Dr Helen Meadows looks like she could grace our screens in Silent Witness, but in actual fact she was works with Professor Sue Black at the pioneering Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee, as a cutting edge hand detective. For the first time Val McDermid is given exclusive access to their work.
The hand is Meadows' area of focus. Variations in scars, skin pigmentation, the smallest nooks and crannies of the fingernail and most importantly, superficial vein patterns. All of these can build a body of evidence and allow the police to identify an offender in an incriminating photograph. Meadows explains that the back of the hand is part of the anatomy that an offender is quite happy to have in an image, whereas they wouldn't necessarily want their face captured. In 2009, the department's work was instrumental in the Neil Strachan case, part of Scotland's biggest paedophile ring. His unusually distorted lunula, the white half -moon at the bottom of a nail helped identify and convict him.
Of the 40 or so cases they have worked on, their data has resulted in over 80 per cent of suspects changing their plea.
Meadows and Black deal with some of the worst elements of humanity. How do they cope when their job, which involves working on images and videos of horrific abuse Her approach is to be as clinical as possible. "It's just like going to the dissection room and looking at an isolated part of the body and treating it in that way." But Professor Black discloses to Val McDermid that because of what she has witnessed during this work she has in fact suffered from post-traumatic stress.
Val McDermid meets hand detectives Professor Black and Dr Meadows.