Britain's first WhatsApp fingerprint conviction leads to flood of new cases

Callum Adams
The image from WhatsApp showing the fingerprint

Britain's first WhatsApp fingerprint conviction has led to a flood of new cases, police have revealed, after a criminal was caught using a photograph of his hand holding drugs.

South Wales police used pioneering techniques to enhance a photograph of three fingers holding ecstasy tablets, which was found on a mobile phone after an arrest linked to a drug dealing investigation in Bridgend.

Dave Thomas, forensics operations manager at the Scientific Support Unit, described the use of the technique, which helped to secure 11 convictions, as "groundbreaking" and said officers are now examining photographs more closely for potential evidence.

It is thought to be the first conviction in the UK from fingerprints taken from a photograph.

"It has now opened the floodgates and when there is part of a hand on a photograph, officers are sending them in," he told the BBC.

Elliott Morris, centre, who had sent the photograph to potential customers in Bridgend. He was sentenced to eight and half years for conspiracy to supply cannabis, along with his father Darren and mother Dominique Credit: South Wales Police

"It is an old-fashioned technique [fingerprinting], not new. These guys [the dealers] are using the technology not to get caught and we need to keep up with advancements."

The photograph was found on a mobile phone during an investigation which began after a tip-off that drugs were being sold from a home in the village of Kenfig Hill. Police discovered a large amount of Gorilla Glue, a potent strain of cannabis, at the property.

An officer managed to spot the photograph among a string of WhatsApp messages going back months, which included texts such as "what do you want to buy".

Mr Thomas said: "There was then the photograph of the hand holding pills that seemed like it was sent to potential customers saying 'these are my wares, I'm selling these'.

"But he was not thinking it showed part of his hand and there was potentially a fingerprint."

The image was found among a string of WhatsApp messages going back months Credit: BBC Cymru Wales

The image of the middle and bottom parts of the finger was analysed by the Scientific Support Unit, a joint venture between the Gwent and south Wales forces, but did not match the records of fingertips held in the national database.

Yet, combined with other evidence, police were able to decipher who had mastermined the family drugs operation.

Mr Thomas said: "While the scale and quality of the photograph proved a challenge, the small bits were enough to prove he was the dealer."

The enhanced image allowed fingerprint experts to identify Elliott Morris, who had sent the photograph to potential customers in Bridgend. He was sentenced to eight and half years for conspiracy to supply cannabis, along with his father Darren and mother Dominique.

Mr Thomas emphasised the importance of using mobile phones as part of evidence gathering, as around 80% of people now have such devices and use them to record incidents such as fights and car crashes.

He said: "These are all advancements in the digital world - they provide lots of questions we need to provide answers for."