Dorsal hand feature analysis
: an aid to forensic human identification

  • Harriet Stratton

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The analysis of anatomical features on the dorsum of the hand has been utilised in forensic investigations for ascertaining anatomical similarities and differences between suspect and offender images, since 2007. This approach was introduced and developed by the team at CAHId, and has primarily been used in cases of child sexual abuse, where an image is discovered depicting the offence, and the perpetrator’s hand visible in the image.

    This form of evidence has been admitted as evidence on the premise of its strong anatomical underpinning. However, forensic techniques (both emerging and established) are increasingly being scrutinised for their reliability and validity with regards to legal admissibility. In response to this, the purpose of this research was to introduce a methodology to quantify the anatomical features most often used in the cases described, with the overriding aim of strengthening anatomical feature analysis as a reputable form of forensic evidence.

    This thesis presents the results pertaining to establishing the reliability of data extraction from digital images, in terms of method repeatability. The variation of the veins and surface features was explored, with regard to influences from biological characteristics, and the investigation of whether images of poor quality (representing a forensic case image) lead to a loss of data, compared to the suspect image (usually of higher quality than the offender image).

    The anatomical features (superficial vein patterns and surface features) were assessed both independently and in conjunction to establish whether more than one feature could be more discriminatory, than one. The results of these analyses indicate that the method proposed in this study is reliable, when applied by one observer and by several. An overview of the vein pattern and surface feature variation is presented to give an indication of feature distribution across a sample population. Importantly, it was found that a significant level of anatomical information is lost when comparing images in standardised conditions with images in non-standardised conditions, representing forensic case images.

    All results are extensively discussed in relation to relevant literatures and the applicability for use as a viable forensic technique with regards to current admissibility
    Date of Award2015
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorSue Black (Supervisor) & Helen Meadows (Supervisor)

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