Brick 'fingerprint' builds crime
Steve Boggan on an academic
breakthrough that helped to cement the conviction of the killer and
kidnapper Michael Sams....
"IN 1892, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - in
referring to Sherlock Holmes - may have unwittingly written
Detective Sergeant Tim Grogan's epitaph: 'It has long been an axiom
of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.'
DS Grogan's role in the conviction of
Michael Sams for the murder of Julie Dart and the kidnap of
Stephanie Slater is being celebrated this week by academics at
Leicester University whose invention - brick fingerprinting - played
a major part.
They were called in to help DS Grogan
in the summer of 1991 after Sams used two white-painted bricks as
markers along a trail leading to an abortive ransom drop for Julie
Dart on the M1 near Barnsley in South Yorkshire.
At the suggestion of Andy Biggs, a
brick technologist at the Steetley Brick company in Stoke-on-Trent,
now owned by Redland Bricks, he called in Professor Ansel Dunham,
the head of Leicester's geology department, who had helped develop a
database on the composition of bricks.
'My gaffer wasn't too happy about me
breaking up one of the bricks for the Leicester research because it
was evidence, but I slipped a bit away while he wasn't looking,' DS
Grogan said. 'I was convinced these guys could help, and they did.'
Professor Dunham was able to narrow
down the clay used to make the bricks to just one quarry, Bradwell
Wood at Newcastle-under- Lyme, Staffordshire.
Armed with details of the brick
fingerprint, DS Grogan then had the bricks dated at about 20 years
old by Doreen Stoneham, an archaeologist at Oxford University. The
bricks were Staffordshire Blue engineering bricks known for low
water absorption and strength.
He finally hit the mark when Mr Biggs
traced pressing marks on the side of the remaining brick to Metallic
Tileries, a brick manufacturer in Newcastle-under-Lyme, which ceased
trading in 1977. John Rowley, who had owned the company, remembered
making the batch for Wettern Brothers in Kent, which later sold out
to Ready Mixed Concrete. Wettern's records finally showed that a
batch had been sold to Blighton and Clarkson, a firm of builders in
Newark, Nottinghamshire. Jamie Clarkson, the former owner of the
firm, also remembered the batch.
In January 1992, Stephanie Slater, an
estate agent, was kidnapped. A tape of the kidnapper's voice on the
BBC's Crimewatch was recognised by Sams' wife, who turned him in.
A short time later DS Grogan received
a call from DS Mick Shilleto, a close colleague who had been
searching Sams' workshop in Newark and another he used to occupy in
Peterborough. 'Mick said he had found three of the batch we had
identified. One had been broken into two halves and was supporting a
bookshelf in the Newark workshop, and two more were found in
More tests showed the bricks were all
from the same batch, showing that Sams was responsible for Julie
Dart's kidnapping and murder and for Stephanie Slater's kidnapping.
'Sams probably stole the bricks from Mr Clarkson's yard in Newark,
which was very close to his workshop,' DS Grogan said. 'We had
actually got to within yards of him with nothing more than two
The Independent Newspaper - Aug 1993