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A Guide to Forensic Geology

15 November 2022

This book is intended as a practical guide and aide-mémoire for forensic geologists. Forensic practitioners, geologists included, explain the results of their analyses to assist in court cases. They may also offer opinions and conclusions based on those results, as well as interpret their significance with supporting arguments. The most basic rule in forensic work is to remember at all times that one has a prime duty to the court, while consistently maintaining high ethical standards and providing reliable information.

The text refers extensively to the geoforensic search strategy (GSS), a clear and logical methodology developed over the last quarter of a century. The GSS enables the design and implementation of ground searches, for example, for graves and other buried targets, as well as the geological examination of crime scenes. This means that the information supplied meets both the needs of the law enforcement agencies concerned, and the underlying requirements for legal acceptability and validity in court. Presumably it is because the guide relates particularly to ground searches and the like that there is only a single, and rather brief, reference to Bayesian statistics. Bayesian statistics have been used in forensic geology since at least the late 1980s and are fundamental to many of the case-related conclusions drawn. For example, no soil sample can be said to have come from a specific location with absolute certainty, unless it is known that that is the exact source.

The editors report two challenges in writing the book. The first was the need to advance forensic geology without giving away details of sensitive, ongoing casework. The second, and perhaps slightly less obvious, was limiting criminal awareness of the range of techniques available. These challenges seem to have been overcome, while covering all major facets of the subject, including its history, GSS, and the acquisition and analysis of geological evidence. A particularly interesting chapter outlines the differences between the adversarial and inquisitorial judicial legal systems, and how they themselves vary between countries.

Such a guide must be based on extensive involvement in and detailed knowledge of the subject. The reference list thus includes almost 700 publications. While this is useful, the abundant citations make access to the guide’s body text rather difficult in several places.

Reviewed by Jeremy Joseph



BY: L.J. Donnelly, D. Pirrie, M. Harrison, A. Ruffell, & L. Dawson (eds.) (2021). Geological Society of London. 218 pp. (hbk).

ISBN: 9781786204882

PRICE: £80.00 www.geolsoc.org.uk