Royal hon­our for pro­fes­sor who solved rid­dle of Richard III’s death in bat­tle OBE for foren­sic ex­pert who helps po­lice in mod­ern mur­der cases

Birmingham Post - - NEWS - Mike Lock­ley Fea­tures Staff

KING Richard III, whose skele­ton was dis­cov­ered be­neath a Le­ices­ter car park, died in a crowded swirl of vi­o­lence, his body swamped in a mur­der­ous melee. Just ask Sarah Hainsworth.

Dur­ing the 1485 Bat­tle of Bos­worth, the monarch was buried un­der a mob. The over­pow­ered king suf­fered at least 11 in­juries, nine of them to the skull. At least four weapons struck the blows.

One of them, a hal­berd – a six­foot pole with an axe at­tached – took such a large chunk from the skull that death was only min­utes away.

Death was not in­stan­ta­neous, says Prof Hainsworth, who has re­ceived an OBE in the New Year’s Hon­ours.

She is pro­fes­sor of ma­te­ri­als and foren­sic en­gi­neer­ing at Birm­ing­ham’s As­ton Univer­sity, and her ex­per­tise played a ma­jor part in re­veal­ing Richard III’s last mo­ments.

“Death is never in­stan­ta­neous. He would’ve been in­stantly un­con­scious,” cor­rects the 51-year-old. “The term in­stan­ta­neous is from the movies. It takes a cer­tain while for the cir­cu­la­tion and breath­ing to stop.”

Prof Hainsworth, whose ex­per­tise on knife crime has helped po­lice forces across the UK, has this week been ap­pointed an Of­fi­cer of the Or­der of the Bri­tish Em­pire for her ser­vices to en­gi­neer­ing and foren­sic sci­ence.

Her OBE is one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing in the New Year’s Hon­ours list.

Her knowl­edge of stab wounds, her abil­ity to tell what im­ple­ment caused fa­tal in­juries, has been key in bring­ing many dan­ger­ous crim­i­nals to book.

But it was the mys­tery of Richard III’s demise, solved in 2013, that first made the gen­eral pub­lic aware of Prof Hainsworth’s painstak­ing work.

“When I be­gan work on the skull, it had not been con­firmed that it was Richard III,” says the mum-of-two, who lives near Northamp­ton.

“For me, I only re­alised it was a big deal when they made the an­nounce­ment.

“The ac­count of the bat­tle is that he died in a melee and the in­juries are consistent with that.

“Within the in­juries to the top of the skull there were very fine marks that we call stri­a­tions. We were able to show two of the blows were made by the same bladed weapon, a sword most likely.

“At the base of the skull there was an in­jury that re­sulted in a large chunk of the skull be­ing miss­ing, prob­a­bly caused by a hal­berd.”

The bone had also been punc­tured by a short sword or dag­ger. The king also suf­fered a stab wound to the pelvis.

“Peo­ple say 11 in­juries are a lot and that num­ber does not in­clude the soft tis­sue,” says Prof Hainsworth. “But a num­ber of skele­tons from the Bat­tle of Town­ton had more than 20 in­juries. We know that Richard III’s body was rel­a­tively in­tact, prob­a­bly be­cause they wanted to show they’d killed the king. His face was rel­a­tively un­touched.”

Prof Hainsworth’s work on the skull has sparked an in­ter­est in the king’s short-lived reign that goes be­yond the phys­i­cal. She has at­tempted to skin, so to speak.

“Richard III is an in­ter­est­ing per­son be­cause he is painted in a pos­i­tive way by the Richard III So­ci­ety as a ca­pa­ble and good king,” she says. “Other Tu­dor his­to­ri­ans see him as a not so good king.

“It is the prob­lem of judg­ing him through the lens of the 21st cen­tury. Ap­ply­ing mod­ern day in­ter­pre­ta­tions to what was done in years gone by is dif­fi­cult. He did do some very pos­i­tive things for the peas­ants.”

De­spite the ac­claim fol­low­ing her work on that skele­ton, the bulk of Prof Hainsworth’s busi­ness is in the here and now. And it has proved vi­tal in un­cov­er­ing the miss­ing pieces of the blood­stained jig­saws sur­round­ing a string of mur­ders.

She can tell the force used to de­liver a fa­tal blow and, most im­por­tantly, con­firm the sus­pected mur­der weapon caused the fa­tal wounds.

“Some­one was in prison,” she says mat­ter-of-factly, “and said the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of events I’d given in court was cor­rect. That was nice, you want to know if what you did was right.”

Prof Hainsworth’s first ten­ta­tive steps in the sci­ence of crime solv­ing were taken in 2000, while work­ing at Le­ices­ter Univer­sity. East Mid­lands foren­sic pathol­o­gist Pro­fes­sor Guy Rutty pre­sented her with bones from a dis­mem­bered body.

She was able to iden­tify the tools used to make the cuts on the bones.

The knowl­edge has come from painstak­ing knife stud­ies. Prof Hainsworth’s has probed the coat­ings on blades to dis­cover if they keep the tool or weapon sharper for longer. She has spent long hours chron­i­cling “edge sharp­ness”.

Po­lice forces are now reap­ing the re­wards of that re­search.

“It is dif­fi­cult to name in­di­vid­ual cases and some­thing I don’t get un­der his do,” stresses Prof Hainsworth. “All of them have in­volved dif­fer­ent skills, dif­fer­ent lev­els of com­plex­ity in terms of the anal­y­sis and dif­fer­ent lev­els of com­plex­ity in terms of events.

“There is of­ten a par­tic­u­lar story told, after the event, on how the stab­bing oc­curred. By ap­ply­ing sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing knowl­edge, we’ve been able to show that’s not al­ways the truth.”

>Above: Sarah Hainsworth and the skull and re­con­struc­tion of King Richard III

>Prof Hainsworth with a hal­berd that killed the king, above,

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