Dr Karl Jones

School of Engineering

Audio and Video Forensics: Research across faculties results in an MSc designed in collaboration with Merseyside Police

Research work at LJMU has highlighted a significant gap between the technological capabilities of audio & video processing and the knowledge of these abilities by forensic operators and members of the UK Justice System. Additionally, recent technological advances that are not currently being utilised within the audio/video forensic sector that could provide significant benefit for the processing of audio/video evidence. The work is undertaken by Dr Karl O. Jones, Dr Gerard Edwards, Dr John Marsland and Colin Robinson from the School of Engineering, working in collaboration with Dr Helen Burrell and Dr Suzzanne McColl from the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences.

Specific Project Work

Dr. Karl Jones leads a team of staff and students within the School of Engineering, including Jago-Reed Jones (Faculty Studentship), Kay Morrison (partially funded by the National College of Policing), Stephen Stroud (VC Studentship), Louise Speed (Self-funded: based in School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences) and Jeremy Blades (QS Policy Fund), who are working on various aspects of audio and video forensics within the UK Justice System. Besides colleagues in the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, Rachel Stalker from the School of Law is also involved, with links to the members of the legal professional, the judiciary and the Ministry of Justice. The work covers a range of topics such as technical aspects of sound localisation, de-smudging fingerprints using video technology, audio zooming aligned with video zoom, technological awareness within professionals working in the justice system, and standards for audio/video evidence processing and analysis. Undertaking their research work the PhD students have had to develop and demonstrate an array of skills and knowledge both academic and practical. The skills and knowledge have been embedded within the curriculum presented in our undergraduate and postgraduate taught programmes.

Impact on curriculum

In relation to undergraduate teaching, Colin Robinson delivers a Level 6 module on ‘Audio Restoration and Digital Enhancement’ on the BSc in Audio and Music Production, which gives students an introduction to the skills and methods required for forensic analysis of audio signals. This module has proven to be popular and well received, with excellent student module evaluation results. Additionally, Colin presents sessions on the Level 6 ‘Advanced Forensic Methods’ module, which exposes traditional BSc Forensic Science students to some of the latest technological systems available within the forensic world. Student have reported that they found the sessions both enjoyable and informative.

The success of these modules led to creating the MSc in Audio Forensics and Restoration designed with the critical delivery aspect of in-depth knowledge development, practical application of skills and associated technological aspects related to modern and historical recording/playback devices. The programme also includes a module on ‘Courtroom Skills’ offered by the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences. A number of students from the first cohort obtained employment with the Audio/Video section of the Forensic Unit of Merseyside Police.

Discussions with Merseyside Police led to the development of the MSc in Audio and Video Forensics (started in September 2022). This programme focuses on the technological theories and systems crucial to the forensic investigation and analysis of audio/video evidence. The programme was designed so students can undertake a Postgraduate Certificate covering the fundamental knowledge and skills, or complete a Postgraduate Diploma after studying the more advanced features of audio/video forensics, or students can complete an individual project to gain the full MSc award. The programme has two entry points a year as well as part-time student to provide employed forensic operatives with every opportunity to enhance their skills and knowledge. The first cohort comprises 21 students, 18 coming from Merseyside Police.

Broader Change

The research into audio and video forensic technology and standards undertaken at LJMU has had a clear and direct impact on the modules and programmes delivered in the University. Furthermore, the link between curriculum and employability and/or skills enhancement is very clear. On the small scale, ‘Audio Restoration and Digital Enhancement’ at Level 6 provided the springboard for developing the MSc in Audio Forensics and Restoration, which in turn has had a number of its graduates gain employment within the Forensic Units across a number of Police Forces in the UK, for example recently Merseyside Police recruited some 24 new audio/video forensic operators with half of the people having learnt about audio/video at LJMU.

In relation to the BSc Forensic Science ‘Advanced Forensic Methods’ module, one student found the audio/video forensic material such as fascination that she undertook extra curricula learning and hence embarked on a PhD in Audio & Video Forensic Standards at LJMU (Kay Morrison).

The MSc in Audio and Video Forensics takes the majority of its students from Police Forensic Units where the Police are funding the students as part of the National Police Chiefs Council plan to improve standards in audio and video forensics.

Across all the programmes, student module evaluation has been extremely positive, and students have provided feedback on how the skills and knowledge gained has been very positive in them gaining employment in careers either directly or indirectly related to audio/video forensics.

Interest in our teaching and research work has been recognised by television companies who wish to use our expertise in upcoming documentaries on cold-cases. Additionally, the range of taught programmes offered has attracted world leading companies in audio/video forensic software, leading to the School of Engineering having licenced copies of top-class software used by Security Services and Police Forces around the world. Recently, the team have been working on creating materials for outreach events at schools and colleges.