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Last Updated: Monday, 17 January, 2005, 16:48 GMT
'No reply' to tsunami help offer
Sue Black
Professor Sue Black has helped with inquiries in the UK and overseas
British forensic experts hope lessons can be learned after they were unable to help in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster.

A team of scientists offered the UK Government their services to assist in identifying those who died in Asia.

But Professor Sue Black, who eventually went to the region with a private company, said they never heard back.

"The professionals in the UK were desperate to help because it is what we felt we could do," she said.

Professor Black is a member of the Centre for International Forensic Assistance (CIFA), which was created following the war crimes investigation in the Balkans.

'Dreadful waste'

She said a "tremendous group of experts" had been sent to the former Yugoslavia.

"At that time we became very aware of the level of expertise that we had, and also that British forensic science is very well received throughout the world," she said.

"We felt it would have been a dreadful waste to have lost the forward thrust of that and we set up CIFA."

Its remit was to make the services of forensic experts available around the world when their talents were required.

We knew very very early on in the situation that there were going to be a lot of deceased and we could have mobilised things quicker
Professor Sue Black

She said that as the tsunami disaster began to unfold, the organisation contacted the UK Government to offer its services.

However, Professor Black said she had not received any reply by the time she left for Asia on 31 December.

"The experts are there and the resources are there. We have been battling for three or four years with the government to say that we must have a disaster victim identification response facility," said the professor of anatomy and forensic anthropology at Dundee University.

She said it was important that the survivors were dealt with first in the aftermath of such an event.

"But unfortunately we knew very very early on in the situation that there were going to be a lot of deceased and we could have mobilised things quicker."

Move forward

A team of officers was sent out from the Metropolitan Police, which she said did a "tremendous job" in Thailand.

But she added: "The professionals we have in the UK were desperate to help because it is what we felt we could do.

"There just didn't seem to be a vehicle to allow us to do that."

She hoped that lessons would be learned and that it could be used as a springboard to move forward.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said that the request from Professor Black had been passed on to the Metropolitan Police, which was co-ordinating the UK's forensic response.

"Obviously she has raised a few issues which are very fundamental and somebody will be in touch with her following her return from the region."


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