Suspect Elliot Morris had sent a photograph of a hand holding a number of suspicious tablets to a potential buyer. So far the group of drug dealers had only been arrested on cannabis charges, but this photograph offered potential evidence they had been supplying harder drugs – if they could prove who the hand belonged to.
Unfortunately, the image showed nothing else that gave away the dealer's identity. No driver's license or gas bills or letter from a bank. However, the photograph did contain a portion of two fingerprints, which gave the police something to work with.
Using image-enhancing techniques, they were able to get a better look at the partial prints. From just a tiny portion, they managed to match one of them with a print in their database.
"Despite being provided with only a very small section of the fingerprint which was visible in the photograph, the team were able to successfully identify the individual,” Dave Thomas, forensic operations manager at South Wales Police's Joint Scientific Support Unit (JSIU), said in a statement.
“[Staff] utilised their expert image-enhancing skills which enabled them to provide something that the unit’s fingerprint identification experts could work."
Using this as part of their evidence, they were able to convict Elliot Morris of supplying Class A drugs.
"On top of Morris’ links to the cannabis conspiracy, officers were able to prove he was also responsible for supplying huge amounts of ecstasy, a Class A drug, thanks to the innovative work of the JSIU."
Police think it could start a flurry of similar convictions, where only a partial fingerprint is seen. Thomas told BBC News the case has "opened the floodgates", with police sending in similar photographs from other cases. He added that they want to be able to do more with images recovered from mobile phones or sent in by witnesses.
"We want to be in a position where there is a burglary at 8.30pm, we can scan evidence and by 8.45pm be waiting at the offender's front door and arrest them arriving home with the swag," Thomas said.
"That will work through remote transmission – scanning evidence at the scene and sending it back quickly for a match.
"It's the future."