Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Warning to terrorists: hiding behind a balaclava won't mask your guilt

Cutting-edge facial mapping technology could bring scores of paramilitaries to justice

Patrick John McDaid was convicted despite wearing a balaclava
Patrick John McDaid was convicted despite wearing a balaclava
Patrick John McDaid was convicted despite wearing a balaclava
Patrick John McDaid was convicted despite wearing a balaclava

It is the latest weapon in the fight against paramilitaries, unmasking gunmen at the click of a button.

Cutting-edge technology which can identify suspects even if their faces are covered with balaclavas is increasingly being used in serious crime investigations in Northern Ireland.

And the ultra-modern technique of facial mapping could lead to 150 of those responsible for previous paramilitary-style shootings and assaults being brought to justice.

Earlier this year facial mapping was used to identify a man wearing a balaclava who was a flag bearer during a dissident parade.

This week it was successfully used again, resulting in the jailing for three years of a 21-year-old for his part in a paramilitary-style shooting in west Belfast.

Tiernan Porter was jailed on Monday for the May 2010 attack having pleaded guilty to a number of charges including wounding with intent and possession of a gun. He was identified after police used facial mapping and social media to track him down.

Police recovered a firearm and were able to link it to the shooting. A recovered mobile phone was then found to contain pictures of a masked man holding the gun.

The serial number of the weapon was distinguishable from the pictures so facial mapping was then used to identify Porter.

PSNI Superintendent Glen Wright said the technique was used along with DNA evidence to bring Porter before the courts.

"Using specialist facial mapping techniques, we were able to identify that the person behind the mask was indeed the individual before the court, thereby placing the gun in his hand," he added.

The advancement and success of the technology has led police to revisit 150 similar incidents.

In May a man identified as the lead flag bearer in a republican parade was given a 16-month jail term, suspended for three years.

Londonderry man Patrick John McDaid (43) was found to have managed a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation, namely the IRA, after deciding that despite being masked, he was 'Man X' at the front of the march, carrying the Irish tricolour.

A Diplock no-jury trial judge had heard evidence that experts in facial mapping and image comparison techniques said the masked man carrying the flag at the head of the march in the City Cemetery in Derry on Easter Sunday 2011 was McDaid, despite the fact he was wearing a balaclava.

The seven-strong masked colour party, carrying various flags, headed a parade close to republican graves during an Easter Sunday commemoration organised by the 32 County Sovereign Movement, where a speech was made by a masked man on behalf of the Real IRA and Oglaigh na hEireann.

The judge said evidence about the images and similarities between 'Man X' and McDaid taken alone would not have satisfied him beyond reasonable doubt of his guilt. But he added: "The defendant has also been motivated to keep a movie clip of the 2011 commemoration on his computer and taking all the evidence together, I am driven to the conclusion that the reference to 'McDaid' is a reference to the defendant."

Background

Facial mapping is the latest tool in the police's fight against crime and terrorism.

The cutting-edge technique can be used to help police identify criminals even if their faces are covered.

Experts compare images of masked suspects with photographs of their faces uncovered.

They then map features from the disguised faces of those being investigated, comparing them to the dimensions and characteristics of those concealed.

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