Txt Study Helps to Convict Criminals; BA FESTIVAL OF SCIENCE RESEARCH REVEALED A Talk at the BA Festival of Science Today Will Reveal Text Messages Are Being Increasingly Used in Criminal Convictions

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), September 8, 2008 | Go to article overview

Txt Study Helps to Convict Criminals; BA FESTIVAL OF SCIENCE RESEARCH REVEALED A Talk at the BA Festival of Science Today Will Reveal Text Messages Are Being Increasingly Used in Criminal Convictions


Byline: Laura Davis reports

WHAT happens when a murder has taken place but there is no crime scene to analyse, no fingerprints or DNA evidence that could point to a suspect?

This was the case when 19- year-old Jenny Nicholl vanished without a trace in June, 2005. Her body was never found, yet there was enough proof to convict her ex-boyfriend, David Hodgson, earlier this year.

The evidence? A series of text messages sent by the teenager's mobile phone after her disappearance, which linguistic experts agreed had been written by Hodgson to throw police off the scent.

"What happens is you've got a series of messages written over time but in the last six or seven you see a style shift," explains Dr Tim Grant, deputy director of the Centre for Forensic Linguistics at Aston University, who is presenting a talk on his research in Liverpool today.

"We can ask whether those last messages are written more in the language of the victim or more in the language of the main suspect."

As text messages and email become increasingly popular forms of communication, they are also more likely to be used in crime, says Dr Grant, who is speaking at the BA Festival of Science taking place in venues across Liverpool this week.

"Because the language of texting isn't fixed - it's more like spelling and punctuation conventions in Shakespearean English in that everyone can do their own thing.

"Individuals fall into habits of using rules such as one abbreviation rather than another and we can identify these."

In courts until recently, forensic linguistics were used mainly as a form of expert witness, in cases where it could be argued that a witness statement or letter contained passages written by someone other than the person who signed it.

However, the science is now becoming a more popular form of evidence for the prosecution and we could eventually see special forensic linguistic units, like those run by police in Germany, being set up in the UK. …

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