Human ‘body farm’ for decomposing corpses could be set up to help police solve murder cases
The US has several such centers to help researchers understand the precise way in which bodies decay in water, in soil, or in open air.
Bodies are buried, hung from trees, or immersed in water and analyzed in detail to understand how they break down in different conditions.
The geographical conditions in America are very different to Britain, however, so researchers want to establish centers that reflect the local climate.
The centers – officially known as taphonomy facilities – have waiting lists of people who have left their bodies to forensic science.
Anna Williams, a forensic anthropologist at Huddersfield University, said that cases like that of the Soham murders, in which Ian Huntley killed two 10-year-old girls, “could have been helped with information of the type that we will get from such centers.”
Williams told the Guardian such a center would “allow us to develop improved search and location techniques for finding bodies of people who had been missing for a long time,” adding that there is now an “urgent need” to establish one in the country.
Williams, who is one of the scientists involved in talks with the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) as part of an effort to have a body farm built in the UK, says if one is not set up, “UK forensic science will fall behind other countries.”
The HTA confirmed last week it was holding talks and was in regular contact with the scientists involved.
“Our aim is to ensure that, were such a facility to be established in the UK, the consent of the individuals who donate their bodies would have primacy and the activities taking place would be subject to the same standards as those required in other areas of research where human tissue is needed,” a spokesperson told the Guardian.
John Cassella, a professor of forensic science education at Staffordshire University, also called for a British body farm which would enhance UK research.
“We need to carry out experiments on corpses to understand the processes that take place in humans after they have died, and that is just the sort of thing we would do at these centers.”
For a body farm to get the go ahead in Britain, there would need to be a change in law, as it is illegal to use human remains for these purposes.
A suggested short-term solution is if volunteers donate their body parts following operations.
UK researchers have been using pig carcasses, which have physiological similarities to humans. Glyndwr University in Wales has a taphonomic facility where pigs are buried in shallow graves, hung up, or left to rot.