Scientists at a West Midlands firm have created new technology that has helped the police track down the leader of a gang of child criminals.
Criminal Ali Lwanga was tracked down by the Flying Squad for a string of robberies after being traced using SmartWater technology.
SmartWater, designed by a Telford-based company of the same name, can be used to mark criminals who break into secure areas with an invisible water that glows under an ultra-violet light.
Lwanga was the first criminal to be caught using the SmartWater technology. The 21-year-old was convicted for money laundering, concealing stolen property and conspiracy to rob for his string of robberies across East London.
In the past, robbers and any stolen notes were stained with a brightly covered ink from the cashbox, but this had minimal evidential value to the police, and therefore had little impact as a deterrent.
So SmartWater’s award-winning scientists at their laboratories in Telford, working in partnership with cash transit group G4S and the police, developed the means to trace the cashbox ink back to a particular robbery.
Lwanga, who claimed he committed these crimes to pay off debts, had recruited a team of youths to carry out the robberies, allowing him to direct the attacks from a safe distance. Tests conducted by SmartWater scientists on recovered money and clothing provided the evidence linking Mr Lwanga to at least four transit robberies and three cases of money laundering.
During his trial evidence was presented on how four different SmartWater signatures were detected on money and clothing found in Lwanga’s possession, forensically linking him to four separate robberies.
Investigating officer DC Laurie Bays, from Barking Flying Squad, said: “Lwanga was a prolific robber who claimed he was committing crime to pay off debts. The jury discounted this defence. Lwanga recruited youths to actually carry out the robberies and minimise the risk to himself.
“However, a combination of vigilant Ladbrokes’ staff, good detective work and advances in technology mean he didn’t get away with it.
“This is the first time SmartWater evidence has been presented during a trial to help us convict a cash-in-transit robber and it’s proving to be an extremely valuable tool in both detecting and preventing crime as its incorporated into G4S cash boxes.
“We hope this conviction will serve as a warning to other potential criminals. The introduction of SmartWater can only improve that statistic and ensure criminals are convicted and punished when arrested.”
SmartWater’s technology has now been taken up by police services, local government organisations and commercial businesses to reduce the threat of crime.
Following the launch in London, it has now been rolled out across Hampshire, Merseyside, Lancashire, Manchester, Bradford and Northern Ireland, with each cashbox containing its own unique forensic signature.
The liquid is invisible to the naked eye but remains on skin or property for a considerable period of time. Like a barcode it has a unique reference that means if a sample is found it can easily and quickly be traced to the point of origin, in our case several cash boxes stolen during robberies.
After police started watching Lwanga following a tipoff from staff at a Ladbrokes’ betting shop, he was seen discarding a glove stained with blue dye from a cash in transit robbery in a wheelie bin near his home.
He was subsequently arrested and a search of his address revealed a quantity of stained cash notes hidden under his mattress.
Detectives submitted the evidence to SmartWater scientists for testing and analysis revealed the money Lwanga was using in Ladbrokes had been stolen during a cash-in-transit robbery in November 2007, at a NatWest branch in Enfield. Later robberies were then unearthed using the SmartWater technology.
Phil Cleary, chief executive of SmartWater, said: “This conviction is a very positive result for the Met Police, G4S and all other users of SmartWater. In this instance, our scientists were able to forensically link the offender to four separate robberies, demonstrating the power of the technology, which should act as a severe warning to all criminals that they should keep away from anything or anyone protected by SmartWater.”