Pursuing a Career in Forensic Science - Line of Duty

Line of Duty

Spoiler Alert: Line of Duty Series 6

Millions across the nation have been glued to the TV each Sunday night for the past 6 weeks for one reason and one reason only: Line of Duty. Due to high action from the offset, gripping twists & turns, some serious cliff-hangers and a long glossary of acronyms, the show is reaching new peaks of popularity this Spring. The BBC One show’s sixth series may be drawing to a close, however the show has just secured it’s most-watched episode in its near decade history. The penultimate episode was watched by approximately 11 million viewers, equalling 51.7% of the audience share.

But what parallels does the show have with reality and how can this inspire the future generations of scientists? The famous Anti-Corruption Unit, AC12, work alongside some of the best forensic personelle in the business to identify who, within their own force, don’t fulfil their duty to the letter of the law.

We asked some of our own experts that teach on our forensic programmes their views and insights on how forensics can drive forward those breakthrough moments often portrayed in the show. Neil Pickles, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, discussed how a recent revelation of the show allowed the Forensic Team to find Senior Investigating Officer, Joanne Davidson’s, family history:

“Line of Duty revels in the use of acronyms and forensic science is no different. DNA analysis has revolutionised many areas of science and its use in forensic science is now widespread. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) allows very small amounts of DNA from an individual to be amplified to a level useful for techniques such as DNA profiling. The word ‘homozygosity’ has been mentioned in the programme, and you may be curious about the meaning. We have 23 pairs of chromosomes, one of each pair being inherited from each parent. These chromosomes contain DNA in units called genes at specific locations (controlling characteristics such as hair and eye colour). There are different versions of genes called alleles and you inherit an allele from each parent. Homozygosity means that the two alleles are identical. Heterozygosity (two different alleles) is more common in unrelated individuals. A high degree of homozygosity in an individual is more likely if their parents are related and can suggest inbreeding has occurred. It also increases the risk of inheriting genetic diseases.”

In addition to DNA, forensic analysis at a crime scene is integral to the dramatic interrogation scenes in the show to pin down any discrepancies of the truth.

Jixin Yang, Senior Lecturer of Forensic Science noted:

Joanne Davidson responded to too many questions in the interrogation room with “no comment”, but surprisingly confessed to shooting corrupt colleague, Ryan Pilkington. However, this statement may not be supported by the forensic evidence called gunshot residue (GSR) analysis."

"Firstly, inside a bullet there must be some certain materials serving as propellant (or simply gunpowder). When the gun is fired, it will trigger the fast chemical reactions through a primer. What happens inside the bullet is like a small exploration, where the energy generated will be enough to push the projectile to move forward with extremely high speed. During such a short window, you wouldn’t expect that all the reactions are complete, and therefore plenty of unburnt gunpowder will fly out of the ejection port and naturally fall onto the hand of the person who has fired the weapon."

"In a forensic investigation of gun crime, the suspect’s hands must be swabbed in the hope of collecting as many gunshot residue particles as possible. If the suspect has thoroughly washed their hands to dispose of any evidence, you may use other nearby items such as outer clothing. After this, the sample will be submitted to a special instrument called scanning electron microscope (SEM). After locating these particles under high magnification, an energy dispersive X-ray (EDX) detector equipped in the SEM will be used for elemental analysis on them. If you can identify three key elements: lead, antimony, and barium, which are typically present in the gunpowder but not elsewhere, it will be a positive match."

"Back to the show, some evidence was mentioned by Patricia Carmichael during the interrogation. If the forensic experts have swabbed both hands and surrounding areas of Jo Davidson and DI Kate Fleming, it would not be too hard to tell who has fired the gun. This shows how analytical science is playing important role behind the scenes of so many forensic investigations.”

Whilst millions heavily anticipate the finale of the show this weekend, the programme may have a long-lasting impact on aspiring scientists of the future.

Our BSc (Hons) Forensic Science course is designed to provide students with detailed knowledge of scientific disciplines and prepare them for a career of investigation, analysis and presenting evidence and expertise across a wide variety of crimes.

Not only this, but our Forensic and Archaeological Sciences subject area is rated top in Wales for overall satisfaction and 2nd in the UK for satisfaction with teaching. (WGU analysis of unpublished NSS data, 2020).


Written by Alice James, Faculty Engagement and Liason Officer at Wrexham Glyndŵr University.