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Series : Equinox - Channel 4 UK

Show title : The Bodyhunters

First shown : unknown

Catalogue Number :
Programme Outline

Exploring the use of sophisticated techniques of forensic science — tried and tested in suburban Britain — in the hunt for the body of a Royal Marine who disappeared in the Falkland Islands in August 1980.

00.30 — 02.20

Introduction. The mystery of a Royal Marine who disappeared after an evening’s drinking in a club on the Falkland Islands. Foul play was suspected; four local men were arrested but never charged. The Marine’s body has never been found.

02.20 — 07.20

The Forensic Science Advisory Group (FSAG), set up in the UK in 1988 with a multi-disciplinary composition: forensic scientists, archaeologists, geophysicists, police dog handlers and their dogs. The use of buried pig carcasses to train police body-search dogs.

07.20 — 18.40

Interviews with three of the four men originally arrested. The FSAG arrive in the Falklands and set out to look at likely areas where the Marine’s body might be. The mystery of why the ship that had brought the Marine to the village left without him, without an alarm being raised.

18.40 — 26.20

The FSAG use ground-penetrating radar and a sniffer dog to search for ground disturbances and decomposing remains.

26.20 — 32.10

The 1980 Naval Board of Inquiry. The evidence it heard. The vital witness who died in unexplained circumstances before he could give evidence. The unsatisfactory conclusion of the inquiry.

32.10 — 38.10

The FSAG continue to search, with no success. The Marine’s mother talks to a witness who was in the bar on the night her son disappeared. Even under hypnosis, the witness fails to provide any new information.

38.10 — end

The FSAG follow up on rumours and new witnesses, but their trip to the Falklands turns out to be entirely in vain. The disappearance of the Marine remains a mystery.


* In an investigation, it may be sensible to begin by exploring the most likely solution to the problem.
* A multi-disciplinary approach provides alternative avenues and methods of investigation.
* Memory and motive are two factors affecting the reliability of witness statements.
* Forensic techniques that work well in urban investigations may prove totally unsuitable for investigations in remote countryside.

Training Police Dogs

Police dogs trained to hunt for corpses react to the gases given off by decomposing bodies. These gases are principally hydrogen sulphide, hydrogen phosphide (phosphine), carbon dioxide and methane. Buried pig carcasses are used to train the dogs, since decomposing pig corpses produce the same mixture of gases as decomposing humans.

Central to this programme is the concept of evidence. When we seek to establish the truth about events in the past (or for that matter the present), we have to rely on evidence. Sometimes we may have access to the testimony of witnesses who observed the events taking place. Even this evidence does not constitute absolute proof as witnesses may have their own motives for giving the testimony they give. Furthermore, even if we were eye-witnesses we cannot be sure that we saw what we saw, or heard what we heard. Human senses are fallible, as too is the human memory. Often there may not be any witnesses, in which case we have to infer the facts of what happened from other information we ‘know’ to be true. For example we infer from the fact there are traces of the accused’s body matter (hair, blood, and so on) at the scene of the crime that it was the accused who perpetrated the crime. We might of course be wrong and there may be other explanations as to why the accused was there. Similarly, miscarriages of justice have occurred because wrong inferences were drawn.

The conclusion to be drawn is that we can never have sufficient reliable evidence about the past to be certain about any event. We can never have absolute proof. In effect we are dealing with degrees of probability. In the case presented in the programme, that of the missing Royal Marine, we are not even certain that a crime has been committed. All we can do is seek to establish a degree of probability as to whether or not a crime has been committed. What is striking in the programme is the variety of methods used to try to uncover facts from which inferences about what probably happened might be drawn. These range from geophysics and archaeology through to hypnosis and animal training.

A further point to remember is that the legal approach to evidence and the scientific approach are not always in harmony. For a person to be convicted of a crime in this country it has to be proved ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that the person perpetrated the crime. Judges and lawyers are reluctant to give a percentage of probability for what is meant by ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Scientists might well say, though, that they are 90% certain that this injury was caused by such and such a weapon. Whilst it is true that two scientists may argue, let's say, about whether British Beef is safe, they can at least debate the issue of safety in terms of specified numerical probabilities. This is not the case with the legal approach to evidence. When a defendant is acquitted by a jury, we do not know whether this is because the jury is 100% convinced of his or her innocence or whether it is because they are 99% certain that the defendant committed the crime but they are not sure ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Finally, some evidence which a scientific approach would say is relevant to determining the probability of a defendant's guilt may be inadmissible in a court of law. For example if a defendant has a string of previous convictions for stealing from parked cars and is now charged with theft from a car, rationally viewed his previous convictions ought to be relevant to establishing whether he is guilty; yet such evidence would probably be excluded as it would be deemed to be likely to prejudice the jury against the defendant.

Produced by Lion Television
Producer/Director: Henry Singer

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