Aston academic publicly thanked in Parliament

Academic thanked at Parliament
22 April 2016

An MP calling for forensic linguistic practitioners and techniques to have even greater legitimacy when used in court cases publicly thanked an Aston academic in Parliament for his role in developing a new draft law. 

MP Roger Mullin, who proposed the draft Bill to create an approved register of quality forensic linguistic experts and methods to ensure only the best work in the field be submitted to court, singled out Professor Tim Grant for praise while delivering a speech in the House of Commons. 

The Bill would beef up the role of the Forensic Science Regulator (FSR) to include forensic linguistics and cover investigations looking at authorship of SMS text messages and practitioners who decode internet slang in chatrooms. The FSR, a position that ensures the provision of forensic science services across the criminal justice system is subject to appropriate scientific quality standards, would oversee the register. 

While the draft law was being written, Professor Grant, Director of the Centre for Forensic Linguistics (CFL) at Aston University, was consulted at length. He made several contributions to the Bill and helped provide examples of where forensic linguistic techniques have been used successfully in court cases. 

Professor Grant said: “Roger Mullin has a strong interest in combatting online crime.  He approached CFL with the idea of a Bill to ensure the quality of forensic linguistic evidence. I had the opportunity to comment on a draft of his speech and was pleased to see that my comments helped shape Roger’s presentation in the House.  I was obviously also delighted to be thanked by Roger from the floor of the House of Commons. I will be watching with interest the progress of the Bill.” 

Forensic linguistic analysis – a discipline associated with identifying the origin of writing samples or excerpts from speech – has been used in several high profile investigations and court cases worldwide. 

In his speech, Roger Mullin mentioned the use of linguistic evidence against Dhiren Barot, who was arrested in London in 2004. Professor Grant provided the linguistic evidence that linked Barot to the writing of a conspiracy document which led to Barot being charged. Barot later admitted to the conspiracy which included attacks on the New York stock exchange, the International Monetary Fund headquarters and the World Bank, among other targets. 

In another example of the work of CFL in 2013, Professor Grant and his colleague, Dr Jack Grieve, examined the emails of Jamie and Debbie Starbuck. Jamie Starbuck claimed the couple were on a round the world trip but was suspected of having murdered his wife and sending emails home in her name. Dr Grant and Dr Grieve analysed the emails and identified a date on which emails from Debbie’s account shifted to be consistent with Jamie Starbuck’s written style. He was convicted of Debbie’s murder.  

The CFL at Aston University was the first of its kind in the world. The institution combines leading-edge research and investigative practice with teaching and training in forensic linguistics. The CFL team have also provided evidence and investigative reports in more than 500 criminal and civil court cases in the UK and further abroad.