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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 November, 2003, 18:30 GMT
Matching the gun to the crime

Rory MacLean
BBC Home Affairs correspondent

A collection of guns
Most gun crime takes place in metropolitan areas

A Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle shooting bullets provided by Irish republicans is not something you expect to see in London just south of the Thames.

But guns of all sorts, shapes and sizes are fired everyday in the ballistics range at the Forensic Science Service building on Lambeth Road.

Inside the range there's a tank containing around three metres of water which is enough to stop a bullet and preserve it undamaged so that the telltale marks made on it by the weapon that fired it can be examined.

This allows a comparison with bullets found at a crime scene and can link a firearm found in one place with a bullet or cartridge case found in another.

Up until now in order to make a match forensic scientists had to physically trawl through photographs and exhibits on file.

This was further complicated by the fact there are two collections of evidence that have to be checked in England and Wales.

One in London and one in Manchester. This often required staff to shuttle back and forth between the two.

The government has spent over a million pounds funding a new computerised database which it says will revolutionise this process.

The Integrated Ballistics Identification System or IBIS allows forensic scientists to match ballistics evidence much more quickly.

IBIS checks all the material on file and then produces the ten best matches for a bullet, cartridge case or firearm.

All 43 police forces in England and Wales are supplying information for IBIS and the idea is that intelligence provided about firearms use can help target a problem that has become increasingly high profile.

Although the last set of figures only showed a modest rise of 3% in the number of offences involving guns, alarm bells had started ringing following a 35% hike in the previous statistics.

Around two thirds of all gun crime in England and Wales is concentrated in the metropolitan areas of the West Midlands, Manchester and Greater London.

Much of it is drug-related. Many of the guns that the ballistics experts at the forensic service are seeing have been created by converting currently legal air pistols or blank firers.

A pistol
43 police forces are expected to use the new database
The introduction of IBIS is just one of the steps the government says its taking to tackling the problem.

Earlier this year there was a gun amnesty which produced nearly 44,000 weapons and more than a million rounds of ammunition.

The Criminal Justice Act received parliamentary approval last week.

This will introduce a mandatory five-year sentence for the possession of an illegal firearm.

The government has taken powers under the Anti-Social Behaviour act to ban such weapons as the Brocock, an air pistol that's a favourite of the illicit converters.

And the police are mounting operations that target specific areas of concern about firearms like Operation Trident.

It's run by the Metropolitan Police in London and is concerned with gun incidents within the black community.

However they are keen to point out that gun crime is found everywhere and is not just associated with one ethnic grouping.


SEE ALSO:
Mothers' campaign against guns
10 Nov 03  |  Real Story



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