Corpses in a field?Fear not, it may just be a body farm
Ministers considering giving green light to facility that monitors how human bodies decompose
IT SOUNDS like a premise fit for a horror film, but in an attempt to help police solve more murders, the corpses of willing volunteers may soon be left to decompose in a field.
Ministers are considering a plan to open Britain’s first “body farm”, The Sunday Telegraph understands. Body farms are outdoor laboratories where experiments using donated human corpses investigate taphonomy – the science of decomposition.
Bodies can be left for months or years to show the different stages in decomposition.
The corpses could be buried, hung or left to decay in water to understand and analyse how they break down in different conditions.
All of this information can then be applied to real-life scenarios, helping identify murder victims, as well as revealing their time of death and where and how they died.
Dr Anna Williams, from Huddersfield University, said she believed the set up – technically known as a human taphonomy facility – would improve forensic science in the UK. The academics have opened talks with the Human Tissue Authority, while the Home Office said officials were “considering” the idea.
Nine facilities worldwide already in operation – seven in the US, one in Australia and another in the Netherlands – have helped solve a number of high-profile crimes.
US investigators examining the case of serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who killed 33 men in the Seventies – 29 of whom were buried below his house – were able to use data gathered from body farms to help identify a number of his victims.
Dr Williams, a forensic anthropologist, said building a body farm would prevent forensic science in the UK falling behind the rest of the world.
“The benefits to science would help us in a number of ways,” she said.
“We would be able to more accurately know when someone died, as well as being able to identify potential criminals, say from fingerprints or DNA on decomposed skin.
“If you have ever lost a loved one, through someone going missing, crime or disaster, you’ll know that the one thing you want is answers about what happened to them.
“A human taphonomy facility is the only way that scientists will be able to do scientifically rigorous experiments to help give you those answers.”
Volunteers would give their approval before death, in the same way that people agree to donate their body for medical research, Dr
‘If you have ever lost a loved one, you’ll know that the one thing you want is answers about what happened’
Williams added. They would be asked to sign a form explaining how long their remains would be left to decompose.
In order for the plan to go ahead in the UK, it needs the approval of the Human Tissue Authority (HTA). A spokesman from fro the HTA said that while body bod farms were not currently covered cov by the UK’s human tissue tiss laws, it was an area they “continue to monitor and provide p advice on”. He added: ad “If a body farm were wer to be set up, the HTA would wo expect that the permission p of donors would be in place for a donation to take place, and that any activities undertaken tak at such a facility would meet the same sa high standards ar we expect from fr other organisations sa which store and an use bodies.”
Texas State University’s Forensic Anthropology Research Facility, left and above, which studies how decomposition affects corpses; Dr Anna Williams, below from Huddersfield University