Dundee’s Crime Cafe

Photo by kind permission of the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science

Dundee is my home town and there is no doubt that its stock is rising.

When I was growing up, it was infamous for controversial planning deals and hideous 1970s architecture. But there was no arguing with its situation, the city fanning down from the slopes of the extinct volcano, Dundee Law, to the banks of the Tay, Scotland’s longest river.

Twenty-first century Dundee has rediscovered itself. Gone (mostly) are the concrete blocks, and the waterfront site has been opened up. It now plays host to the iconic V&A Design Museum.  Within three weeks of opening in September 2018, the V&A had attracted 100,000 visitors.  New hotels are springing up now and both Lonely Planet and the Wall Street Journal have named the city as one of the top destinations to visit.

Dundee boasts two universities, different in character but complementing each other. Abertay University’s computer games degrees are among the best in Europe while Dundee University plays host to the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science. The Leverhulme staff have been called upon to investigate human remains world-wide, and their expertise is in high demand.

And so, it is extremely gratifying that this world-renowned institute takes time to reach out to the ordinary folk of Dundee in a series of evening talks.

The Crime Café is a programme of free talks suitable for anyone interested in forensic science and its use in law. The talks are held in Clarks Bar, a popular local pub where the staff are friendly and welcoming.

Last night, I took myself off to Clarks to listen to Dr Lucina Hackman discuss whether the last resting place of the Jacobite Lord Lovat was in a lead coffin in the Lovat family crypt, a few miles from Inverness. [Spoiler Alert: the headless skeleton in the coffin is not that of Lord Lovat.]

The outcome of the investigation was certainly of interest but the real draw was the opportunity to listen to Dr Hackman explain how they reached this conclusion. This brief insight into the work of the forensic anthropologist had the room spellbound.

Questions followed and we learned that the presence of lead near a skeleton degrades DNA. Lively contributions from the audience led to debates on whether his headless body had been sailed up to Inverness for burial [unclear], and the morality of disturbing human remains once they are at rest.

The hour passed all too quickly and we lingered on, chatting about what we had learned that evening, and the Jacobite cause, in general. It was a most entertaining session and I very much look forward to the next Crime Café in April. 

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