If shell casings are recovered but not the gun, they will be sent off for examination and checked against the Nabis (National Ballistics Intelligence Service) database, says Bottomley. “It will say if the gun was used 18 months ago in a shooting in Longsight [Manchester] or last week in the West Midlands. Guns do travel around the country like that.”
Whatever a ballistics examination tells the detective, more work is necessary. If a suspect emerges their home might be searched and with luck police might discover a gun or traces of firearms residue. But Bottomley explains: “Firearms residue is not like DNA. Residue from a Beretta is not dissimilar to a Luger.” And with few people in Britain having first-hand knowledge of guns, the likelihood is that a jury will need to be carefully led through ballistics evidence by a prosecutor.
The terminology involved takes some explaining but the science of ballistics can be used to determine from what angle and distance a gun has been fired, as well as to link weapons to shootings. Brendan Morris, who has prosecuted many gun trials, says: “It can be quite hard to link a gun to a suspect. It may involve fingerprints, DNA and weapons discharge. Whenever a gun is fired various metals and gases are discharged and they stick to skin or material. “Sometimes the defence can claim there has been contamination, for example if a suspect has been arrested by firearms officers or has sat in a police car where guns have been.”
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